In his book published January of this year, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity, Thomas Oden points out the significant role that Africa has played in he development of Christian theology, and he argues that one of the major challenges faced by theologians of this generation is to re-capture our African heritage. To this end, Oden founded The Center for Early African Christianity (CEAC), housed at Eastern University (my alma mater). It strikes me that there are at least two reasons that this is such an important task.
It has been noted by postmodern theologians that Christian theology has for too long been dominated by rich, white, male voices. By and large the answer to this problem has been the development of contextualized versions of liberation theology (i.e. black theology, feminist theology, womanist theology, queer theology) that leave much to be desired. But if Oden is right, there is no need for us to try and reinvent the wheel—Christianity already has a rich theological tradition from Africa which has laid fallow long enough. A second reason for mining early African Christian sources is to partner with the Church in Africa that is already growing at astronomical rates. Within one generation, Africa will once again be the seedbed of Christanity, and Western theologians of our day have the privilege to be a part of that development. Thus the CEAC states:
Our purpose is not to presume to set a theological agenda for African Christians, but to resource African Christians as they rethink their own agenda using classic African sources. We want to partner with Africa Christian leaders collecting seeds from their past in order to plant a future that provides possible solutions to questions, pressures, challenges Africa faces today and will face tomorrow on the soil of Africa. The resources are already there, waiting to be discovered. The resources are in Africa. The wisdom is in the texts of Africa. The matrix is the soil of Africa. We desire to make these classic sources available in order to equip 21st century Africans to become the leaders of 21st century Christianity, even as they were leaders of early Christianity.