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Chapter 6: The Opportunity for Retrieval

Key Names, Locations, and Terms

Unreceived gift Africa Christianity is free to rediscover its historical genius The gift is offered with a stipulation: the opportunity may be taken away if delayed, diluted, or avoided.

Modernity is an intellectual ideology of a historical period that extends from the French revolution (1789) to the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989). It includes the following general characteristics: moral relativism, narcissistic hedonism, naturalistic reductionism, and autonomous individualism. It is also a mentality that assumes that all recent ways of knowing the truth are obviously superior to all premodern alternatives.

Orthodoxy right remembering in accord with the Apostle’s teaching.

Future Generations If African Christians are going to entrust their children to Christianity, they must have confidence that Christianity is trustable, that Christianity is true, and truly African, and not fundamentally alien to the African spirit.

A New Ecumenism: What the Holy Spirit is manifestly doing in Africa today is very different from engineering institutional mergers through negotiation or strategic planning (Old Ecumenism.) It is rather through grace quietly awakening faith. That faith is surely manifesting itself in the works of love, for love is what faith does. Those whose faith is active in love are living out true religion as defined by the Epistle of James, whether they call themselves Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox, or charismatics.  They embody the one family of God in different family memories and genetic variations.  The recognition of emerging unity is itself what the Holy Spirit is enabling in the new African ecumenism: enabling persons to identify their deeper unity in Jesus Christ: north and south, doctrinal and practical, liturgical and dogmatic.  It is not a matter of negotiating or dialoguing in order to produce institutional unity. The challenge is to elicit behavior transformed in personal faith in Jesus Christ which finds ways of loving the next one we meet (the neighbor) as Christ loved us.


Oden suggests that a short-term window of opportunity for African Christians to recover their classical African past. What are the reasons he suggests that this needs to happen now? What do you think? Do you think the recovery of Africa’s classical Christian past is important? Or are there more pressing concerns for Africa?

Andrew Walls writes: “There is a dawning realization of the limitations of theology as generally taught in the West in one regard, especially. Western models of theology are too small for Africa, since they arise out of a small scale, pared down view of the universe that was characteristic of European Enlightenment. With its insistence on the autonomy of the individual self is sharp distinctions between the empirical world and the world is spirit, the Enlightenment dictated shaped the modern theology and the West for several centuries.” Much of the missionary theology of the last two centuries has been shaped by “small scale” western models of Western theology. What are the theological sources “big enough” for African theology?

Deeply ingrained in modern consciousness is the mentality that assumes that all recent ways of knowing the truth are obviously superior to all premodern alternatives. As a result the wisdom of multigenerational communities is easily dismissed for the latest fade or assertion of truth. What is the impact of this mentality on Christian communities? How has this mentality influenced your local church’s decisions and life together?


Oden asks what happens when the cohesion (consistency) of orthodoxy meets the multicultural character of African reality? He answers: multiculturalism is strengthened by multigenerationalism. Truth is applied to circumstance. How is African multiculturalism strengthened by multigenerationalism of orthodoxy?


To the question above C.S. Lewis suggests, “Two heads are better than one, not because one is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction.” What are some of the insights from African multiculturalism that can strengthen multigenerational orthodoxy?

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