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Chapter 9: Seeking the relation of Christianity and Islam Through Historical Insight

Key Names, Locations, and Terms

Victor of Vita: The bishop of an unknown city in Byzacena from 480/1-484. He is the author of a very important treatise on the history of the Vandal persecution in Africa.

Ancient African Christianity after the Arabic Conquest notwithstanding what is often taught, Christianity did not completely disappear from North Africa after the Arab invasion. Centers of Christianity continued into the 12th century. As an example, until the 11th century Roman popes maintained relations with five African bishops. Also, Latin Christian inscriptions have been found dating to 1076.

Dhimmi is the Arabic term for the non-Muslims subject to the government administered according to sharia law. This status was originally made available only to people of the book—Christians and Jews. Dhimmis had more rights than other non-Muslim groups but significantly less than fellow Muslim citizens. Dhimmis were expected to pay a poll tax, were excluded from the political process, and were expected to be subservient and loyal to their Muslim rulers.

Thesis: pre-Islamic African wisdom influenced Islamic scholarly study of sacred texts. This fact has not been adequately studied by either Christian or Islamic scholars.


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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