Tom Oden's Early Libyan Christianity (IVP, 2011) shows the error of those who claim that "African Christianity began only with modern Western colonialism," or that "Islam has more authentic claims to Africaneity than Christianity." Oden tells a striking story and he's a striking person: A scholar who edited the 28-volume Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, he is a self-described "white guy from middle America, born in the Dust Bowl of the Great Depression."
With that background he has spent decades learning and then showing the debt Christianity owes to Africa. His ancestors hailed from the British Isles and Scandinavia, so he has no skin in this game, but it's often that way with Christians, who oddly enough prefer historical truth to ancestor worship. Let's be honest, now: How many of you, dear readers, heard the news about Libya and thought "Simon of Cyrene," who carried Christ's cross to Calvary—but Cyrene was part of Libya? Libyans were present at Pentecost and at the stoning of Stephen. They were members of the Christian communities of Jerusalem, Antioch, and probably Rome.
Oden provides evidence that the Gospel writer Mark was Libyan, as were six centuries of Christian theologians and martyrs. They came close to hitting a home run, but Libya also had heresy and dissension. When Arab armies swept across North Africa beginning in 640 A.D., some saw it as a temporary setback—but nearly 1,400 years later Islam still rules those lands and brooks no opposition.
Christianity had its moment in Libya. How long, Lord, until it has another?
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