While browsing through Amazon looking for books relevant to my Global Christianity course, I came across Thomas Oden’s How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity, whose page includes one of the most horrifyingly negative reviews I’ve ever seen:
Where is the cradle of Christianity—Europe or Africa? After teaching historical and systematic theology, Oden is surprisingly just discovering what other scholars have argued for some time: that the earliest contours of Christianity can be easily traced to Africa. After all, Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Plotinus and Augustine—to name only a few early Christian thinkers—were Africans. In this tiresome and repetitious book, Oden belabors the already well-established notion that Christianity’s roots can be found in Africa. He does draw helpfully on his work on the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series to demonstrate that the intellectual contours of Christianity—academics, exegesis, dogmatics, ecumenics, monasticism, philosophy, and dialectics—developed in Africa. However, Peter Brown (Augustine of Hippo) and other writers have clearly recognized this contribution, and Oden’s naïve and hyperbolic book is more embarrassing than enlightening. Oden’s study is most suited to those who are entirely new to the debate and who will benefit from resources such as a time line of early African Christianity and a reading list for further investigation of the subject.
Note the reversal of the traditional “a couple token negative points in a basically positive review” — and how extremely faint the praise is even in that context (a timeline and a list of other books!). Brown’s Augustine of Hippo is a particularly artful choice of an example of a previous work that makes the same point, since it’s one of the most widely read scholarly works in theological studies — and more broadly, nearly every word is carefully calculated to belittle.
Also note that this is not some crank Amazon reviewer, but Publisher’s Weekly.
I’m usually inclined to be skeptical of over-the-top positive reviews, but this is definitely a time when I feel like Oden’s book can’t possibly be that bad and this reviewer must have it out for him for some reason.
UPDATE: I believe this clip my have served as something of a template for the reviewer: