Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology Hardcover – 1 Aug 2009
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About the Author
Thomas C. Oden (PhD, Yale) is Director of the Center for Early African Christianity at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania and Henry Anson Buttz Professor of Theology and Ethics at Drew University. He is an ordained Methodist minister and the author of many books, including The Rebirth of Orthodoxy: Signs of New Life in Christianity, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity, Doctrinal Standards in the Wesleyan Tradition, and Classic Christianity. Dr. Oden is also the general editor for the widely-used Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series.
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Oden himself considers himself something of an enigma and concedes that he risks suffering from a case of "mistaken identity" as he merges the consensual voice of the church fathers, ecumenical councils and his own Wesleyan Methodist Protestant tradition. Having immersed himself in the fathers for some ten years before writing this systematics he comes across to some Evangelicals as a very Catholic evangelical, Ecumenists consider him an antiquarian sort of ecumenist, Liberal mainliners consider him a liturgically conservative Anglo-Catholic Evangelical, Charismatics consider him a traditional Protestant who believes in the witness of the Spirit, Arminians consider him an old Protestant scholastic, but if Oden were allowed to define himself he "experiences himself as an orthodox ecumenical evangelical."
The driving force behind this 3 volume systematics is the notion that there was and continues to be a great deal of consensus amongst Christian of all ages despite the dissimilarities. The Epilogue at the end of volume 3 explains how Oden has "struggled to identify a proximate consensus even while there remain many dissenting voices." Oden sought to listen to the seven ecumenical councils as well as regional councils that have gained wide consent and recognition over the centuries. More narrowly Oden has listened most to the 8 doctors of the Church. Athanasius, Basil, Gregory Nazianzus and John Chrysostom in the East and Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome and Gregory in the West. Oden argues these "eight are with few exceptions consensually reliable clarifiers of the mind of the believing church." Oden himself has come to this conclusion only after years of study and comparative reading of the fathers. Moreover Oden laments that "more is known today of the development of Christian doctrine than of the continuities within those developments. A huge literature exists on the varieties of Christian teaching, and a very small literature on centrist orthodox consent." Consnsus is not abolished for Oden if a few detractors arise here or there, for then there would be no general agreement in the Church at any time. Oden also recognizes the dangers of a universal consensus in a given time or place that is a false consensus and a deviation from the historic ecumenical consensus. Thus Puritan intolerance or the medieval Catholic Church's abuse regarding the selling of indulgences are aberrations that depart from the genuine consensus of the Church. Even today we risk arriving at a false consensus given that much of modern day ecumenism is driven by liberal Protestant assumptions rooted in the Enlightenment or that post-Vaticn II Roman Catholic theology is sometimes too enamored with innovation. Nevertheless Oden believes a universal consensus based primarily on the consensual exegesis of the Fathers is the surest way to establish what is truly orthodox. Oden concludes the Epilogue with an invitation to potential critics: "Nothing would please me more than that this modest study be followed by a rigorous phase of criticism that would argue for or against its principal thesis that there is indeed a consensus of classic Christian teaching, and a distinct method of consensual exegesis."
In this sense Oden breathes the spirit of our age where many long for unity and harmony over against dissent and fractiousness. Since Oden's topics are broad (the doctrine of God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Church and the End times) there is much that Christians of various faiths will discover they have in common with one another.
A very fine and relatively easy to read introduction to systamtic theology that is free of technical terminology and the vast array of Patristic citations as well as quotes from various church councils and later Protestant confesssions is impressive.
Oden's "Classic Christianity" is the fruit of many years of research, reflection and study - an encapsulation of his proposed theological method spelled out in his mature works such as "After Modernity?" and "Requiem." In this simple and highly readable intro to classic Christian theology Oden has performed a real service, especially for Evangelical Christians who are only now discovering the Great Tradition.
For more insight into Thomas Oden's theological vision see the following insights offered by Landstrom, a fellow reviewer:
Thomas Oden's Paleo-Orthodoxy
After suffering through the demise of western thought, the logic of absolutes, Thomas Oden wants to lead the Christian community back to study the Word of God as it has been understood by historical Christian exegetes. In this journey Oden wants "to begin to prepare the postmodern Christian community for its third millennium by returning again to the careful study and respectful following of the central tradition of classical Christianity."
In consideration of our pivotal age, Oden has a deep concern about "how the faith once delivered to the saints is to be rightly guarded, reasonably championed and wisely advocated in our special historic situation."11 He writes, "Few would quarrel with the idea that advocacy of Christian truth is the central responsibility [of the Christian]. But suppose we took as our subject of advocacy not modern theological opinion[s] about Christianity but the common faith of the ancient ecumenical church gathered repeatedly in general council in its first millennium, a consensus fidelium that understood itself to be grounded in the heart of early Christian scriptures."
Oden's Paleo-Orthodoxy has three primary goals: "the renewal of Christian preaching based on classical Christian exegesis, the intensified study of Scripture by lay persons who wish to think with the early church about the canonical text, and the stimulation of Christian historical, biblical, theological and pastoral scholarship toward further inquiry into the scriptural interpretations of the ancient Christian writers."
Oden's hope is not that we will all come out orthodox on the other side, but that by listening we will be engaged in the tradition that has sustained the Christian faith from the very beginning. His ultimate concern, therefore, is not right doctrine via a reassertion of ancient orthodoxy, but a Christian faith that is historically self-aware and thereby humbly open to God's continued leading in the future.
"Oden predicts that the sign of hope in 21st century Christian thought will be its preoccupation with the rediscovery of boundaries in theology." Musing, Oden says, "I am looking, like Diogenes with his lamp, for a seminary where some heresy exists. I would love to find a seminary where a discussion is taking place about whether a line can be drawn between faith and unfaith." Oden is looking for such foundational dialogue because to contend against the spirit of this age he believes that "ministry will have to learn a new skill that once was taken for granted but now has become long forgotten: the ability to distinguish between doctrinal authenticity and phoniness."
Should we pursue Oden's challenge, we will quickly learn as our motto that faith disrupts and where public disruption isn't observable, faith hasn't occurred. If as "believers" we nevertheless protest that we have faith, then we are theologians; if we know how to describe faith, we are poets; if we weep in describing faith, actors. But only as we witness for the truth and against untruth are we actually possessed of faith.
After many years of listening intently, Oden has come to understand that "the church 'does not err, so long as it relies upon the rock Christ, and upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles.'" Confident in the Lord's leading, at length, Oden calls us to remember that "the Church's future is finally left not to human will or chance, but to the work of the Spirit and divine grace. Many branches of the seasonally changing vine may drop off in varied storms and seasons of cultural histories. Once-vital ideas and institutions may become dysfunctional and atrophy. But the Church as Body of Christ will be preserved till the end of time."
I noticed one other person said the Kindle version has no table of contents. That's untrue. While the Kindle version has no link to take you to the table of contents, it does have an active table of contents to take you to the various chapters and the sections within each chapter. It's laid out very well and this book would be miserable to read on Kindle without this.