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Thomas Oden's Paleo-Orthodoxy

By Eric Landstrom
12/09/02
"It is never too late to rediscover the joy of studying
God."1

Goal Setting
"And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is
given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and
teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the
Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching
them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded
you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the
world. Amen" (Matt. 28:18-20, KJV).
Thomas Oden2 noted in his systematic theology that for the Christian who
wants to travel light, Matthew 28:18-20 is the passage to pack along.3
Contained within this prericope is an encompassing statement about who is
rightly said to hold all power and authority over the heavens and the earth. It
is a powerful theological summary regarding the nature of the Godhead as well
as a mandate for the believing, worshipping community to go teach and make
disciples of Jesus Christ. Traditionally the passage has been viewed as a
mission statement--a Great Commission--by the church.
Living Out the Life of a Disciple
In carrying out the Great commission--before the spirit of any age--the church
has always faced three issues. They are:
i) How to continue to nurture, disciple, and grow to maturity those
who are already within the church (pastoral care).
ii) How best to reach out to a lost world and give reason for the hope
Christians have in the risen God with the resources the Lord has
provided (evangelism).
iii) How to sustain the faith once received by the saints of old in
view of assaults from within and without the body of Christ
(apologetics).
The body of Christ agrees that these three issues are lain upon the background
that God has involved himself and is active within human history. Sometimes
God has lead and sometimes God has dragged his people towards the fruition
of his eschatological goals. In response, as viewed through the lens of history,
the body of Christ has at times willingly followed the leading of the Holy Spirit
as He has sweep across the nations of the earth and at other times seemed to
only doggedly follow as though being unwittingly dragged. 4
Given this history, the question raised throughout by the worshipping
community is how are we to follow the biblical mandate and go about our
Father's business? Historically there have been primarily two schools of

thought in answering the command to make disciples and reach out to a lost
world. They are evangelism through conquest and evangelism through
adaptation.5 Both of these methods have traditionally rejected the premise of
remaining stationary and withdrawing from the world. Both have always sought
to reach outwardly when logistically possible.
Before the spirit of the age countless Christians have thought and reflected
upon how the body of Christ may best understand the world in which we live
so as to make disciples of Jesus Christ and continue to increasingly expand the
kingdom of God upon the face of this planet. Today, amid the backdrop of a
secularized cultural climate, there is strength gathering for two different camps
within evangelical circles. One is made up by "traditionalists," the other by
"non-traditionalists."6 Both seek the will of our Lord in heaven.
Although the lines often become fluid between the two camps making
generalizations difficult, the traditionalists could be described as
encompassing those life-long churchmen who adhere to perspectives contained
within contemporary evangelical traditions,7 while the non-traditionalists, as
encompassing those who are in the process of reassessing evangelical
traditions through the lenses of what Thomas Oden labels Classical
Christianity8--a movement now referred to as Paleo-Orthodoxy.9
From proponents of both camps there exists a measure of skepticism upon
members of the other. One camp rightly sees the danger of reassessing
historical presumptions lest the historical tenants of the Christian faith
become confused at best, or worse, lost altogether. The other camp views the
danger in not reassessing historical presumptions as enabling differences to
continue to divide the body of Christ. One camp believes that it has guarded
well the faith once received by the saints of old; the other camp is asking
what is that faith? Amid the history of the human condition, the groundwork
being lain right now could become a blessing or a curse upon evangelical
Christianity if this generation is to pass upon the next the faith once received.
Some of the skepticism promoted by each camp upon the other is justified and
some of it is not. Nevertheless, both camps share if not the same
methodology, then the same goals: to make disciples of Jesus Christ, grow
these disciples to maturity in faith and practice, and guard apostolic teaching.
Briefly surveying the Paleo-Orthodoxy of the rising tide of "non-traditionalists"
through the preeminent Methodist theologian Thomas C. Oden will be the
thesis of this paper.

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."10
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 fidelium12 that understood itself to be
grounded in the heart of early Christian scriptures."13
The Paleo-Orthodox Postmodern Christians
Although it may be surprising to some, Oden observes that the group most
interested in taking this journey with him are evangelicals who "are
rediscovering the history of the Holy Spirit"14 as He has moved through the
past twenty centuries. Their interest, Oden asserts, "is arguably a work of the
Holy Spirit"15 in which the revivalist traditions are maturing and recognizing
"their need for biblical resources that go far beyond those that have been
made available to them in both the pietistic and historical-critical traditions."16
Recognition that the history of the church is the history of exegesis 17 drives
Oden's interpretive strategy of understanding the movements of the Holy Spirit
down through the centuries. It is Oden's belief that by looking down the
hollowed corridor of history to the faith that was delivered up through past
generations-from those who sometimes willingly died as martyrs to protect
and pass down the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ-we will
rediscover the historical and intellectual roots of the Christian faith. What
Oden wants contemporary Christians to discover is that the boundaries of
orthodoxy were clearly lain down in the crucial and early periods of doctrinal
and pastoral development.
Additionally, Oden wants his readers to understand how God the Spirit has led
his people in the past is so that they will become more open to his leading in
the future. Oden asserts, "The Holy Spirit has a history. When this history is
systematically forgotten, it is incumbent upon evangelical guardianship to
recover it by new rigorous historical effort."18 Continuing, Oden declares,
"Evangelicals need to take the lead in biblical scholarship in recovering the
history of exegesis."19 His view being that the wisdom of Christian thought
has lain dormant and neglected by the contemporary church for far too long.
Oden observes, "What is happening today is a profound rediscovery of the
texts, apologetic methods and pastoral wisdom of the long-neglected patristic
exegetical tradition. For many evangelicals this means especially the Eastern
Church fathers of the first five Christian centuries, which never suffered as
deeply as did Western medieval Catholicism from the distortions of speculative
scholasticism."20
Throughout this journey, Oden acts as a tour guide by assembling and
systematizing the tenants of consensual faith as believed and fought for by
our Christian predecessors. This, he contends, follows after the "early
traditions of the catena and glossa ordinaria 21 that sought authoritatively to
collect salient classic interpretations of ancient exegetes."22 Regarding this
method, Oden observes, "Under fire from modern critics, the catena 23 approach
dwindled to almost nothing by the nineteenth century and has not until now
been revitalized in this postcritical situation. Ironically, it is within our own socalled progressive and broad-minded century that [the ancient church writings]

have been more systematically hidden away and ignored than in any previous
century of Christian scholarship."24 The result of this exclusion, Oden
contends, is that "the motifs, methods and approaches of ancient exegetes
have remained shockingly unfamiliar not only to ordained clergy but to
otherwise highly literate biblical scholars."25
Here Oden is arguing that nineteenth and twentieth-century exegesis has
frequently displayed a bias against reading the early church in favor of their
modern methods. Oden holds that this stems from modern arrogance citing as
proof for his position that "clear and indisputable evidence of the prevailing
modern contempt for classic exegesis[is] that the extensive and once
authoritative classic commentaries on Scripture still remain untranslated into
modern languages."26
Simply Listen
Oden's method is surprisingly simple: He tells his audience to "simply listen."
Oden writes of his own journey, saying, "By the middle of the 1970s the idea
had gradually begun to dawn upon me with increasing force that it is not my
task to create a theology."27 Oden was learning "that the deposit of truth is
already sufficiently given, fully and adequately."28 He says, "What I needed to
do was listen. But I could not listen because I found my modern
presuppositions constantly tyrannizing my listening. I realized that I must
listen intently, actively, without reservation. Listen in such a way that my
whole life depended upon hearing. Listen in such a way that I could see
telescopically beyond my modern myopia, to break through walls of my modern
prison, and actually hear voices from the past with different assumptions
entirely about the world and time and human culture. Then I began reading the
decisions of the ancient Ecumenical Councils. Only then in my forties did I
begin to become a theologian."29
Along the way Oden listened and noted that the "patristic exegetes pointed to
the councils as evidence of the assent of the whole Church."30 Seven of these
ecumenical, consensual councils became Oden's guideposts to chart
consensual Christianity.31
While rowing down the river of Christian exegesis, Oden also carefully noted
five forces that have consistently sought to divide and resist the growth of the
body of Christ. These forces are: "the partisan spirit that would divide it; the
heretical spirit that would lead it to distort or forget apostolic teaching; the
antinomian spirit that turns Christian liberty into libertinism; the legalistic
spirit that would turn grace into law; and the naturalistic spirit that would
treat grace as a determinant of nature."32 And so in listening Oden
increasingly became concerned about the defining boundaries of orthodoxy by
asking what they are and "attempting to answer [this] question within the
framework of the consensus fidelium, celebrating two millennia of Christian
exegesis, amid a great cloud of witnesses."33
In the undertaking of this journey to apprehend consensual Christianity, Oden
commits: "(1) To make no new contribution to theology. (2) To resist the
temptation to quote modern writers less schooled in the whole counsel of God
than the best ancient classic exegetes. (3) To seek quite simply to express the
one mind of the believing church that has been ever attentive to that apostolic

teaching to which consent has been given by Christian believers everywhere,


always, and by all-this is what I mean by the Vincentian method."34
Regarding this last point, Oden desires to present the reader with the faith
that Vincent of Lerins reflected when he penned, "'quod ubique, quod semper,
quod ab omnibus creditum est' ('that which has been believed in every place,
in every time, by everyone')."35 By this, he means those statements of faith
that have been claimed by the majority of Christians throughout time. It is the
faith shared by all branches of Christendom, as given from the crucial early
periods of Christian doctrinal definition through the foundations of the
Reformation in the 16th century that Oden uncovers and brings before us.
Oden states, "My mission is to deliver as clearly as I can that core of
consensual belief concerning Jesus Christ that has been shared for two
hundred decades. I seek language that makes plausible today the intent of
classical Christianity, while avoiding misconceptions that have become
attached to its popular exposition. I... deal with those teachings on which the
central stream of classical exegesis has generally agreed as expressing the
mind of the believing church."36
In short, Oden wants to offer to the believing, worshipping Christian
community "what the Talmud and Midrashim have long offered to Jewish
readers"37 : an authoritative glossa ordinaria to be used by all branches of
Christianity. Therefore, while maintaining an evangelical focus, Oden's work is
ecumenical, useful to Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants alike. Oden
asks, "How is it that such varied Christians are able to find inspiration and
common faith in these texts? Why are these texts and studies so intrinsically
ecumenical, so catholic in their cultural range? Because all of these traditions
have an equal right to appeal to the early history of Christian exegesis. All of
these traditions can, without a sacrifice of intellect, come together to study
texts common to them all."38 Oden posits, "The study of the Fathers on
Scripture promises to further significant interactions between Protestants and
Catholics on issues that have plagued them for centuries: justification,
authority, Christology, sanctification and eschatology. Why? Because they can
find in pre-Reformation texts a common faith to which Christians can appeal.
And this is an arena in which Protestants distinctively feel at home: biblical
authority and interpretation."39
On his assembling a glossa ordinaria, Oden remarks, "We now know that there
is virtually no portion of Scripture about which the ancient Christian writers had
little or nothing useful or meaningful to say. Many of them studied the Bible
thoroughly with deep contemplative discernment, comparing text with text,
often memorizing large portions of it."40
To avoid speculative interpretations, Oden is quick to point out that "what the
consensual tradition trusts least is individualistic innovation that has not yet
subtly learned what the worshiping community already knows."41 In
consideration of this rule, Oden's textual "selections focus more on the
attempt to identify consensual strains of exegesis than sheer speculative
brilliance or erratic innovation"42 because "the purpose of exegesis in the
patristic period was humbly to seek the revealed truth the Scriptures
convey."43

Regarding the patristic method, Oden states, "The patristic writers actively
practiced intratextual exegesis, which seeks to define and identify the exact
wording of the text, its grammatical structure and the interconnectedness of
its parts. They also practiced extratextual exegesis, seeking to discern the
geographical, historical or cultural context in which the text was written. Most
important, they were also very well-practiced in intertextual exegesis, seeking
to discern the meaning of a text by comparing it with other texts."44 These are
important hermeneutical points to consider if "the exegesis of the church
fathers is [going to be] helpful in 'the explication of a doctrine that is not
sufficiently explained, or for confirmation of a doctrine generally received.'"45
The Method of the Reformers
Christians have been sharing and defending the faith once delivered to the
saints of old for nearly two millennia. Over the course of those two thousand
years there have been many challenges to the faith that the Lord himself
delivered unto us. As we enter the dawning of a new millennium, crossing the
threshold of a new age, it is wisdom to give serious consideration of how we
can best define and defend the gospel without destroying the simple faith
once delivered by the witness of the apostles. In doing so, it would seem
reasonable to explore Christianity's historical roots to learn how God has led
his servants in the past so that contemporary Christianity may be more open
and aware of God's leading in the present and in the future. Oden writes: "An
awareness is dawning: it is time to quit our sniveling apologies for the
distortions of traditional Christianity and go right back to the scriptural and
patristic texts and ask how classical Christianity itself might teach us to
understand the providence of God in the midst of our modern situation."46
Being historically "self-aware" (which, Oden argues, is what the Reformers
themselves were), is being aware of consensual Christianity and the
movements of the Holy Spirit throughout history. To become aware of
consensual Christianity, Oden draws infrequently from contemporary works,
increasingly from authors of the reformation, regularly from the medieval
period, frequently from the post-Nicene period, heavily from the Ante-Nicene
Fathers and primarily from Scripture to encapsulate the historic teachings of
classical Christianity (see figure below).
Beginning with his mature
work,47 Oden has endeavored
himself to make no new
theological contribution, has
sought no new way to
contemplate the Lord, and no
new method of expressing or
articulating the Christian
faith than what has been
received from consensual
Christianity.48 Instead he
calls upon with great
frequency to exegetes of
Christian history which, as a
group of thinkers, he refers
to as classical Christianity,
or ancient ecumenical

orthodoxy with the goal to warm Protestants to the richness of centuries of


Christian intellectual achievement that led to the Reformation.
By doing so, Oden has contested against the urge to engage in modern
methods and contemporary theologians and theological systems. Through
visitation of ancient conflicts the Christian body has fought against, Oden
directs the study of God as He has been known to the single mind of the
believing church. Throughout his writings, Oden remains vigilant of the
teachings that are confirmed by all of the body of Christ throughout the
historic writings of Christian exegetes. Nevertheless, Oden is keen to point out
when classic Christian consensus argues against prominent contemporary
heresies or heresies that ancient ecumenical consensus rejected which serve
to foreshadow heretical contemporary counterparts. In this regard Oden
believes that the boundaries of orthodoxy have been clearly defined.
Therefore, unlike contemporary theological methods where the fixation is upon
more modern thought and hermeneutical models, Oden encourages ancient
commentators to speak directly to the reader on their own terms 49 and reveal
their mastery of Christian thought.
In Oden's method, "Earlier rather than later sources are cited where possible,
not because older is sentimentally prized, but because they have had longer to
shape historical consensus."50 This reveals his presupposition that "the
Fathers are 'the most authentic commentators on Scripture, as being both
nearest the fountain, and eminently endued with the Spirit by whom all
Scripture is given.'"51 Oden adds without apology, "My aim has not been to
survey the bewildering varieties of dissent, but to identify and plausibly set
forth the cohesive central tradition of general lay consent to apostolic
teaching. I will spend little time trying to knock down other's cherished
views."52
Oden's approach of "simply listening" may well seem naive to modern methods
of hermeneutics whose theories presume that we all listen from within a
perspective. Hence, the act of "simply listening" as Oden suggests seems
bothersome. Yet it is just this sort of variance that Oden seeks from his
reasoning as he holds that "each seeming defeat readies the [Christian]
community for a deeper level of understanding. Each apparent victory readies
the [Christian] community for a deeper level of conflict."53
Oden's contention is that "in Protestantism, our historical memory is very
short. Baptists remember Baptist history. Presbyterians remember Presbyterian
history. Methodists might begin reading church history with John Wesley, the
Reformed tradition with John Calvin. But that only goes back a few
centuries."54 Oden maintains that this isn't the pattern set forth by the
Reformers themselves. He argues, "If you read these men, you realize their
preaching didn't start with their era, but with the Scripture, and they knew the
patristic writers well. If we are going to follow our leaders we should do it as
they directed rather than sentimentally returning to a little piece of history for
which we have a special affection. In fixating on our own era, we deprive
ourselves of a grasp of the Holy Spirit's work through every century, including
those of the patriarchs and prophets leading up to John the Baptist and the
proclamation of Jesus Christ. It is the whole work of God in history we must
understand, not just a small section of it."55 Therefore, Oden is asserting that
"the evangelical tradition has been long deprived of any vital contact with

these patristic sources since the days of Luther, Calvin and Wesley, who knew
them well."56
The product of Oden's work as a systematician57 has largely been an attempt
at organizing and setting forth in an orderly fashion ancient, ecumenical
Christianity. Indeed, a cursory look through his work reveals that Oden's focus
is upon the consensual Christian thought through the first five centuries, since
"antiquity is a criterion of authentic memory in any historical testimony."58 His
preoccupation with antiquity means he refuses to renounce his "zeal for
unoriginality." Appropriately, Oden quotes only from church fathers when they
represent ecumenical beliefs. For example, Pelagius and Origen are quoted,
but not when their views upon a subject were extreme and rejected by the
majority of the church. Overall, Oden presents a detailed posturing for any
view presented and it is obvious Oden has done his research and based his
presentation upon a large survey of the writings of historic Christianity.59
Ultimately Oden's target audience is the working pastor because he believes
that the pastoral office is the linchpin of theological endeavors.60 As such,
throughout his varied efforts is lain a veritable gold mine of unearthed nuggets
of pastoral theology from classic exegetes.
Oden's Goal
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."61
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.
Conclusion
"Oden predicts that the sign of hope in 21st century Christian thought will be
its preoccupation with the rediscovery of boundaries in theology."62 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."63
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."64
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.65


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.'"66 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."67
Bibliography of Reference and Cited Works
Michael Bauman (Editor), David Hall (Editor), Evangelical Apologetics,
"Defending the Faith Theologically," Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications,
1998.
Thomas Oden, Parables of Kierkegaard, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
Press, reprint 1989.
Agenda for Theology, San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1979.
Pastoral Theology, San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1983.
After Modernity... What?, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1990.
The Living God, Systematic Theology: Vol. 1, Peabody, MA: Prince
Press, reprint 2001.
The Word of Life, Systematic Theology: Vol. 2, Peabody, MA: Prince
Press, reprint 2001.
Life in the Spirit, Systematic Theology: Vol. 3, Peabody, MA: Prince
Press, reprint 2001.
Two Worlds: Notes on the Death of Modernity in America & Russia,
Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1992.
John Wesley's Scriptural Christianity: A Plain Exposition of His
Teaching on Christian Doctrine, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994.
Requiem: A Lament in Three Movements, Nashville, TN: Abingdon
Press, 1995.
Reformed Quarterly, "Do I Really Need to Study Church History?,"
Fall, 1998.
Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, vol. 1, Downers Grove,
IL: Intervarsity Press, 2001.
Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, 2nd ed., Nashville, TN:
Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995.
Victor Shepherd, "Thomas Oden," Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals,
World Wide Web, December, 2002, Available:
http://www.victorshepherd.on.ca/other%20writings/Thomas%20Oden.htm
Discussion Questions
1. Do we listen to the text or to the theology? In other words what holds
supremacy?
2. Can consensual Christianity "grow" and become "progressive" consensual
Christianity?

3.
4.

5.
6.

Christianity?
Can the consensus fidelium be wrong?
Is consensual Christianity all we need? In other words, has anything that
has been "added" or more fully explained since these early periods of
Chruch history helped or hindered the body of Christ?
What are some examples of speculative scholasticism?
If the goal of consensual Christianity is ecumenical, whose "tradition" will
have to bend?

1. Oden, Requiem: A Lament in Three Movements, p. 46.


2. Thomas C. Oden is a Methodist theologian and Henry Anson Buttz Professor of Theology at
Drew University who has authored some 40 books and numerous journal artic les throughout his
career. Dr. Oden is regarded as the foremost evangelic al theologian alive within the United
Methodist Churc h today. In addition, he is a noted sc holar and an Executive Editor of Christianity
Today. Oden has lec tured the world over and held many positions of leadership throughout his
lifetime. Aware that he is in the twilight of his years, he has taken up the c hallenge to produce a
twenty-eight volume Bible commentary exclusively using Christian writers from the first eight
centuries of Christianity (the era from Clement of Rome, 95 A.D., to John of Damasc us, 645-749
A.D.).
3. Oden writes: "All the theology one would ever need is already embedded in this passage. The
theologian who would travel light may travel with this verse alone" (Oden, Life in the Spirit, p.
470).
4. Churc h history reveals that the churc h is more often reactive than proac tive. It is Oden's
contention that a historically aware body of believers will make the church inc reasingly proac tive.
5. cf. Shelley, Churc h History in Plain Language, pp. 280-90 who glosses the history of c onquest
and adoption but fails to illustrate that the theologic al framework of conquest was first framed by
Augustine and the first state c hurc h readily adopted this framework. Augustine formed the idea
that if God c ompels belief then prec edent is given for his servants to also c ompel belief. He was
the first to see that the visible c hurc h c ontained not just saints who freely entered in but saw the
visible c hurch as c ontaining both the wheat and the tares. Thus state enforcement, forced belief
simply bec ame an extension of c hurch discipline (which also goes far to explain why Augustines
other theological innovations where acc epted by the Western Churc h). Thus Augustine formed a
theologic al basis for Gods servants to use forc e. And suc c eeding generations ran with the idea.
Of this Farrar c omments:
Augustine must bear the fatal charge of being the first as well as one of the ablest
defenders of the frightful c ause of persecution and intoleranc e. He was the first to
misuse the words Compel Them To Come In - a fragmentary phrase wholly unsuited to
bear the weight of horror for whic h it was made responsible. He was the first and
ablest asserter of the principle that led to the Albigensian c rusades, Spanish armadas,
Netherlands' butcheries, St Bartholomew massac res, the ac cursed infamies of the
Inquisition, the vile espionage, the hideous balefires of Seville and Smithfield, the
racks, the gibbets, the thumbsc rews, the subterranean torture- chambers used by
c hurc hly torturers who assumed the garb and language of priests with the trade and
temper of exec utioners, to sic ken, crush and horrify the Revolted Consc ienc e Of
Mankind.... It is mainly bec ause of his later intolerance that the influenc e of Augustine
falls like a dark shadow ac ross the centuries. It is thus that an Arnold of Citeaux, a
Torquemada, a Sprenger, an Alva, a Philip The Sec ond, a Mary Tudor, a Charles IX
and a Louis XIV can look up to him as an authorizer of their enormities, and quote his
sentenc es to defend some of the vilest c rimes whic h ever caused men to look with
horror on the religion of Christ and the Churc h of God (F.W. Farrar, Lives of the
Fathers, 1889, p. 536).
6. Non-traditionalist is somewhat of a misnomer as many who adhere to this position lay c laim that
they are simply revisiting historical teac hings found within the history of the c hurch.
7. For the purposes of this paper, it is assumed that arguments will follow from presuppositions
that generally ac c ept evangelical Christian views.
8. Classic al Christianity is a term that came into use after the publishing of Thomas Oden's book

8. Classic al Christianity is a term that came into use after the publishing of Thomas Oden's book
Agenda for Theology, 1979, now republished under the title After ModernityWhat? Classical
Christianity is what Oden c alls the exegetes of Christian history whic h, as a group of thinkers, he
refers to as c lassic al Christianity, or anc ient ec umenic al orthodoxy.
9. Paleo-Orthodoxy or anc ient orthodoxy conveys the idea of historic al primitive Christianity. Oden
writes, "The term paleo-orthodoxy is employed to make c lear that we are not talking about neoorthodoxy. Paleo becomes a nec essary prefix only bec ause the term orthodoxy has been
preempted and to some degree tarnished by the modern tradition of neo-orthodoxy" (Oden,
Requiem: A Lament in Three Movements, p. 130, emphasis his).
10. Oden, Agenda for Theology, p. 31-32; Oden, After ModernityWhat?, p. 34.
11. Oden, "Christian Apologetic s in a Non- Christian World," Evangelic al Apologetics, Camp Hill, p.
271.
12. Translated: "True agreement." Translation, mine.
13. Oden, Agenda for Theology, p. 17.
14. Oden, "General Introduc tion," Anc ient Christian Commentary on Scripture, p. xx.
15. Ibidem, p. xx.
16. Ibidem.
17. Oden, The Living God, p. xiii.
18. Oden, "Defending the Faith Theologic ally," Evangelic al Apologetics, p. 278.
19. Ibidem.
20. Ibidem, p. 285.
21. During the first fifteen centuries of Christianity "Biblical texts were rarely reproduc ed alone
without c ommentaries. By the High Middle Ages readers [were] expected to have the cumulative
commentaries of the Churc h fathers and of recent sc holarship immediately available as a guide to
eac h passage. By the eleventh c entury this c irc umstance resulted in a special layout of biblic al
manusc ripts. The c ommentaries in glossed Bibles for professional (university or cleric al) use were
intentionally c learly separated from the biblic al text itself. Two types of glossed Bibles were the
most popular: the Glossa Ordinaria, thus c alled from its c ommon use during the Middle Ages, and
the Glossa Interlinearis. The Glossa Ordinaria-the most advanc ed twelfth-c entury type of
commented Bible-c onsisted of nine or ten volumes c ontaining individual or grouped books of the
Bible, each having marginal annotation throughout. Until the seventeenth century [the Glossa
Ordinaria] remained the favorite commentary on the Bible and it was only gradually superseded by
more independent works of exegesis" (explanation c ited from Typology of Medieval Books, World
Wide Web, Dec ember, 2002, Available: http://www.ceu.hu/medstud/manual/MMM/typology.html).
22. Oden, "General Introduc tion," Anc ient Christian Commentary on Scripture, p. xvi.
23. This method "follows in the train of much Talmudic, Midrashic and rabbinic exegesis" (Oden,
"General Introduction," Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, p. xxii).
24. Ibidem, p. xvi.
25. Ibidem, p. xvii.
26. Ibidem.
27. Oden, The Word of Life, p. 219.
28. Ibidem.
29. Ibidem, pp. 219, 220.
30. Oden, "Christian Apologetic s in a Non- Christian World," Evangelic al Apologetics, p. 291.
31. Oden uses seven Ecumenic al Councils as guideposts to c hart his journey to apprehending
consensual Christianity. Oden explains: "The seven counc ils c ommonly held both in East and West
as binding on all Christians, both having universal Christian c onsent, are (with dates and c hief
subjects): (1) Nicaea (325, Arianism); (2) Constantinople I (381, Apollinarianism); (3) Ephesus
(431, Nestorianism); (4) Chalcedon (451, Eutychianism); (5) Constantinople II (553, Three
Chapters Controversy); (6) Constantinople III (680-681, Monothelitism); and (7) Nic aea II (787,
Ic onoc lasm). We might be led to assume that every ordained minister would be thoroughly
sc hooled in the c anons and dec rees of these universally ac cepted councils (to be presupposed as
one assumes that the multiplic ation tables are known by every mathematic ian), but that would be
a rash assumption. A thorough reappraisal of the theologic al method implic it in these early
doc trinal formulations is c ruc ially a part of the awaiting agenda of contemporary theology" (Oden,
Agenda for Theology, p. 34).
32. Oden, "Christian Apologetic s in a Non- Christian World," Evangelic al Apologetics, p. 290.
33. Ibidem, pp. 271-72.
34. Oden, Life in the Spirit, p. vii.
35. Oden, Agenda for Theology, p. 34.
36. Oden, The Word of Life, p. x.
37. Oden, "General Introduc tion," Anc ient Christian Commentary on Scripture, p. xvi.

37. Oden, "General Introduc tion," Anc ient Christian Commentary on Scripture, p. xvi.
38. Ibidem, p. xviii.
39. Ibidem, p. xxi.
40. Ibidem, p. xiv.
41. Ibidem, p. xxii.
42. Ibidem.
43. Ibidem, p. xxvi.
44. Ibidem, p. xxxi, emphasis his.
45. Oden, "Christian Apologetic s in a Non- Christian World," Evangelic al Apologetics, p. 280; c iting
John Wesley, A Roman Catec hism, with a Reply, "Preface," Works, 10:87, emphasis his.
46. Oden, Agenda for Theology, p. 32.
47. Parables of Kierkegaard, first published in 1978, is considered by many to be Oden's first
mature work; c f. Dr. Vic tor Shepherd, "Thomas Oden," Biographic al Dic tionary of Evangelic als.
48. In the prefac e of The Living God, Oden writes, "I present no revolutionary ideas, no easy new
way to salvation. The road is still narrow (Matt. 7:14). I do not have the gift of softening the
sting of the Christian message, of making it seem light or easily borne or quickly assimilated into
prevailing modern ideas" (Oden, The Living God, p. xiii).
49. Oden states in an interview: "Let these anc ient Christian writers speak to you direc tly rather
than through some filter. Allow the Holy Spirit through the text to speak personally in the same
way the Bible does. Gaining a sense of how the Bible was seen and understood in different
historical settings is part of the way one grows into a deeper, fuller disc ernment and perspec tive"
(Oden, Reformed Quarterly, "Do I Really Need to Study Church History?," Fall, 1998).
50. Oden, Life in the Spirit, p. ix.
51. Oden, "Christian Apologetic s in a Non- Christian World," Evangelic al Apologetics, p. 280; c iting
John Wesley, "Address to the Clergy," Works, i.2, 10.484.
52. Oden, Life in the Spirit, p. vii, emphasis his.
53. Oden, "Christian Apologetic s in a Non- Christian World," Evangelic al Apologetics, p. 292.
54. Oden, Reformed Quarterly, "Do I Really Need to Study Churc h History?," Fall, 1998.
55. Ibidem.
56. Oden, "General Introduc tion," Anc ient Christian Commentary on Scripture, p. xx.
57. Oden says of himself: "I have spent most of my professional life as a systematic
theologian[and] my method is primarily systematic " (Oden, John Wesley's Sc riptural Christianity: A
Plain Exposition of His Teaching on Christian Doc trine, p. 24).
58. Victor Shepherd, "Thomas Oden," Biographic al Dic tionary of Evangelicals.
59. Oden notes that suc h a survey wasn't feasible until the advent of c omputerized databases
(Oden, "General Introduction," Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, p. xiv).
60. Oden, Agenda for Theology, p. xi; c f. Oden, The Living God, p. x, emphasis mine.
61. Oden, "General Introduc tion," Anc ient Christian Commentary on Scripture, p. xi, emphasis his.
62. Victor Shepherd, "Thomas Oden," Biographic al Dic tionary of Evangelicals.
63. Oden, Requiem: A Lament in Three Movements, p. 47.
64. Oden, Agenda for Theology, p. 31.
65. Adopted from Sren Kierkegaard's parable "Luther's Return."
66. Oden, "Christian Apologetic s in a Non- Christian World," Evangelic al Apologetics, p. 289; c iting
the Sec ond Helvetic Confession.
67. Ibidem, p. 287.

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