This may at first glance seem like an odd Black Friday post, but bear with me. When I was at Dallas, I remember seeing several students carrying around Thomas Oden’s 3 volume systematic theology. He even came for a lectureship about the early African origins of Christianity (which you can read more about here). I was loosely interested in reading his systematic one day, but as you can see it’s kind of pricey.
Just a couple of years ago, it was republished in a single volume, and titled Classic Christianity. $36 is much more manageable than $88 and at least you get it all in one book.
Now, the question I imagine you’re asking is, (and the post title helped stimulate) just what is classic Christianity?
Well, let’s let Oden answer that a bit for us, as well as explain how his approach differs from other systematic theologies.
Right off the bat, he tells us what’s up:
My basic purpose is to set forth an ordered view of the faith of the Christian community upon which there has generally been substantial agreement between the traditions of East and West, including Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox. My intent is not to present the views of a particular branch of modern Christian teaching, such as Roman Catholic or Reformed, but to listen single-mindedly for the voice of that deeper consensus that has been gratefully celebrated as received teaching by believers of vastly different cultural settings, whether African or Asian, Eastern or Western, sixth or sixteenth century.
I’ve heard this called “paleo Orthodoxy,” but classic Christianity works just as well. In working his original 3 volume work into this single volume, Oden affirms his 3 original commitments:
- to make no new contribution to theology
- to resist the temptation to quote modern writers less schooled in the whole counsel of God than the best ancient classic exegetes
- to seek quite simply to express the one mind of the believing church that has been always 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 (Vincent of Lérins, Commonitory).
Essentially, Oden promises us sheer unoriginality. In pursuing this, Oden offers a lot of parenthetical citations supporting the statements he makes (I haven’t seen a footnote yet and the book flows really well). As he explains, “My criteria for textual citations need to be candidly stated. I have preferred citing:
- biblical texts with clear teaching values, rather than those containing ambiguities or requiring clarification of complex historical conditions and assumptions;
- the most widely received classical teachers rather than ancillary or nonconsensual exhibits;
- earlier rather than later classical writers;
- and those writings that most clearly reflect ancient apostolic teaching rather than those dealing with special viewpoints and controversial themes.”
In doing this, Oden strives for clarity, precision, and cohesion, which eliminates the need for technical phrases. From what I’ve read so far, he’s nailing it.
I could go on explaining why Oden’s approach in this systematic theology is a welcome addition to most libraries. Oden himself goes on for quite some length in his introduction explaining his method in collating the classical consensus concerning orthodox Christian theology.
But, you should probably just click the link below and get a copy for yourself. At $3.79, you’re not really out that much if you decide you just don’t like it. So far, I’ve been impressed, and will work my way through it slowly over the next however-many months. Along the way, you can look for quotes and the like. I’d love to read along with you though, so if you do pick it up, let me know and let’s read it in community (digital or live if you’re in Orlando!).
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