Have You Heard of Classic Christianity?

November 23, 2012 — 2 Comments


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.

However, what’s even better is the Kindle version for $3.79! $2.99!

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!).

[If you’re in RSS, click here to see the Kindle deal]


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I’m an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let’s connect!

2 responses to Have You Heard of Classic Christianity?

  1. Nate: Great recommendation. In fact, for the ST 295 course (Systematic Theology Colloquium) this year at Dallas Seminary, I’m leading them through Classic Christianity and Jenson’s 2-volume theology. Oden’s 3-volume (and now the single-volume CC) is my first recommendation when people ask me which Systematic Theology they should have in their libraries, mostly because of the wealth of classic primary source quotations and references.

    • I think my introduction to the original 3 part Oden was seeing guys carrying it around in the spring of 2008 maybe when you were doing the colloquium. I’ve really liked what I’ve read so far (the introduction) and am really looking forward to reading this and doing that Church Fathers read through starting next Sunday!

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