Eric Landstrom, “Thomas Oden’s Paleo-Orthodoxy”

, posted by SEA


“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 exegesis17 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 ordinaria21 that sought authoritatively to collect salient classic interpretations of ancient exegetes.”22 Regarding this method, Oden observes, “Under fire from modern critics, the catena23 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 so-called 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 terms49 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.

“Oden predicts that the sign of hope in 21st century Christian thought will be its preoccupation with the rediscovery of boundaries in theology.”62Musing, 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:

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. Can the consensus fidelium be wrong?
  4. 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?
  5. What are some examples of speculative scholasticism?
  6. 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 articles throughout his career. Dr. Oden is regarded as the foremost evangelical theologian alive within the United Methodist Church today. In addition, he is a noted scholar and an Executive Editor ofChristianity Today. Oden has lectured 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 challenge 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 Damascus, 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. Church history reveals that the church is more often reactive than proactive. It is Oden’s contention that a historically aware body of believers will make the church increasingly proactive.
5. cf. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, pp. 280-90 who glosses the history of conquest and adoption but fails to illustrate that the theological framework of conquest was first framed by Augustine and the first state church readily adopted this framework. Augustine formed the idea that if God compels belief then precedent is given for his servants to also compel belief. He was the first to see that the visible church contained not just saints who freely entered in but saw the visible church as containing both the wheat and the tares. Thus state enforcement, forced belief simply became an extension of church discipline (which also goes far to explain why Augustine’s other theological innovations where accepted by the Western Church). Thus Augustine formed a theological basis for God’s servants to use force. And succeeding generations ran with the idea. Of this Farrar comments:

Augustine must bear the fatal charge of being the first as well as one of the ablest defenders of the frightful cause of persecution and intolerance. 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 which it was made responsible. He was the first and ablest asserter of the principle that led to the Albigensian crusades, Spanish armadas, Netherlands’ butcheries, St Bartholomew massacres, the accursed infamies of the Inquisition, the vile espionage, the hideous balefires of Seville and Smithfield, the racks, the gibbets, the thumbscrews, the subterranean torture-chambers used by churchly torturers who assumed “the garb and language of priests with the trade and temper of executioners,” to sicken, crush and horrify the Revolted Conscience Of Mankind…. It is mainly because of his later intolerance that the influence of Augustine falls like a dark shadow across the centuries. It is thus that an Arnold of Citeaux, a Torquemada, a Sprenger, an Alva, a Philip The Second, a Mary Tudor, a Charles IX and a Louis XIV can look up to him as an authorizer of their enormities, and quote his sentences to defend some of the vilest crimes which ever caused men to look with horror on the religion of Christ and the Church 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 claim that they are simply revisiting historical teachings found within the history of the church.
7. For the purposes of this paper, it is assumed that arguments will follow from presuppositions that generally accept evangelical Christian views.
8. Classical 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 calls the exegetes of Christian history which, as a group of thinkers, he refers to as classical Christianity, or ancient ecumenical orthodoxy.
9. Paleo-Orthodoxy or ancient orthodoxy conveys the idea of historical primitive Christianity. Oden writes, “The term paleo-orthodoxy is employed to make clear that we are not talking about neo-orthodoxy. Paleo becomes a necessary prefix only because 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 Apologetics in a Non-Christian World,” Evangelical Apologetics, Camp Hill, p. 271.
12. Translated: “True agreement.” Translation, mine.
13. Oden, Agenda for Theology, p. 17.
14. Oden, “General Introduction,” Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, p. xx.
15. Ibidem, p. xx.
16. Ibidem.
17. Oden, The Living God, p. xiii.
18. Oden, “Defending the Faith Theologically,” Evangelical Apologetics, p. 278.
19. Ibidem.
20. Ibidem, p. 285.
21. During the first fifteen centuries of Christianity “Biblical texts were rarely reproduced alone without commentaries. By the High Middle Ages readers [were] expected to have the cumulative commentaries of the Church fathers and of recent scholarship immediately available as a guide to each passage. By the eleventh century this circumstance resulted in a special layout of biblical manuscripts. The commentaries in glossed Bibles for professional (university or clerical) use were intentionally clearly separated from the biblical text itself. Two types of glossed Bibles were the most popular: the Glossa Ordinaria, thus called from its common use during the Middle Ages, and the Glossa Interlinearis. The Glossa Ordinaria-the most advanced twelfth-century type of commented Bible-consisted of nine or ten volumes containing 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 cited from Typology of Medieval Books, World Wide Web, December, 2002, Available:
22. Oden, “General Introduction,” Ancient 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 Apologetics in a Non-Christian World,” Evangelical Apologetics, p. 291.
31. Oden uses seven Ecumenical Councils as guideposts to chart his journey to apprehending consensual Christianity. Oden explains: “The seven councils commonly held both in East and West as binding on all Christians, both having universal Christian consent, are (with dates and chief 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) Nicaea II (787, Iconoclasm). We might be led to assume that every ordained minister would be thoroughly schooled in the canons and decrees of these universally accepted councils (to be presupposed as one assumes that the multiplication tables are known by every mathematician), but that would be a rash assumption. A thorough reappraisal of the theological method implicit in these early doctrinal formulations is crucially a part of the awaiting agenda of contemporary theology” (Oden, Agenda for Theology, p. 34).
32. Oden, “Christian Apologetics in a Non-Christian World,” Evangelical 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 Introduction,” Ancient 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 Apologetics in a Non-Christian World,” Evangelical Apologetics, p. 280; citing John Wesley, A Roman Catechism, 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; cf. Dr. Victor Shepherd, “Thomas Oden,” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals.
48. In the preface 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 ancient Christian writers speak to you directly 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 discernment and perspective” (Oden, Reformed Quarterly, “Do I Really Need to Study Church History?,” Fall, 1998).
50. Oden, Life in the Spirit, p. ix.
51. Oden, “Christian Apologetics in a Non-Christian World,” Evangelical Apologetics, p. 280; citing John Wesley, “Address to the Clergy,” Works, i.2, 10.484.
52. Oden, Life in the Spirit, p. vii, emphasis his.
53. Oden, “Christian Apologetics in a Non-Christian World,” Evangelical Apologetics, p. 292.
54. Oden, Reformed Quarterly, “Do I Really Need to Study Church History?,” Fall, 1998.
55. Ibidem.
56. Oden, “General Introduction,” Ancient 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 Scriptural Christianity: A Plain Exposition of His Teaching on Christian Doctrine, p. 24).
58. Victor Shepherd, “Thomas Oden,” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals.
59. Oden notes that such a survey wasn’t feasible until the advent of computerized databases (Oden, “General Introduction,” Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, p. xiv).
60. Oden, Agenda for Theology, p. xi; cf. Oden, The Living God, p. x, emphasis mine.
61. Oden, “General Introduction,” Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, p. xi, emphasis his.
62. Victor Shepherd, “Thomas Oden,” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals.
63. Oden, Requiem: A Lament in Three Movements, p. 47.
64. Oden, Agenda for Theology, p. 31.
65. Adopted from Søren Kierkegaard’s parable “Luther’s Return.”
66. Oden, “Christian Apologetics in a Non-Christian World,” Evangelical Apologetics, p. 289; citing the Second Helvetic Confession.
67. Ibidem, p. 287.

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