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Roger E. Olson


Everywhere, Always, and by All

Scripture and tradition, revisited

Thomas Oden is an optimist. He is confident that a spiritual awakening is taking place within the so-called mainline denominations; a renaissance of orthodox Christian doctrine and traditional Christian values. He believes that secular, ideological modernism is dying and that mainline Christianity's captivity to it is ending; his own project of paleo-orthodoxy (adherence to the authority of the earliest strata of Christian consensual teaching) and a host of "young fogeys" who know that the past can teach the future are being used by the Spirit of God to renew the churches through a rebirth of ancient Christian orthodoxy.

What makes Oden's manifesto of paleo-orthodoxy especially intriguing is that he freely admits to once being one of the "fad theologians" he now scorns. In The Rebirth of Orthodoxy, the Methodist theologian traces his own personal odyssey of liberation from being "narrowly modern, only pretending to be a theologian" to being an advocate of classic Christian orthodoxy with "a commitment to offer nothing original."

"Then," he confesses, "I distrusted even the faint smell of orthodoxy. I was in love with heresy—the wilder, the more seductive. … Now I embrace the term orthodoxy. I esteem nothing higher than the written word as ecumenically received and consensually explicated." Oden clearly believes that his conversion to ancient Christian faith is paradigmatic for renewal of mainline Christianity in the 21st century.

While The Rebirth of Orthodoxy appears on the surface to be a report on "signs of new life in Christianity," it is actually a piece of advocacy literature that includes a sustained recommendation of a correct theological method. It includes some description of confessional renewal movements within mainline Protestantism, but overall and in general it is a prescription for theological reflection. The heart of the method is Vincent of Lérin's (d. circa 450) canon laid out and explicated in Commonitorium ("act of remembrance"). Oden spends the entire ...

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