Learning To Listen: Thomas C. Oden On Postcritical Orthodoxy -- By: Daniel B. Clendenin

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 34:1 (Mar 1991)
Article: Learning To Listen: Thomas C. Oden On Postcritical Orthodoxy
Author: Daniel B. Clendenin


Learning To Listen:
Thomas C. Oden On Postcritical Orthodoxy

Daniel B. Clendenin*

O how I long to travel back,
and tread again that ancient track!…
Some men a forward motion love,
But I by backward steps would move
.

Henry Vaughan, “Retreat”1

In his 1979 Agenda for Theology Thomas Oden diagnosed modernity’s terminal illness and prescribed a reformation in the direction of antiquity, a postmodern return to ancient orthodoxy that would leapfrog the recent past of modernity in favor of a normative patristic era. The depth of Oden’s conviction is evident in that ten years later his prognosis and prescription remain unchanged. This past year he published a revision of Agenda entitled After Modernity.. What?, adding four new chapters but preserving his original thesis.2 The breadth of his vision is exemplified in three recent works where it is applied to systematic theology (Word of Life), ministerial care (Pastoral Counsel) and Biblical exegesis (First and Second Timothy and Titus). The success or failure of Oden’s project hinges upon a two-pronged thesis, clearly expounded in all four volumes, that (1) modernity is dead and that (2) we need to learn anew how to listen to the consensual orthodoxy of the early Church, especially as that is found in what he calls the three venerable creeds, the seven ecumenical councils, and the eight great doctors of the Church of the east (Athanasius, Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus, Chrysostom) and west (Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, Gregory).3

Word of Life, a mammoth tome devoted to Christology, is the second volume of Oden’s three-volume systematic theology. In his initial volume on God, creation and providence (The Living God) Oden labored to be “self-consciously unoriginal in desiring not to add anything to an already sufficient apostolic faith,” a posture he admitted many would find “mildly

* Daniel Clendenin is assistant professor of Bible and theology at William Tyndale College in Farmington Hills, Michigan.

amusing” in that his only claim was that the book contained nothing whatever that was new.4 A third volume (Life in the Spirit), due to be published this year, will address the Holy Spirit, the Church, the sacraments, and the Christian life. According to Oden modernity, having been “fully corrupted by its own premises,” is dead and gone. “We are now in a po...

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