Tuesday, December 27, 2005


To puzzled onlookers, allow me to explain: Adjective-orthodoxies are the things that we Protestants conjure up when we're not willing, for a variety of reasons, to become actually Orthodox. And with that confession, here is a recent turn of this particular inter-Protestant debate from heavyweight theologian Leithart:
"The relocation of Christian faith and orthodoxy from the external creeds and practices of the church to the inner heart is one of the characteristic moves of modernized Christianity... To the extent that McLaren internalizes faith, to that extent he's still laboring under the constraints of modernity."
In light of that, I'd like to see a comparison of Brian McLaren's Generous Orthodoxy with Tom Oden's Paleo-Orthodoxy. Though neither author seeks to merely regurgitate the Neo-Orthodoxy of the 1950's, I wonder, are these two later expressions of orthodoxy opposed? If so, which wells go deeper, McLaren's or Oden's?

Because it is less familiar at least in the circles I run in, here are a few nuggets from Oden's The Rebirth of Orthodoxy, which charts his vision for the robustly ecumenical, Paleo-Orthodox future:
On Diversity
"The modern idea of diversity is less diverse than the ancient ecumenical idea of oecumene. The classic concept of oecumene (universal, the whole world) spans many generations - even millenia - while the modern idea of diversity spans but a single century (or more likely only a slice of that - one generation, or one subset of one generation) (115).

On Boundaries
A center without a circumference is just a dot, nothing more. It is the circumference that marks the boundary of the circle. To eliminate the boundary is to eliminate the circle itself. The circle of faith cannot identify its center without recognizing its perimeter (131).

On Might Makes Right
Is Orthodoxy merely the skewed memory of [economic and political] winners?... [That] supposition reflects[s] a standard sophomore classroom objection to orthodoxy. The most familiar form of that argument is the Marxist or social-location argument [and] Vincent of Lerins provided [its] classic answer: the argument from martyrdom. As Vincent noted, it is self-evident that the martyrs had no economic interest. Most had already given their fortune to the poor, so they had no material wealth to risk.

The fourth century Arians lived by collusion with political oppressors. They had plenty of intellectuals and power manipulators on their side, while orthodoxy had to be defeneded largely by nonscholars and laypeople, by modest men and woment of no means, by lowly persons who had no training or special expertise but understood their lives in Christ. The power of numbers and votes in those days was clearly on the side of the Arians....

Nor is Athanasius justly pigeonholed as a winner - exiled a half-dozen times and chased all over the Mediterranean world... John Chrysostom suffered exile and death in political oblivion. Jerome lost his position in Rome and went to the far country of Palestine to live the monastic life... In what conceivable economic or political sense was Anthony of the Desert a winner? Or Mother Theodora? Or blind Didymus? How did Polycarp or Felicitas or Perpetua or Cyprian or Ignatius 'win'? The died horribly for their faith.

The 'winner-loser' oversimplification wrongly applies a competitive sports metaphor to complex historical processes (37-39).

On Evangelical Starvation
In their desire to have no text but scripture, evangelicals have tended to lose sight of the ways the Spirit has worked through the history of exegesis to being the Word of scripture to reception. Prematurely assuming that ancient patristic sources must be anti-scriptural rather than confirming scripture, they have eschewed patristic nourishment, leaving unsatisfied their hunger for roots - a hunger that has grown since the days of Luther, Calvin, and Wesley, who knew the writings of the church fathers well... (65).

On Mainline Establishment
"The religious community that fastens itself parasitically on the latest movement in modern thought does not easily survive the collapse of that movement. When its host is dead, the parasite loses its noursihment. As modernity collapses before our eyes, those who think of themselves as most up to date are being abruptly outdated. They are the last to recognize the rebirth of orthodoxy" (155).
It's quite the book, and judging from the contributers, so is the related collection of essays on Paleo-Orthodoxy dedicated to Tom Oden. But don't forget, there's always Orthodoxy straight-up as well.