This is the first of what I hope will be about three months of Sundays working through Thomas Oden's Classic Christianity.
I haven't known whether to smile or get annoyed when Oden proudly announces that he aims "to make no new contribution to theology" (xiv) and that the "only promise I intend to make... is that of unoriginality" (xv). Oden's systematic theology is about the consensus of Christendom, the beliefs that all Christians hold together in common. He mentions Vincent of Lerins sense of the core as "that which has always, everywhere, and by all Christians been believed about God's self-disclosure" (xv).
He gives the ecumenical Doctors of the Church in the east as 1) Athanasius, 2) Basil, 3) Gregory of Nazianzus, and 4) Chrysostum, and the Church in the west as 1) Ambrose, 2) Augustine, 3) Jerome, and 4) Gregory the Great. Meanwhile, consensual documents are more important than individuals (xvi).
Of course all of these are secondary for Oden to Scripture. He is interested in the common understanding of faith these individuals and other consensual documents have as they have interpreted Scripture. Oden makes it clear that he does not, however, have a fundamentalist understanding of Scripture. xxiv-xxv lay out 10 ways in which his approach differs from fundamentalism.
For example, the consensual approach focuses on the meaning of the resurrection while fundamentalism focuses on the historicity of the resurrection. (To be sure, Oden believes in the historicity of the resurrection too). Another is that the consensual tradition recognizes metaphor and varieties of expression of inspired doctrine in Scripture, while fundamentalism focuses on a single legitimate interpretation of each text.
Gregory of Nyssa put it this way: "Those who handle the text in too literal a manner have a veil cast over their eyes, whereas those who contemplate the God of whom the Scriptures speak receive the revelation of divine glory which lies behind the letter of the text" (xxv).
For next Sunday, d.v. the introduction to The Living God and chapter 1, "The Name of God."