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March 11, 2011

Bringing Forward Tradition - An Interview with Thomas C. Oden

From Religion & Liberty - Volume 21, Number 1, Winter 2011

R&L: You have said your path to orthodox theology really began through patristics. Why are the words and witness the Fathers provide so important today?

Oden: They're important because they're true. They're based upon a consensus of Christian believers, not only from the early Christian period, but from the Apostolic Witness. In other words, what was happening in the patristic period was all exegesis, or all interpretation, of the received Apostolic tradition, which later became canonized. So these writings have gone through a social process and a truth testing. And for Christians, we believe in the presence of the Holy Spirit in that testing process, in the consensus formation process that delivers to the Word of the self disclosure of God in Jesus Christ.

Why do you think many evangelicals, in their searching, are drawn to patristic thought and commentary? What can churches do to encourage those that are searching?

They're drawn to patristic thought because it is wise. They are hungry for wisdom. They are looking for reliable Christian teaching and, in many cases, evangelicals have not been exposed to these documents because they have been focused on Christian doctrine since the Reformation. I, myself, am an example. I grew up in the Methodist tradition and I had some vague idea of what happened before Luther and Calvin and Wesley, but I hadn't really been deeply informed. And even when I went to my doctoral studies at Yale, I did not spend a great deal of time in patristic writers, so I had to find these on my own.

So what can churches do to encourage people that are searching? First of all, they can make accessible the writings that have been long buried, especially within the later Protestant tradition. They were commended by Luther and Calvin and Cranmer and Wesley, but not sufficiently taught and transmitted. The texts themselves have largely been buried. Now, fortunately today a lot of these are digitalized. There's a lot more available. So there's almost no excuse for an evangelical who wishes to know classic Christianity, to ignore these teachings.

Read the rest of the interview here.