“I am dedicated to unoriginality.” So said historical theologian Thomas Oden in his classic work, Classical Christianity. He goes on: “I plan to present nothing new or original in these pages . . . My aim is to present classical Christian teaching of God on its own terms, undiluted by modern posturing.”
I echo Oden. Because, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, this year is the year to go backwards in order to move forwards in our faith.
To regress, by rediscovering and retrieving the vintage Christian faith.
But what do I mean by vintage Christianity? Before we can explore it, let’s define it. And since everyone seems to be doing listicles these days, here are nine things you need to know about the vintage Christian faith:
1. It’s unoriginal
Oden got it right. The vintage Christian faith is a euphemism for the historic Christian faith — as in orthodox Christianity, a wholly unoriginal idea if there ever was one! Orthodox Christianity is rooted in the “Rule of Faith,” which takes us all the way back to the beginning, to the apostles and their successors.
2. It’s consensual
In his dedication to unoriginality, Oden describes his mission as delivering “as clearly as I can that core of consensual belief that has been shared for two millennia of Christian teaching.” This core is that which has been gratefully celebrated and shared as received teaching by Christians across the varied languages, locations, and cultures through time.
3. It’s creedal
You could call vintage Christianity Nicene Christianity, because it is rooted in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. Historic Christianity would say a Christian must agree with Nicene Christianity in order to be part of the church, because it is built on the foundation of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds.
4. It’s enduring
Over the span of nearly 2,000 years, the Christian faith has remained relatively consistent. “Yeah, but what about the Reformation?” you protest! What about it? The reformers sought not to progress the faith forward; they went backwards, to the teachings of the earliest apostles and forebears of the faith. Christians have been doing the same every since.
5. It’s trinitarian
Both the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds are structured “trinitarianly,” meaning the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit provide the scaffolding upon which the fundamentals of the Christian faith are built. Which means that basic to vintage Christianity is a belief in one Father-Son-Spirit God, who is three persons, one essence. That’s one reason why Mormonism can’t be considered Christian.
6. It’s exclusive
If that last statement made you bristle, you don’t understand vintage Christianity. Historic Christian orthodoxy is by nature exclusive. It says this is Christian, and this isn’t. For instance, vintage Christianity insists there is one God, Jesus literally rose from the grave in full physical glory, and there is one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. Oden put it well: “I do not have the gift of softening the sting of the Christian message.”
7. It’s doctrinal
With today’s emphasis on orthopraxy (right living) at the expense of orthodoxy (right beliefs) it bears stating that Christianity is inherently doctrinal. Both Creeds affirm:
- The Trinity
- God as Creator, who is distinct from creation
- Jesus’ Lordship and deity
- Jesus’ physical, virgin incarnation
- Jesus’ substitutionary death
- Jesus’ literal resurrection from the dead
- Jesus’ ascension and exaltation into heaven
- Individual culpability, forgiveness, and judgment of sin
- Jesus’ return as Judge of all
- The Holy Spirit is co-worshiped with Father and Son, giver of life, and author of revelation
- Eternal, resurrected life in the world to come
8. It’s one for all
In Against Heresies, St. Irenaeus explained this aspect best: “Although the church is dispersed throughout the world, even to the ends of the earth, it has received this common faith from the Apostles and their disciples . . . The church believes these doctrines as if it had only one soul and one heart, and it proclaims them and hands them on in perfect harmony, as if it spoke with only one voice.”
9. It’s once for all
Ultimately, the vintage Christian faith is a once-for-all faith. God himself said as much through his servant Jude: “. . . contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.” The church is not called to improve upon or progress this faith. She is called to preserve it, contend for it, and struggle for (and with) it.
This is what I invite you to rediscover and retrieve this year. Won’t you join me over the coming weeks in exploring how the church has believed?