9 Things You Should Know About Vintage Christianity

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“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 Gods 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?

OnFaith Voices is a series of perspectives about faith.

  • tanyam

    I find it fascinating that we know Ireneaus was writing a book called “Against Heresies,” in the second century, and yet we think uniform thought is so easy to come by. It wasn’t before he wrote his book, and it hasn’t been since. We have 4 gospels, and shades of thought among them, and plenty of things Jesus said that (claims to the contrary) seem to have been deliberately difficult to pin down, shall we say? What’s the dictionary definition of “Kingdom of God,” for example. So I read about projects like Odens with a little bit of a smile — the Trinity, the Divinity of Christ — I believe in these things, but I’m not unaware of how much struggle it required to get them fleshed out, and therefore, how careless God was about nailing stuff down. Wonder why?

    • tanyam

      I’d note that while “vintage Christianity” agrees with Ireneaus against the gnostics, we haven’t accepted the Shepherd of Hermas as “scripture,” or his numerological musings on the number “4.” So what must we say about the quest to say we’re sticking with the “original tradition” that we can trace back, uninterrupted. . .

    • http://www.jeremybouma.com/ jeremy bouma

      Thanks for the insight, tanyam. I agree there was “much struggle” to come to grips with what God did through Jesus, the Messiah, to rescue us and put our broken busted world back together again. Perhaps I should have had a 10th to acknowledge that! But I’m not sure that struggle reflects a “careless God” as much as it reflects “clueless humans”!

      As Barth said, “God encounters man in such a way that man can know Him. He encounters him in such a way that in this encounter He still remains God, but also raises man up to be a real, genuine knower of Himself.” That doesn’t mean we don’t struggle with that knowing, as you pointed out…

  • http://www.TheBibleSpeakstoYou.com/ James Early

    I do not base my faith on the Nicene Creed. It is not the most accurate measure of Christian faith, however “classical” or “traditional.” While it is much closer to the time of Jesus than we are, it is still long after he was on earth. The debates of doctrines that swirled around the events leading to the Council of Nicaea and the Nicene Creed show that what you are calling “Classical” Christianity is not necessarily the original Christianity of Jesus, but the result of centuries of men trying to understand and explain things. I believe in God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son of God and the Holy Spirit, but I do not believe in the Doctrine of the Trinity as defined by most Orthodox teaching. Does that make me a heretic? If so, God have mercy on my honest search of the Scriptures. I believe Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah, THE Son of God. But I do not believe this because the Nicene Creed says I have to to be a Christian. I base my faith on what I have found in the Bible not what some Church Council wrote 300 years later. If you make the Nicean creed the standard of faith, you are not basing Christianity on the original church teachings. In fact, even the original Nicene Creed of 325 does not include the part about worshiping the Holy Ghost and the Son. That was added in 381 AD at the Council of Constantinople. Jesus says the true worshipers worship the Father. He does not tell his followers to worship him or the Holy Spirit. If you compare the Apostle’s Creed with the Nicene Creed, the former (and earlier written) does not include the part about Jesus being “very God from very God.” After over many years of Bible searching and study I have come to
    believe in the divinity of Christ, but not the deity of Christ. The Apostles Creed pretty much hits the nail on the head concerning the original teaching of the early Church. The Nicene Creed has three centuries of man-made traditions and debates ensconced in it. So I invite you to go further back than the Nicene Creed and base your doctrine on something closer to the time of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Nicene Creed is not the measuring rod for original Christianity. It is the standard for how some men defined Christianity in 325.

  • Martin Hughes

    The Apostles’ Creed, ie the creed of the Roman Church from the 380s, does not affirm that Jesus Christ is divine in the same way as God ‘the Father Almighty’ is, still less demands that the words ‘of one being with the Father’ be proclaimed. This term had actually been rejected when put forward by Paul of Samosata, Bishop of Antioch, in the 260s, by a Church Council against which there was no significant protest at the time. The Nicene Creed carefully does not say that Jesus died, though it does say that he suffered and was buried. The A Creed does say that he died. It’s all more complicated than you say.