Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 19, 2003
What is modern is not so new
The Rebirth of Orthodoxy: Signs of New Life in the Church, by Thomas C. Oden, Harper SanFrancisco.
Review by WAYNE HOLST
Special to the WCR
"The crisis of the new millennium," writes Drew University theologian Thomas Oden (an American United Methodist with respectable mainline Protestant credentials) "is not political but rather spiritual and moral. It is a crisis of courage and more profoundly, a crisis of faith."
To deal effectively with this challenge, Oden proposes we go back to the future. There is major confusion over prospects for the family, the environment, sexually transmitted diseases, the communications revolution and world poverty. "None of these crises is more decisive than the crisis of meaning."
The author is not one to suggest simplistic answers to complex problems. Rejecting both liberal and fundamentalist solutions Oden believes that answers are to be found in the classic teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition. "This . . . is a fitting moment to ponder who we are in relation to our human past," he says.
Before the rise of modern science a little more than two centuries ago, human cultures were oriented toward maintaining and enhancing traditional wisdom. Then, with the shift in emphasis to deductive reasoning, doubts arose over whether any wisdom of any past was worth salvaging. We discounted almost everything that was old.
Now, many people are having sober, second thoughts. The modernist worldview, with its once-optimistic certitudes is losing its grip as a way of life for growing numbers, especially the young. "We have come to the end of the modern way of knowing," says Oden.
"Everywhere we see the brightest of the emerging generation turning from the empty larders of secularism to find an inexhaustible store of nourishment in ancient Jewish and Christian wisdom." It can be found in the prophets, the evangelists, the talmudic scholars and the early Church fathers.
We seem to be rediscovering that what we thought was modern is really not so new. Ancient spiritual sages who sought to understand the ways of God have untapped insight to offer us.
In his new book The Rebirth of Orthodoxy, Oden offers a vision both interchurch and interfaith. He believes Orthodox, Catholic, evangelical and mainline Protestant Christians can find common ground ecumenically with Orthodox, Conservative and Reformed Jews.
The author believes an ancient ecumenical formula can be applied today: In the worldwide community of believers every care should be taken to hold fast to what has been believed everywhere, always and by all.
Oden is critical of the ecumenism that was the gift of the World Council of Churches. This reviewer, a lifelong protege of the dynamic renewal movements spawned by the WCC and Vatican Two, cannot readily accept all the author has to say. Yet, Oden does reflect a desire for truth and an ecumenical spirit in the classic faith traditions that is more inclusive and historically grounded than that which we have often acknowledged and lived in the past.
For that reason alone, this book is worth taking seriously.
(Rev. Dr. Wayne Holst is a writer who has taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary.)