A VINTAGE CHRISTIAN MANIFESTO OF HOPE • 210 Things to Know About Vintage Christianity
0—Progressive: Let’s Get Vintage!
1—Manifesto: Resist Progressive Christianity, Reclaim the Fundamentals
2—Vintage Faith: 10 Things to Know About Vintage Christianity
3—The Bible: This Book is God’s Book
4—God and gods: The Mars Hill Effect
5—Creation: God Spoke and…What?
6—Humanity: We’re Not Talking Monkeys
7—Homosexuality: An Honest Chat About Its Reality & Revelation
8—Sin: We Really Are that Screwed-Up
9—Jesus: Gandhi on Steroids or God Made Flesh?
10—Cross: A Love Note or Butcher’s Block?
11—Resurrection: Better Than a Zombie
12—Church: No Church No Christ, Know Church Know Christ
13—Universalism: Not All Dogs Go to Heaven
14—Hell: For Real and Forever?
15—Heaven: A Place on Earth?
16—The End: Go Backwards to Go Forwards
OK, so maybe you have a good handle on the Christian faith; that you know. But the vintage Christian faith? What on earth is that?
Good question! Here’s a hint:
“I am dedicated to unoriginality.” So said historical theologian Thomas Oden in his magnum opus Classical Christianity. He goes on:
“The only promise I intend to make, however inadequately carried out, is that of unoriginality. 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.”1
I would echo Oden, though I would also add “undiluted by progressive posturing.” Because as I mentioned before, it’s time we look backwards in our faith in order to move forward. To regress, by rediscovering and retrieving what the Church has believed.
I love the way Google defines this adjective, vintage: “denoting something of high quality, especially something from the past or characteristic of the best period of a person’s work.”
Vintage Christianity is the highest (or near there) quality of the Christian faith, because it reaches back into the past and is characterized by some of the best periods of the Bride of Christ’s work.
Before we can start drawing our line in the sand by getting to the heart of and unpacking the vintage faith let’s define our term, shall we?
Since everyone seems to be doing listicles these days, here are ten things you need to know about vintage Christianity:
1. It’s Unoriginal
As you may have already discerned, 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! It looks backwards to go forward. It informs our modern understanding of the Church’s beliefs and practices.
Historic Christian orthodoxy is rooted in the Rule of Faith, which takes us all the way back to the beginning, to the beliefs and practices of our ancient ancestors: the apostles and their successors.
Oden got it right. Christians should follow his dedication to unoriginality.
2. It’s Consensual
In his commitment to unoriginality, Oden explained that his mission was to communicate “as clearly as I can that core of consensual belief that has been shared for two millennia of Christian teaching.”2
While some would have us believe otherwise, there is a consensual core of beliefs and practices that has marked the Church for two millennia. Yes, there have been disagreements. Yes, there have been shades of meaning to those beliefs. Yet a core has been gratefully celebrated and shared as received teaching by Christians across the varied languages, locations, and cultures through time.
For two millennia there has been a general consensus that we were created on purpose and with purpose by the one God of the universe; that every person on the planet is born a rebel in desperate need of rescue; that people find rescue in the life, death, and resurrection of the God-Man Jesus alone; and that every person on the planet will be judged inside or outside of Christ, receiving a just reward.
3. It’s Creedal
You could call vintage Christianity Nicene Christianity, because it is rooted in the creeds from the Nicene councils. Historic Christianity would say a Christian must agree with Nicene Christianity in order to be part of the Church.
This may sound odd to some. Isn’t Christianity rooted in the Bible? Isn’t that our only rule for faith and life? Well, yes and no! Because the Bible has always been interpreted, through the guidance of the Communion of Saints and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The result early on was a bedrock foundation that’s kept the Church secure for generations. Our faith is built on the foundation of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, using the bricks of Scripture, with Christ as the cornerstone.
Here’s a reminder of this foundation:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
We believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
God from God,
Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made;
of the same essence as the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven;
he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,
and was made human.
He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried.
The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again with glory
to judge the living and the dead.
His kingdom will never end.
And we believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life.
He proceeds from the Father and the Son,
and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.
He spoke through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look forward to the resurrection of the dead,
and to life in the world to come. Amen.
4. It’s Enduring
Over the span of nearly 2,000 years the Christian faith has remained relatively consistent. And that’s mainly due to the fact the above creeds have endured as a sure, steady foundation.
“Yeah, but what about the Reformation?” you protest! What about it?
The magical thing about the Reformation was that the reformers didn’t seek to progress the Christian faith forward into a new version of the Christian faith—like modern progressive Christians are now. Instead they went backwards, to the teachings of the earliest apostles and forebears of the faith, to the original source documents of the faith (i.e. the Holy Scriptures) and their original language.
Christians have been doing the same every since. That’s why the Christian faith has endured.
5. It’s Trinitarian
If you pay attention to the foundation of the vintage Christian faith—the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds—you’ll notice something interesting: Both are structured “trinitarianly.”
What I mean by this is that the Trinity—a belief in God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—provide the “scaffolding” upon which the fundamentals of the Christian faith are built.
Just look at the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in God…Jesus Christ…the Holy Spirit.” Same for the Nicene Creed: “We believe in one God…And in one Lord Jesus Christ…We believe in the Holy Spirit.”
Every aspect of the vintage Christian faith follows this formula, too. Creation is from the Father, through the Son, and by the Holy Spirit. Salvation is from the Father, through the Son, and by the Holy Spirit.
Which means that basic to vintage Christianity is a belief in one Father-Son-Spirit God, who is three persons and one essence. That’s one reason why Mormonism can’t be considered Christian.
6. It’s Exclusive
If that last statement made you bristle—that Mormonism isn’t Christian—then you don’t understand vintage Christianity. Historic Christian orthodoxy is by nature exclusive. It says this is Christian, and this isn’t.
Our postmodern condition has lulled us into believing that we can’t pass judgment on the moral worth of other ideas. And the lingering modernism from the Enlightenment continues to con us into believing we can only look at history as a disinterested observer, and never speak prophetically into the realm of historical doctrine.
Vintage Christianity, however, says otherwise. For instance, it insists that there is one God; that Jesus literally rose from the grave in full, physical glory; and that there is one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. Any alternative belief is both a foreign faith and false reality.
Oden put it well: “I do not have the gift of softening the sting of the Christian message.”3 That message separates real, true beliefs from fake, false ones.
7. It’s Doctrinal
Over the past several years there has been a shift from right believing to right living. With today’s emphasis on orthopraxy (right living) at the expense of orthodoxy (right beliefs) it bears stating that Christianity is inherently doctrinal.
Doctrine—the basic beliefs about God, the Bible, creation, humanity, sin, salvation, sanctification, and the end of the Story—separates Christianity from all the other world religions.
It also separates real versions of the Christian faith from false ones, like progressive Christianity. Which is why it’s crucial to recapture a real understanding of what has always been central to how the Church has believed. Here is what the historic creeds explicitly and implicitly affirm, and what all Christians are in turn called to believe:
- The Trinity, the one Father-Son-Spirit God
- God as Creator, who is distinct from creation
- Jesus’ lordship and deity
- Jesus’ physical, virgin incarnation as a real man
- Jesus’ substitutionary death
- Jesus’ literal, physical, bodily 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 Sacramental
A key mark of historic Christian orthodoxy and catholic Christianity (that’s a small “o” on orthodoxy and small “c” on catholic—we’re talking vintage, here) is that it is sacramental.4
You probably know about the sacraments—as in baptism, communion, etc… But defining our faith as sacramental? Huh? When we recall the definition of a sacrament it makes perfect sense:
“a religious ceremony or act of the Church that is regarded as an outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual divine grace.”
For generations the vintage Christian faith has recognized the sacraments as a means of grace. For example, look at what Irenaeus had to say about baptism in his fight against the gnostics, a false sect of early Christianity:
“We shall show in its fitting-place, that this class of men have been instigated by Satan to a denial of that baptism which is regeneration to God, and thus to a renunciation of the whole [Christian] faith.” (Against Heresies 1.21.1)
For Irenaeus, a denial of baptism was a denial of the Christian faith itself. That’s because it denied a visible outward sign of God’s inward grace; it was a denial of grace itself.
9. It’s One-for-All
In a world where the Church is divided between Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox—and further splintered within those three branches of the Church—one is probably not an adjective many today would use to describe Christianity.
And yet there is a oneness to the vintage Christian faith, a unity of beliefs that we’ve been heralding from the beginning. In Against Heresies 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.”
10. It’s Once-for-All
Finally, 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.” (Jude 3)
Scripture itself defined the faith we’ve given ourselves to as “once for all.” The Church isn’t called to improve upon or progress this faith—as if it was deficient to begin with and needed help to move it along.
No! She is called to preserve it, contend for it, struggle for (and with) it.
One More Thing…
These ten aspects mark the vintage Christian faith. Perhaps we could add an eleventh: it is incredibly relevant.
What I love about vintage Christianity, and why it still matters, is that it still speaks to our questions, longings, problems—offering a fix along the way. We think that the newest, latest, present ideas about God and faith in him deserve to trump tradition, trump the historic Christian faith—what some call a tyranny of the present.5
And yet our ancient ancestors were asking the same questions we’re asking now. They entertained the same doubts we have about faith and life. And they discovered several answers that matter now as much as then.
They are ready to share them. If we listen.
Are you ready?
1 Thomas Oden, Classical Christianity (New York: HarperOne, 1992), xv.
2 Oden, Classical Christianity, xv.
3 Oden, Classical Christianity, xv.
4 I want to thank Jeff Damec for cluing me into this aspect of vintage Christianity.
5 This language was offered by Timothy George in Reading Scripture with the Reformers (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2011), 23.