When our sons were young we took them to the movie, “Facing the Giants.” On the way home they complained about how simplistic and silly it all was. “Of course it all works out. This is what Christians want!”
Here is a few minute critique which raises some important issues:
My Patheos review of a very important book:
WHAT A PILGRIMAGE!
A Change of Heart: a Personal and Theological Memoir by Thomas C. Oden
By David George Moore
I first encountered Tom Oden via his courageous and prescient book, After Modernity…What? Several years later, I did a radio interview with Chris Hall on his terrific book, Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers. Hall who did his Ph.D. with Oden at Drew University, would both team up with a number of scholars to produce the wonderfully conceived, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. The vision and preparation which went into that commentary series is a gift to the body of Christ. Even though some voiced skepticism about whether such a commentary could be done, the international team of scholars assembled, and its goal to reach a wide audience, came to fruition. On the latter, a half million copies of the commentary sold during its first ten years, and it is available in languages which cover half the world’s population.
During my radio interview with Chris Hall, I was able to find out more about Oden. Oden’s pilgrimage from restless radical to courageous enthusiast of all things truly orthodox makes him worthy of close attention.
What a thrill to find out that InterVarsity would be publishing Oden’s book, A Change of Heart: a Personal and Theological Memoir. If you have the least bit of interest in listening to someone who is thoughtfully theological and lived many lives in one, then be forewarned. This book may keep you up late for several nights. As I read, I had to put governors on how much I read. “Only twenty-five pages tonight Dave.” Oden’s book is the type I copiously highlight along with my own marginal system of note taking. Encouragement and brilliant ideas are on almost every page as my red pencil and black pen attest.
Oden’s memoir is divided by chapters which each cover a decade, from the 1940s, 1950s all the way through to the 2010s. Oden’s insatiable hunger for learning, his work ethic, commitment to various causes (some terribly misguided as he himself would discover), candor, and friendships, pepper his journey throughout.
Along with Oden’s move out of radical thought and into Christian orthodoxy you meet all kinds of people. Oden personally interacted with the likes of Barth, Bultmann, Packer, and Pannenberg. Those four individuals are emblematic of Oden’s theological and spiritual pilgrimage.
Oden’s friendships, mentors, and his family life put flesh and blood on his brilliant career. None is more important than the Jewish scholar, Will Herberg. Herberg played a formative role in Oden’s life. As Oden underscores, it is a great irony that Herberg was encouraged to study Judaism by the Christian Niebuhr, and the Jewish scholar Herberg is the very one who encouraged Oden to more deeply study the roots of his Christian heritage.
Seeking to remind his Methodist denomination that Christian orthodoxy is not only their rightful heritage, but also that which gives stability, has indeed been challenging. Reading about the Sophia worship that occurred at Oden’s longtime place of employment, Drew University, is arresting and profoundly sad. Oden tried to address this and other concerns, but he increasingly found his robust orthodoxy on the margins, except with his students. During Oden’s tenure at Drew he taught a cadre of young scholars (Oden calls them “young fogeys”) who reveled in the riches of the Christian faith which had been rejected by the hubris of modernity.
The Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) receives some attention. It is fascinating to hear Oden’s reflections. Oden shares some of the controversy surrounding ECT, but ends with this: “A year after the second ECT document was published, most of the opposition had died down.” This is certainly true, but I would have liked to hear Oden’s reflections on whether this was due to ECT never rising to official status in Protestant or Roman Catholics circles. Oden’s rather breezy account keeps moving along to other issues.
Oden is honest about the tough stuff of life like his beloved wife’s death. Oden’s partnership and friendship with his beloved Edrita is beautiful to read. Oden clearly understands suffering, but his hard-won orthodoxy offers an unfailing hope which he now joyously declares to any who will listen.
If you want to learn about a brilliant theologian who is courageous, can write in an endlessly fascinating and accessible manner, and appreciate life stories with all kinds of twists and turns, then this book is for you.
David George Moore is the author of three books, the most recent being The Last Men’s Book You’ll Ever Need. He blogs at www.twocities.org and is a regular contributor on the Jesus Creed/Patheos.
Many have begun new Bible reading programs where the goal is to get through all of it. It is a great idea and one I’ve done in various ways for many years. In fact, I sometimes read large sections of Scripture at a very fast rate: one minute or so per chapter. I do this to keep the basic flow before me.
On the other side of the spectrum is slowing way down to consider all that is in a phrase or verse. I do this on a regular basis. In fact, many of my memorized verses are first meditation verses. Ps. 119:83 is a recent example. If you look that verse up please know it is not a typo. There are some wonderful things to ponder in that verse.
So make sure that there is time for plenty of Bible mediation in your Bible reading!
The famous Masters at Columbia is one program I would enjoy. Ah, to have many lives!
In any case, I was amazed to see that there are four areas of study Arts & Culture; Science, Health & the Environment; Business & Economics; or Politics). I guess religion is subsumed under culture?