Tom Oden’s Journey from Theological Liberalism to Biblical Christianity
Religion & Liberty Online

Tom Oden’s Journey from Theological Liberalism to Biblical Christianity

In The Word of Life, Tom Oden declared, “My mission is to deliver as clearly as a I can that core of consensual belief concerning Jesus Christ that has been shared for two hundred decades – who he was, what he did, and what that means for us today.” The Word of Life, Oden’s second systematic theology volume, is a treasure for anybody who wants to know more about the fullness and power of Christ.

Over at Juicy Ecumenism, Mark Tooley offers a write up that touches upon Oden’s conversion from theological liberalism to historic and biblical Christianity. Oden recently addressed the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) in Baltimore from his home in Oklahoma City:

Oden remembered: “I was socialist, pacifist, Freudian theologian in search of a theological method.” He was also an existentialist who didn’t believe in the historicity of Christ’s Resurrection, thinking it only a “symbol,” and having a “clouded view of the historical Jesus” as interpreted by Rudolf Bultmann.

Being assigned to teach Wesley to seminary students was “Providential,” Oden said. “Going deep into Wesley” awoke within him an appreciation for understanding the Bible through the historic church community.

“It was lonely to be Methodist at ETS in 1989,” Oden smilingly recalled, noting he likely was the first United Methodist scholar to become an ETS member. His ETS membership was “looked at with a cold eye” in United Methodism at the time. Theologians Carl Henry and J.I. Packer helped situate him within ETS.

Oden also credited Jewish philosopher Will Herberg, a former communist who rediscovered Judaism, who “confronted me to go deeply into the primary texts of Christian tradition.” Oden became “transformed, absolute” as he “began to listen to patristic writers,” being “cured” of his previous reliance on psychotherapy, Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud.

This “radical turn in my consciousness” was linked to Oden’s embracing the historicity of the Resurrection. Wesley’s primary appeal is to Scripture, he realized. And “truth is transmitted through apostolic teaching,” with “Scripture remembered through the traditioning process.”

Christian faith is understood “through the reasoning process enabled through grace and embodied through experience,” Oden explained. Wesley held to a “plain and literal sense of scripture unless irrational or unworthy of God’s character,” he noted. Scripture always has “metaphorical aspects” but is best considered in its “plainest sense.” Wesley, who himself didn’t do well in the academic community, emphasized the believer “must know the way to heaven.”

In Agenda for Theology Oden reminds us, “Christianity has seen too many ‘modern eras’ to be cowed by this one.” Oden was interviewed in the 2011 Winter edition of Religion & Liberty.

Ray Nothstine

Ray Nothstine is editor at the Civitas Institute in Raleigh, North Carolina. Previously, he was managing editor of Acton Institute's Religion & Liberty quarterly. In 2005 Ray graduated with a Master of Divinity (M.Div) degree from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. He also holds a B.A. in Political Science from The University of Mississippi in Oxford.