A Fascinating Story: A Liberal Seminary Professor Who Became an Evangelical Christian
Thomas Oden is not a household name, but before his death in 2016, he wrote a fascinating autobiography that Christian pastors and leaders should seriously consider reading. Oden received his PhD from Yale and taught theology for many years at Drew University in New Jersey, a training ground for United Methodist clergy. Oden was a prolific scholar who had written several books, some of which are in my own library. During his first 40 years, Oden says every turn he made was a “left turn.” He embraced radicals such as Nietzsche, Freud, and Karl Marx. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on Rudolph Bultmann, one of the most skeptical New Testament scholars of the 20th century. Oden became a devoted liberal theologian. How did this work with people in the pew?
Oden tells us that many of his seminary colleagues actually engaged in a form of double-speak, a kind of Orwellian trick. He says the goal of many professors in graduate theological schools is to speak one way to the academy and another way to the church. In his memoir he writes, “In my seminary teaching, I appeared to be relatively orthodox, if by that one means using an orthodox vocabulary. I could still speak of God, sin and salvation but always only in demythologized, secularized and worldly-wise terms. God became the liberator, sin became oppression and salvation became human effort.” Then he makes this final statement: “The trick was to learn to sound Christian while undermining traditional Christianity.” What a confession! Lest you think this is rare, Oden warns us that it is not. It goes on in far too many schools.
His 1995 book, Requiem: A Lament in Three Movements, was a wake-up call about the secular drift of theological education in America. Oden reminds us that the academic world is actually dominated by rigid intolerance. The “academic guild” cannot brook any rival. Objectivity is a myth.
So, what happened to Oden? At the age of 40, he began to read the writings of the church fathers (Augustine, Athanasius, Tertullian, Polycarp, etc.), and he began to see how distorted his view of Christianity had become and how far he had drifted from his rural Methodist Bible roots in Oklahoma. Oden was jolted back into reality and came to his senses. He embraced Jesus as Savior and affirmed His resurrection from the dead as a historical fact. He then became a prolific author and scholar for Evangelical Christianity. He is the editor of the impressive 27-volume, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series (IVP).
The moral of the story is: don’t ever give up praying for someone to come to a knowledge of the truth. Who knows what “right turns” God may lead them to? Oden is a real-life example of someone who was seized by the living God. Jesus is still in the business of opening blinded eyes!
by Jay Childs, Senior Pastor