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Professor Thomas C. Oden was the prime agitator to the agony and ecstasy of my seminary experience. It was wading through 1,400 pages of his three volume systematic text books that introduced me to his dear friends Athanasius, Basil, John Chrysostom, Gregory Nazianzen, as well as Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine – that’s just to name a few.
To be honest, sometimes it felt like fraternity hazing and at other times it read devotionally, healing the wounds of my worn-out and stretched mind. Looking back on it, I would not have had it any other way.
It was with deep sorrow and great gratitude, mixed with a redemptive joy, that I heard about the death of Dr. Oden (1931-2016), my dear friend who taught me so much about the faith once delivered to the saints. Along with his many other responsibilities, he also served – and we were honored to have him – as contributing editor to GOOD NEWS.
There will be many glowing testimonials to Tom – and none of them will be exaggerations. He was a one of a kind theological mind with a deep spiritual yearning to be faithful to the deep roots of Christianity. Over our 25 years of friendship, there are a few reasons I have always trusted Oden.
First, he was steadfastly committed to the historic teachings of Jesus. He made a professional vow to be theologically “unoriginal,” a counterintuitive move for a brilliant intellect within a culture where newer is always considered better and theologians huff and puff to “keep pace with each new ripple of the ideological river.” Oden was sold out to the witness of the martyrs, saints, and prophets – the faith that has been “everywhere and always and by everyone believed” to be the truth of Christianity.
Second, he had a checkered past. For some reason, I trust those whose skeletons have already been laid bare. He wasn’t always a bleeding heart for orthodoxy. As a “movement theologian,” he dabbled in theoretical Marxism, existentialism, demythologization, Transactional Analysis, Gestalt therapy, humanistic psychology, and parapsychology. Oden liked the bandwagons and everyone winked and nodded. Everyone, that is, except the late Jewish scholar Will Herberg, a brilliant colleague at Drew University who hounded Oden to rediscover his Christian roots.
“The modern philosopher had told me again and again that I was in the right place, and I still felt depressed even in acquiescence,” G.K. Chesterton wrote many years ago in Orthodoxy. “But I had heard that I was in the wrong place, and my soul sang for joy like a bird in spring.”
Taking Herberg’s admonition seriously, Oden incrementally turned his back on trendy movements and “the fantasies of Bultmannianism” he had embraced and ended up being United Methodism’s preeminent theologian.
Third, Oden smiled. Sounds insignificant, but it was not. He was pastoral and deeply concerned about the care of the soul. He was a lover of ideas, an engaged student and teacher. Oden was not bitter – mildly amused, but not bitter. He was actually grateful for his colleagues – feminist, form critical, deconstructionist, and even heretical – who challenged him to be more clear in his espousal of orthodoxy. He only asked for a fair hearing.
One would need a billboard to list all his books. Oden spent 17 years editing the 29-volume Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. My last interview with Oden dealt with his four-volume collection of John Wesley’s Teachings. He described Wesley’s sermons as addressing the “whole compass of divinity” through his deep grounding in ancient ecumenical teaching.
The same could be said of my beloved friend, Professor Thomas C. Oden. He will be sorely missed.
Steve Beard is the creator of the Thunderstruck Media Syndicate. This appeared in the January/February 2017 issue of Good News Magazine.
The rhythms of the church year have guided my life since 1989.
Marking time by the Word made flesh reorients *everything* in life and so the annual celebration of a “New Year” has, over time, decreased in importance for me while the feast of the Incarnation—the celebration of Christmas, beginning on the evening of December 24 and continuing through Epiphany on January 6—has become an intense annual season of reflection, communion, and creativity.
For me, New Year’s Eve and Day just happen to occur *during* Christmas, twelve days of blessed worship and fellowship which now eclipses the evening and day that marks the change from one year to the next. New Years is just one more part of Christmas. (And, for the church, the New Year really begins just after Thanksgiving on the first Sunday of Advent.)
The One who cannot be contained in Solomon’s temple (much less the expanding universe) is contained in the womb of a Palestinian-Jewish teenager.
The One who is timeless and omnipotent and changeless makes himself truly vulnerable and contingent to all the natural forces he has breathed into existence as he lays in a feed box, dependent on Mary and Joseph for nourishment and protection, as he somehow holds together the wood of that manger that cradles him in Bethlehem.
The One who is the origin of all things and who holds all things in existence—galactic to microscopic—is the carpenter from Nazareth. He who made the Pleiades and Orion now sets beams and crafts tables with his stepfather, sweeps sawdust from his forearms.
The One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and fire is baptized with water so that humanity has a baptized God.
The One who does not eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats is now in Jesus a hungering creature of necessity, set to fast in the Judean desert.
The One who owns the cattle on a thousand hills and Lord of angel armies is now homeless and a sojourner, cloaked against the cold night air and all alone, tempted by satan.
The One who never sleeps and who ever watches over Israel naps on a boat out on Galilee.
The One who embodies the Law dines with tax collectors and wine enthusiasts.
The One who is a consuming fire of holy o Continue reading
When the divine community we call God created the visible (and invisible) universe they spoke words like “let there be light” and things that were not in one moment began to exist in the next. Stars. Planets. Oceans. Mountains. Trees. Animals. Flowers.
All these things and more were breathed into existence by God. When the Father began to make all things, our Wisdom tells us that it was the Son by whom the Father spoke all things into being; Christ spoke the things that were not as though they were and they were so. Orchid. Zebra. Maple. Everest. Atlantic. Jupiter. Andromeda. And so on.
Instead of speaking humanity into existence, our Wisdom tells us that God hand-crafted men and women from the clay, breathed into our motionless humanity the breath of life, invested with his image, and gave us something the rest of creation does not have except metaphorically: the divine capacity of language.
Though all living things communicate, only humans have the gift of speech and this capacity is creative (like God) or destructive (like the dark powers), depending on our choice.
The mystery of the Incarnation is so great that every year—in this time of Advent and Christmas, six blessed weeks of waiting and celebration—I eventually see something I have never seen before, encounter a facet of the birth narrative I missed or neglected or did not see in all its beauty.
By Kenneth Tanner
God takes the form of a baby because divine helplessness is greater than any other force in the universe.
When on the first Christmas divine humility and powerlessness and poverty are revealed as the foundation of all that exists, this revelation of God in the flesh threatens all human notions of power, all human leadership that rests on exertions of might.
Real Christmas was and remains political. The conception and birth of Jesus—the helpless, silent infant who spoke all things into existence and who holds all things together—set a challenge to all other rulers and kingdoms, visible and invisible.
All temporal rulers instinctively know they are bested by an eternal kingdom of others-directed, self-sacrificial love that does not seek its own, that does not keep a record of wrongs, that is not jealous, that seeks to serve rather than to be served.
Herod knew the jig was up, that the age of self-seeking rulers was now exposed and that the game was over. Herod turned to murder to try to reimpose the old order, as have so many visible and invisible powers down the centuries since the Incarnation, since God took up permanent residence as a member of the human race in Jesus Christ.
I appreciate the way this artist captures the horror real infants and real mothers faced in the aftermath of the real Christmas, the infamous slaughter of male Hebrew children in and around Bethlehem that me remember today.
Fleeting worldly powers desperate to hold on to a false power that is being defeated by divine humility lash out. They always do, for violence is their defeated way of maintaining strength.
What they did not know is that in (eventually) killing Jesus Christ they reversed the permanence not only of their rule but of all their violent actions.
These poor children and all who suffer violence have in Jesus Christ a glorious way now to endure beyond suffering and death, to shine forever in the kingdom of their Father, while the kingdoms of this world and their violence await permanent, shameful expiration.
A blessed Fourth Day of this great feast of the Incarnation to you and yours. Remember the Innocents. We have inherited a kingdom; we await a world without end.