Thomas Oden’s Memoir Is a Must Read

Soon to read – “A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir,” by Thomas Oden. Description–“After growing up in the heart of rural Methodism in Oklahoma, Thomas Oden found Marx, Nietzsche and Freud storming into his imagination. He joined the post-World War II pacifist movement and became enamored with every aspect of the 1950s’ ecumenical Student Christian Movement. Ten years before America’s entry into the Vietnam war he admired Ho Chi Min as an agrarian patriot. For Oden, every turn was a left turn. At Yale he earned his PhD under H. Richard Niebuhr and later met with some of the most formidable minds of the era―enjoying conversations with Gadamer, Bultmann and Pannenberg as well as a lengthy discussion with Karl Barth at a makeshift office in his hospital room. While traveling with his family through Turkey, Syria and Israel, he attended Vatican II as an observer and got his first taste of ancient Christianity. And slowly, he stopped making left turns. Oden’s enthusiasms for pacifism, ecumenism and the interface between theology and psychotherapy were ambushed by varied shapes of reality. Yet it was a challenge from a Jewish scholar, his friend and mentor Will Herberg, that precipitated his most dramatic turn―back to the great minds of ancient Christianity.”

Oden shaped the phrase “PaleoOrthodoxy.” This is a return to the Ancient Church as the platform for both Christian unity and as a tool to battle heresy. I buy into this project. Oden does not deny the development of Christian thought. What he insists on is continuity and authority. In his series Ancient Christian Commentaries he does not refer to any biblical exegetes outside of the first five centuries unless he has to. If the ancient church said it, that’s where he goes, displaying how much of what the great stream of orthodoxy is rooted there. This memory is important, and it is an effective instrument in battling heresy, which is constantly shape-shifting.

Oden has continued in the United Methodist Church, something befuddling to me. Apparently he is one of those Evangelicals like JI Packer who believe that the power of orthodoxy in and of itself will save their denomination. Packer has certainly found otherwise.

But Protestants don’t have too many choices here. Protestantism is shaped by its characteristics to be a carrier of heresy. Yet true Protestants cannot ever see returning to Rome as an option. They (we) had rather constantly fight the battles for doctrinal purity that Protestants necessarily needs to go through. It’s exhausting. And giving nondenominational Evangelical the energy and will to drill down into doctrinal depth is a pipe dream. It just doesn’t do it, not in any meaningful way. It’s too audience driven.

A Response to Trump’s Call to Ban Muslims

It was not easy to find a full statement by Trump on his call for banning immigration for the time being of Muslims. In support of his position he quoted the recent poll by The Polling Company for the Center for Security Policy. It found that nearly a quarter of the Muslims polled in the US believed that, it is legitimate to use violence to punish those who give offense to Islam by, for example, portraying the prophet Mohammed. Nearly one-fifth of Muslim respondents said that the use of violence in the United States is justified in order to make shariah the law of the land in this country. That would translate into roughly 300,000 Muslims living in the United States who believe that shariah is “The Muslim God Allah’s law that Muslims must follow and impose worldwide by Jihad.” We have a problem, Houston! We do not discriminate against other religions. It is right for us to expect those immigrating to the USA to join us in this project. I would insist that this is a test for each person who desires entrance to the US. This is not a religious or ethnic test. It is first base in maintaining a civil society.

“American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism”-A Response

Super enjoying American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism. Not a “Christian” book, per se. Written by a prof at Washington State University and published by Harvard. Basic assertion-evangelicalism is configured in an essential way by an apocalyptic model informed by dispensational premillenialism. He offers a very intense history of 20th century fundamentalism/evangelicalism that has explanatory power to it. He is naming names and telling stories. His paradigm certainly fits my experience. There is a unique combo of “any moment return of Christ” with a “this-worldliness” that characterizes the fluidity of the movement. I find the book’s description of people whose names were familiar to me as a child of particular interest, as well as the internecine battles within the movement.

I have tried in my life to develop more openness to the breadth of orthodoxy ensconced in the various parts of the church while yet holding onto the essential contributions of the Evangelical stream. Thus, some of my Evangelical buddies wonder at my liberalism and some of my Orthodox/RC friends wonder why I don’t just jettison what they see as my fundamentalism. I, by virtue of this, can only participate in certain kinds of Evangelical churches, most of whom are more conservative than I am in some respects but which offer me some continuity with Evangelical essentials. By the way, I am an amillenialist of a fairly determined kind but have learned that dispensationalist premills are fierce street fighters. smile emoticon. They take no prisoners.

Winsome Words 12/7/2015

by Anne Sexton

blessed snow,
comes out of the sky
like bleached flies.
The ground is no longer naked.
The ground has on its clothes.
The trees poke out of sheets
and each branch wears the sock of God.

There is hope.
There is hope everywhere.
I bite it.
Someone once said:
Don’t bite till you know
if it’s bread or stone.
What I bite is all bread,
rising, yeasty as a cloud.

There is hope.
There is hope everywhere.
Today God gives milk
and I have the pail.

At Age 66 Appreciating and Evaluating Evangelical Protestantism

I continue to work on what it means to be an Evangelical and to find a way to place my spiritual journey within the larger narrative of the church. I have long outgrown the belief that my place in the small corner of the church called Evangelical Protestantism (EP) is the only place that really matters, or maybe even the best place.

I would like to think that EP is what it is because the Bible is what it is. But I know it is a development within the larger history of the church and not THE history of the church. I know that EP picks up several strands of biblical truth and lets other strands drop away. And I know that EP is placed within a time frame, complete with socio-political forces, geographic framing and reactions to specific corruptions. It is not self-explanatory, purely accounted for by the Bible alone, as fixed as it is on biblical fidelity. It is a phenomenon and not a metaphysical ontology, which I reserve alone for CHURCH, the thing itself as God sees it. It participates in that reality but does not encompass it.

At age 66 I do EP rather well. I know its key players, some of them personally, its institutions, debates, closet skeletons, language, and value system, books and key authors. It is my spiritual ecosystem. But I do try to stick my head up above its rumblings and goings on and take a look at the galaxy of which it is a part. What I see pushes and pulls at me, not so much that I leave EP but that I understand my place, my contribution, to keep balance and not become a captive to its ethos without intelligent reflection. I understand that for some EP is the church. All others are simply heretics, cowards, lukewarm pew setters, etc. I don’t buy that. Never have. I’ve seen enough inside EP to be creeped out by our own brand of pure Christianity.

But I will say that I continue to be thankful this is my part of the dance floor, that I know the steps by and large, that the dance has a rhythm that my heart beats in time with, and that my best contribution is helping EP be what it is in a healthier way, even if not fully purged of its crazy aunts in the attic.