I am just a few pages short of finishing Thomas Oden’s “A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir.” The ‘change of heart’ refers to his realignment with Christian orthodoxy after immersion into theological liberalism of the United Methodist kind, a particularly potent strain.
His memoir gives us the ‘feel’ of theological liberalism – its culture, its fears, its utter disgust of orthodoxy, much less its rage against Evangelicalism, its focus on Marxism, wealth redistribution and sexual liberation. Oden was a part of it. He knows personally the key players, the books, the worldview, and the key events.
He is kind but pointed. He knows the enemy of orthodoxy. His connection with Evangelicalism has beginnings in relationships with JI Packer, Chuck Colson, Elisabeth Eliot, and several Gordon Conwell faculty. As Oden turned toward what he calls “paleo-orthodoxy,” the theological consensus of the church of the first five centuries, he recalls the price he paid in the theological circles he traveled in. He was a tenured professor whose job was secure but whose influence was reduced to virtually zero. At the same time his field of influence grew exponentially as he found a Christianity alive and well outside of the academy and the liberal mainline denominational bureaucracies.
Some Evangelicals are not friendly toward Oden’s vision of the overlapping unity of Evangelical, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthdox communions. I am on Oden’s side on this one. His is quite the story of loss and gain in the liberal/orthodox conflict.