Thomas Clark Oden (1931-2016) was an American Methodist theologian and religious author. He is often regarded as the father of the paleo-orthodox theological movement and is considered to be one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century. He was Henry Anson Buttz Professor of Theology and Ethics at Drew University in New Jersey from 1980 until his retirement in 2004. He remained faculty emeritus until his death.
Oden was born on October 21, 1931 in Altus, Oklahoma, the son of an attorney and music teacher. As a youth, he considered two vocations: lawyer or Methodistminister. At age ten, Oden's family moved to Oklahoma City. After the Second World War, Oden returned to Altus and high school where he began his vocation of writing and speaking. Oden earned a BA degree from the University of Oklahoma (1953), a BD from Southern Methodist University (1956), and his MA (1958) and PhD from Yale University (1960). He married Edrita Pokorny on August 10, 1952. They had three children: Clark, Edward, and Laura.
Originally a political and theological liberal, he turned to the patristic writings in the early 1970s under the influence of a Jewish colleague, Will Herberg, and discovered what he described as "ecumenical orthodoxy", the interpretation of the New Testament and apostolic doctrine which is universal and accepted. As he wrote in the preface of his Systematic Theology: "My basic goal is to present an orderly view of the faith of the Christian community, on which there has generally been a substantial agreement between the traditions of the East and the West, including Catholicism, Protestantism and Orthodoxy."
Oden became a proponent of paleo-orthodoxy, an approach to theology that often relies on patristic sources. He published a series of books that he said are tools for promoting "classical Christianity". Oden suggested that Christians need to rely upon the wisdom of the historical Church, particularly the early Church, rather than on modern scholarship and theology, which is often, in his view, tainted by political agendas.
Oden said that his mission was "to begin to prepare the postmodern Christian community for its third millennium by returning again to the careful study and respectful following of the central tradition of classical Christianity."
Oden, had an Arminian theology. His book The Transforming Power of Grace presents one of the best expositions of Arminian theology according to Roger E. Olson. Here are some quotes of The Transforming Power of Grace highlighted by Olson:
"God prepares the will and co-works with the prepared will. Insofar as grace precedes and prepares free will it is called prevenient. Insofar as grace accompanies and enables human willing to work with divine willing, it is called cooperating grace." "Only when sinners are assisted by prevenient grace can they begin to yield their hearts to cooperation with subsequent forms of grace." "The need for grace to prevene is great, for it was precisely when 'you were dead in your transgressions and sins' (Eph. 2:1) that 'by grace you have been saved' (eph. 2:8)."
Olson notes that "By all accounts an orthodox, biblically serious, and evangelical theologian, Oden winsomely and biblically articulates the theology [...] that I call evangelical synergism [or Arminian soteriology]."
He died on December 8, 2016, at the age of 85.Timothy George wrote in a tribute article after his death:
Few theologians of the past 100 years can claim to have had tea and cookies with Rudolf Bultmann, discussed theology with Karl Barth at his hospital bed in Basel, had lunch with Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, had an audience with Pope John Paul II, driven through Galilee in a Fiat with Avery Dulles in the passenger seat, and conferred with Coptic and Pentecostal theologians in Africa. Oden did all of these and much more. Along the way, he was both scorned and lionized, and he bore scars from some of the scrapes he was in.
Oden wrote and edited many books, articles, essays, and speeches on a wide range of topics. The following list is limited to books.
The Crisis of the World and the Word of God, 1962
Radical Obedience: The Ethics of Rudolf Bultmann, 1964
The Community of Celebration, 1964
Kerygma and Counseling, 1966
Contemporary Theology and Psychotherapy, 1967
The Structure of Awareness, 1969,1978 (Standard Book #:687-40075-9)
In Search of Solitude: Living the Classic Christian Hours of Prayer, 2010
The African Memory of Mark: Reassessing Early Church Tradition, 2011
Early Libyan Christianity, 2011
Oden, Thomas C. (2012). God and Providence. John Wesley's Teachings. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Oden, Thomas C. (2012). Christ and Salvation. John Wesley's Teachings. 2. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Oden, Thomas C. (2013). Pastoral Theology. John Wesley's Teachings. 3. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Oden, Thomas C. (2014). Ethics and Society. John Wesley's Teachings. 4. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Oden, Thomas C. (2014). A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity.
Oden, Thomas C. (2011). Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture(PDF). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity. Archived from the original(PDF) on 2016-03-03., that Oden describes as a multi-volume patristic commentary on Scripture by the "fathers of the church" spanning "the era from Clement of Rome (fl. c. 95) to John of Damascus (c.645-c.749)."
^Olson 2014, p. 14. A few years ago I met Thomas Oden and we talked about this [arminianism]. He rejected the label "Arminian" even though he is Methodist and his book The Transforming Power of Grace presents one of the best expositions of Arminian theology I've ever read.