Thomas C. Oden


Thomas Clark Oden (October 21, 1931 - December 8, 2016) was a United Methodist theologian and author known for his work with early Christian writings, as well as his promotion of paleo-orthodoxy as an approach to theology and preaching that relies on patristic sources. He earned academic degrees from the University of Oklahoma (B.A., 1953), Southern Methodist University (B.D., 1956), and Yale University (M.A., 1958 and Ph.D., 1960). His doctoral thesis, directed by H Richard Niebuhr, compared the ethics of Karl Barth and Rudolf Bultmann. A portion of the thesis was published as Radical Obedience: The Ethics of Rudolf Bultmann by Westminster Press in 1964.

Among Oden's published works are his memoir A Change of Heart (2014); his writings on John Wesley and Methodism, such as John Wesley's Teachings (4 volumes; Zondervan, 2012) and Doctrinal standards in the Wesleyan tradition (Abingdon, 2008); his observations concerning mainline Christianity and orthodoxy, including Turning Around the Mainline (Baker Books, 2006), The Rebirth of Orthodoxy (HarperSanFrancisco, 2003), and Requiem: a lament in three movements (Abingon, 1995); his writings on early African Christianity, such as How Africa shaped the Christian Mind (IVP Books, 2007), The African Memory of Mark (IVP Academic, 2011), and Early Libyan Christianity (IVP Academic, 2011); and of course the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series (29 volumes; InterVarsity Press, 2001), for which Oden served as general editor.

A narrative that appears broadly over the course of Oden's published writings, and is recounted with more focus in A Change of Heart, is his "turn" to classical Christianity. This change occurred 20 years into a seminary teaching career that included positions at Yale University, Southern Methodist University, Phillips University, and the graduate school faculty at Drew University, where he was awarded the Henry Anson Buttz chair of Theology and Ethics in 1980. He credits the turn to the advice of his colleague and mentor at Drew, Will Herberg, who told Oden he would remain theologically uneducated unless he read deeply among patristic writers such as Athanasius, Augustine, and Aquinas. Dutifully undertaken, this regimen of reading awakened Oden from his "enthrallment" with modernity and moved him toward what he would call "consensus Christianity," a faith that found its center in historical orthodoxy instead of the liberal and social idealism Oden had embraced in his youth. It was this turn that led him to be a proponent of "paleo-orthodoxy," which promotes the study of classical Christian sources rather than modern scholarship in its approach to theology.

Oden gifted his papers and correspondence to the Duke Divinity School Library and the Divinity Archive in 2015. These manuscripts and other materials are currently being organized in an archival collection that will be made available to researchers as the collection is processed. A preliminary finding aid for the accessions within the collection follows:

1. Student Years

1.1 University of Oklahoma

1.2 Perkins School of Theology

1.3 Yale University

1.4 Churches

2. Professional Years

2.1 Perkins School of Theology

2.2 Phillips University

2.3 Drew University

3. Correspondence

3.1 Alphabetical order

3.2 Chronological order

4. Writings

4.1 Book manuscripts and related materials

4.2 Ancient Christian Commentary Series

4.3 Articles and related materials

4.4 Book reviews authored by TCO

4.5 Book reviews of Oden’s works

4.6 Poetry

4.7 Manuscripts by other authors

4.8 Writing ideas

5. Speaking Engagements

5.1 Lectures and related materials

5.2 Sermons

5.3 Speeches

6. Subject Files

6.1 Associations and societies

6.2 Buckley/Herberg

6.3 China Academic Consortium

6.4 Christianity Today

6.5 Communio Seminar

6.6 Confessing Movement

6.7 Early African Christianity project

6.8 Ethics and Public Policy Center

6.9 Family/personal

6.10 Heidelberg sabbatical

6.11 Outler, Albert C.

6.12 Personal documentation

6.13 Phoebe Palmer project

6.14 Political engagement

6.15 Research/notes

6.16 Social Ethics Research project

6.17 Travel

6.18 UMC/Methodist studies

6.19 Wesley, John

6.20 World Council of Churches

6.21 Worship

7. Electronic Records

Citation Guidelines

Preferred citation for the digital version:

[Identification of item], Thomas C. Oden papers, Digital Version. Duke Divinity School Library, Duke University. [Item URL].

Preferred citation for the original documents in the archives on campus, if consulted:

[Identification of item], Thomas C. Oden papers, Duke Divinity School Library, Duke University.

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