Every turn in Thomas Oden’s theology took him further left, until he came face to face with Augustine and Wesley.

For many years theologian Thomas Oden advocated trendy theological views—for example, that the resurrection really happened in the hearts of the disciples rather than to the crucified Jesus. Then he began spending more time reading the likes of Chrysostom and Aquinas and less time pondering Bultmann. He read the church’s ancient creeds and formulations with new interest. And he found himself questioning the idolatry of the “new.” Soon this respected liberal theologian created a stir with books such as Agenda for Theology and Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition. These signaled his “reversal” to what he calls “classical Christian orthodoxy.” His recent book, The Word of Life (Harper & Row), second of his three-volume systematic theology, furthers the dialogue, as does After Modernity … What? (a revised and expanded version of Agenda for Theology).

Oden is small but wiry, and one senses that his faith has been tested and strengthened through battles he has faced in the arena of ecumenical scholarship. His ready wit and preference for plain speaking, however, have remained unchanged.

What were the turning points in your movement away from modernity?

Think of an idealistic kid in high school who is actively engaged in the World Federalist Movement, who, when he goes to college, becomes a pacifist and later becomes enamored with socialist theories and reads Freud. Between 1945 and 1965, every turn I made was a left turn. When I decided to go to theological school, it wasn’t because I was strongly committed to the biblical message, but to the hope that the church could be an effective instrument of social change. It ...

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