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    Entries in Thomas Oden (3)


    2015 End of Year Book Notes

    In past years, I have shared my list of books read, highlighting titles I really enjoyed. I’ve also taken the time to link those titles to If you click a title from my website and purchase that book as a result, and if this happens enough, I receive a credit to that allows me to buy more books, which I, of course, delight in doing. As Erasmus remarked, "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes."

    This year, I won’t list all of the titles. Instead, I want to highlight a few themes. I’ve read some challenging academic theology this year, but much more fiction. I have spent time with a number of authors focused on the pastoral task. Among my favorite authors this year were C. J. Sansom and Rowan Williams.

    The first book I finished reading this year was Thomas C. Oden’s A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir. This book was a gift from my sister and brother-in-law, given last year. Soon thereafter, I finished reading John Wesley’s Works, Vol. 5. That was the culmination of work spanning several years. This volume features Wesley’s sermons. In contrast, one of the last books I finished was John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 1. I’ll move on to the second volume of the Institutes in the year to come. I also plan to read Barth’s Dogmatics.

    The above is preface, here are the themes. And I’ll include a short bonus on how I keep track of titles.

    Academic Theology

    C. S. Lewis once wrote, "I believe that many who find that 'nothing happens' when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.” I have not spent time with a pipe this year. But I have held a pencil, and a few works of challenging theology.

    Stanley Hauerwas’s The Work of Theology was my most anticipated read. I have attempted to read everything he has written. I also read The Holy Spirit, which Hauerwas co-authored with William Willimon. Both books released this year.

    I mentioned Wesley and Calvin above, and I will continue to read them both. Other notables this year were Robert Jenson’s Systematic Theology: Volume 1: The Triune God, and George Eldon Ladd’s Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God. I read Ladd, in part, because of my reading of Scot McKnight’s Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church early in 2015.


    Reviewing my reading list, this is where I am most surprised. I read a lot of fiction this year. The authors: Barbara Kingsolver, Stephen King, Michael Connelly, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, John Irving, C. J. Sansom, Willa Cather, Alan Patton, Andrew Klavan, and Sue Monk Kidd.

    Since I read a number of titles by Michael Connelly, both from the Bosch and Lincoln Lawyer series, crime fiction dominated my imagination. Connelly’s pacing, dialogue, and realism make for enjoyable reading.

    Reading novels has been shown to increase empathy (, a needed skill in pastoral ministry. Empathy is also a really good skill to have in life.

    Pastoral Theology

    Thomas C. Oden’s Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry is the headliner. I consider this book indispensable for those in ministry. I bought a used copy a few years ago, and I’m glad I finally committed myself to reading it, for the rewards were many. If you are serving in ministry, or discerning a call, this book provides an excellent overview and theological foundation for the pastoral task.

    My favorite books this year that encouraged my heart: Dallas Willard’s The Allure of Gentleness: Defending the Faith in the Manner of Jesus, Bernard of Clairvaux’s On Loving God, and Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation. I enjoyed reading Rowan Williams’s books Meeting God in Mark: Reflections for the Season of Lent and Where God Happens: Discovering Christ in One Another. And from a practical ministry angle, I was challenged by Andrew Root’s little books, Unpacking Scripture in Youth Ministry and Taking Theology to Youth Ministry.

    The best book I read on youth ministry this year was by Mark DeVries, called Sustainable Youth Ministry: Why Most Youth Ministry Doesn't Last and What Your Church Can Do About It. I got to hear from him at the National Youth Workers Convention in Louisville, which was an added blessing. DeVries has written a youth ministry model book I actually enjoyed reading, which is rare.

    One Other Book

    Early in 2015, the world lost David Carr, a writer best known for his work with The New York Times. Carr’s death was unexpected. Many offered their remembrances of Carr on Twitter. Which led me to watch the documentary, Page One: Inside the New York Times ( I was then led to read Carr’s book The Night of the Gun: A reporter investigates the darkest story of his life. His own.

    While I can’t say everyone should read David Carr, I’m glad that I did.

    How I Keep Track of Titles

    According to my record, this year I read 78 books, along with countless articles, blog posts, and what I’ll call online fodder. I would do well to spend less time flitting between Twitter and Facebook, and more time with classic literature and works of theology, with a pencil in hand.

    I’m not the best at annotation, and while I own a book journal, I do not use it regularly. I have one notebook that I have numbered and sectioned, according to my needs. I have tabs for notes, quotes, ideas, lists, goals, and books. My book tab is last, and I work from the last page of my journal, backwards and toward the front. I number my list by fives, and record the author and the title. If I think a book is exceptionally well written and impactful, I place a star by the title.

    Here’s a picture:

    I love to read. I have a few titles, primed and ready, on my nightstand, at my desk, and in my office.

    I can’t wait to see what next year shall bring.


    Saturday Reading Notes

    Slowly but surely, I continue to read.

    John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion

    I continue plodding through Calvin, reading a passage here and there when I find a free moment at home, or when routine tasks are completed sooner than expected. I continue to be impressed by Calvin's range, and his tone, which have been emulated by his disciples.

    This passage in Book III.7.1 is quite good:

    We are not our own: let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh. We are not our own: in so far as we can, let us therefore forget ourselves and all that is ours.

    Conversely, we are God's: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God's: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God's: let all parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal [Rom. 14:8; cf. 1 Cor. 6:19]. O, how much has that man profited who, having been taught that he is not his own, has taken away dominion and rule from his own reason that he may yield it to God! For, as consulting our self-interest is the pestilence that most effectively leads to our destruction, so the sole haven of salvation is to be wise in nothing and to will nothing through ourselves but to follow the leading of the Lord alone.

    Thomas Oden's Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry

    While Oden's Pastoral Theology is clinical and systematic in approach, this might be one of my favorite reads in quite some time. Pastoral work is so maligned. Eugene Peterson has written that the pastoral vocation itself is in trouble--and I agree. Peterson's critiques often target religious entrepreneurship and spiritual salesmanship. Peterson's concern is that pastoral work, and the discourse surrounding it, has been corrupted by the language of the market. Oden's work is terrific grist for the development of a counter-imagination.

    In Oden's chapter "The Care of Souls," he records "Maxims for Effective Pastoral Counsel." Here is what he recommends:

    • Do no harm.
    • Respect the parishioners' right and responsibility to choose their own spiritual guide.
    • Allow people time to arrive at long-awaited moments of insight in which their self-perception or interpersonal life elicits growth not thought previously possible.
    • Do not woodenly assume that either quiet listening or active confrontation is always the obligatory way to engage in pastoral conversation.
    • View spiritual formation not merely in terms of short-term crisis management, but rather in terms of long-term development of the whole person.
    • View the pastoral caring process as taking place within a community of caring, rather than just an isolated interaction, as if the believing, supporting community did not exist.

    So simple, yet so wise.

    Walter Brueggemann's Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now

    Concerning Sabbath-keeping, Brueggemann writes:

    When taken seriously in faith by Jews--and derivatively by Christians--Sabbath-keeping is a way of making a statement of peculiar identity amid a larger public identity, of maintaining and enacting a counter-identity that refuses "mainstream" identity, which itself entails anti-human practice and the worship of anti-human gods. Understood this way, Sabbath is a bodily act of testimony to an alternative and resistance to pervading values and assumptions behind those values.

    Strong claim. Two key terms: testimony and resistance. To prayerfully disengage from daily demands of production, consumption, and performance creates the space necessary to give witness to God's reality and the alternative calling placed upon our lives. Our value is not in what we produce, our capacity to accumulate, nor in ambition or achievement. Our value is in Christ, in and through whom all things were made. 

    In Sabbath as Resistance, Brueggemann explores the peculiar identity and counter-identity of the people of God. Some of his conclusions I disagree with. But I appreciate his engagement with the Old Testament.

    Other Reading Notes

    This afternoon, I took the time to read this report by the McClatchy Washington Bureau: "Irradiated: Will the Nation's New Nuclear Age Yield More Unwanted Fallout?" It is a lengthy investigation into the human cost of producing and maintaining nuclear weaponry. I recommend reading it.

    I also began reading Michael Connelly's The Gods of Guilt (A Lincoln Lawyer Novel). Crime fiction.

    More notes in a week or so.

    Happy reading.


    In Search of The Great Tradition

    A reversal has occurred in our time.  The faithful have in fact outlived the collapse of the foundations of secular society.  Familiar dominant patterns of thought have lost their immune system for recuperation.  The modern outlook is disintegrating.  But communities of traditional faith flourish more than ever.

    It is a fact: evangelical, Orthodox, and Catholic spirituality, scholarship, pastoral care, and institutional life have against all odds already weathered the waning winter of this modern decline.  So has traditional Jewish life.

    We are witnessing an emerging resolve in worldwide Christianity and Judaism to reclaim the familiar classic spiritual disciplines: close study of scripture, daily prayer, regular observance in a worshipping community, doctrinal integrity, and moral accountability.  Even though my voice is Protestant, the arguments and evidences equally apply to Catholic, Orthodox, and Jewish life.

    Turning from the illusions of modern life, the faithful are now quietly returning to the spiritual disciplines that have profoundly shaped their history, and in fact have enabled their survival.  This is the rebirth of orthodoxy.

    -Thomas Oden, The Rebirth of Orthodoxy: Signs of New Life in Christianity

    As I read these opening lines of Thomas Oden's Rebirth, one question came to mind: "Can this be true?"  In the margins, my wife Molly had written, "really?"  Surely such a broad sweeping statement is overreaching.  Surely this cannot be the case.  Surely.


    If I had not also recently completed Mark Noll's The New Shape of World Christianity, I might not think so.  I also might not be willing to consider Oden's thesis if his book was not so compellingly written.  At the very least, it has given me hope that classical, orthodox Christianity is emerging anew, possessing a deep commitment to the historic disciplines of the faith, and willing both to teach and embody those doctrines so that the church itself is strengthened in her witness in this generation and in the future.  To the degree which such a rebirth might be taking place, I do not know.  But at the very least, I know this: Oden's project, which is much larger than him, is one in which I can very easily see myself participating in and advocating for.

    Oden's book is worth reading, for the argument needs engagement.  I'm hoping he is right.  There are others who may believe that he is very wrong.  But he cannot be dismissed--his logic must be considered.  Oden chronicles his perception of "the rise of orthodoxy" that has given birth to a new ecumenicism that is rooted in the historic doctrines of the Christian faith, particularly as they are captured in the creeds.  Such an ecumenicism, in his view, differs from older forms, which depended more on political alliances and bureaucratic structures in order to operate.

    Oden's tale parallels his own life story.  Having been a participant in the old ecumenicism (as typified, in his argument, by the NCC and WCC) and formed by it's institutions, Oden has found himself rejecting many of the presuppositions of that segment of Christianity and embracing Christian faith as he has found it constant across time.  As he has discovered ancient orthodoxy, he has found others who have embraced it in our time, and he believes this same discovery is being made by others from all segments of the faith.  At the heart of his argument he presents evidence for the rebirth of orthodoxy, marked by: (1) personal transformation, (2) faithful scriptural interpretation, (3) ancient ecumenical multiculturalism, (4) well-established boundaries, (5) ecumenical roots reclaimed, and (6) consensual ecumenical discernment.  He makes the case that each of these is now taking place.

    One thing is for certain: reading Oden's work ignited a passion in me to read the Church Fathers.  I also gained a deepening appreciation for the historic creeds--the Apostles', Nicene, and Athanasian formulas, and their role in shaping and guiding Christianity throughout her history.  I was inspired to study these more deeply in order to better help the church remember.  I was moved as Oden described the Vincentian rule, in Latin, "Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est"--meaning that the church is to hold fast to what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all--knowing that in order to abide by this rule takes work.

    Oden's book makes it clear that the Holy Spirit has a history, and the church, at her best, has a long memory. Perhaps what I'm most struck by, as I read Oden's argument, was not just the idea that an old orthodoxy might be emerging anew, but by the resonances which such an idea brought forth in my own heart.  I am longing for something very old, as well as friends who will help remember and maintain that tradition alongside me as part of a community.  It is not that I only want the church to be her best as an outside observer, it is that I want to be part of such a church as an internal participant.  And I cannot do so apart from friendship.  I need friends daring enough to be orthodox, as well as daring enough to help me remember, as well as embody, those teachings of the church held fast everywhere, always, and by all.