THEOLOGY & Scot McKnight on Thomas Oden’s “A Change of Heart”

By Carl Trueman, Jan. 28, 2015, Postcards From Palookaville

As readers will know, this week MoS is focusing on Thomas Oden’s autobiography, A Change of Heart. As I have reviewed it for the January edition of First Things, I asked Scot McKnight, as a friend and representative of another stream of evangelical life, to offer his thoughts on the volume, an invitation he kindly accepted. To coincide with today’s podcast on the book, I post Scot’s review here, replete with quotations which give the reader a real taste of the book as a whole.

Thomas C. Oden, A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir (Downers Grove: IVP, 2014). 382 pp. with index.

The tension in Thomas C. Oden’s memoir, tension between a socialist-absorbing and avant garde theology and established reputation among America’s academic elites and (his now well-known) paleo-orthodoxy and refusal to say anything new in theology and disestablishment in the same academic community mirrors the history of the American church in the 20th Century. One might sketch that history with varying trajectories – from orthodox evangelicalism into liberalism in all its forms is a stereotyped story of a slide – but Oden’s story turns that story around for he moved against the grain into a robust embrace of orthodox Christianity.

I first became aware of Oden in the mid-90s when I read both After Modernity … What? (1992) and Requiem: A Lament in Three Movements (1995). Oden tells his story of participation in the two ends of America’s theological spectrum with candor, humility – confessions about his own culpability for his previous beliefs and teachings and wishes that he had been more firm in rearing his children – and restraint, but nonetheless a baring of his soul:

My past visions of vast plans for social change had irreparably harmed many innocents, especially the unborn. The sexually permissive lifestyle, which I had not joined but failed to critique, led to a generation of fatherless children. The political policies I had promoted were intended to increase justice by political means but ended in diminishing personal responsibility and freedom. Many of the seemingly humane psychological therapies I had supported may have made people more miserable, less able to choose wisely or to seek the virtues required for happiness (145).

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