Saturday, January 12, 2013

An Ode to Thomas Oden

I was raised in the Nazarene Church, and so when I felt a "call" to the ministry, I went to study theology at the nearest Nazarene University, which was Southern Nazarene University, in Bethany, Oklahoma, and attended there from 1986 to 1990. While, at that time, the Nazarene Church was still a very conservative evangelical denomination, the professors who taught in their Religion and Philosophy Department were not so much. My elder brother had attended the same school earlier in the 80's and the liberal professors he had were the conservative professors that I had... and they hadn't really changed. However the conservative professors had generally been replaced by professors who were even more liberal than the previous liberals. Much of the material I studied during that time was a labor to be endured -- authors that had little that inspired or edified -- but there were a few exceptions, and prominently among those exceptions were the books by the Methodist theologian Thomas Oden. Oden had been a student of the extremely liberal German biblical scholar Rudolph Bultmann, and so was very much a part of the skeptical intellectual environment that I found so unattractive. However, at some point in the 70's he began to apply the skeptical criteria of liberal scholarship back upon liberal scholarship, and ended up affirming that the "Ecumenical Consensus" of the first millennium of Christian history was "normative". I was introduced to his work in my systematic Theology class. He had at that time written the first two volumes of a systematic theology that followed the outline of the Nicene Creed. In that class, we used volume 2, "The Word of Life", which focused on those parts of the Creed that related to Christ. That book was so refreshing that I got me a copy of Volume 1, "The Living God", and read it as well. And I found that our library had his book "Agenda for Theology", which was I think then out of print, but was his theological manifesto, and explained how he had moved from being a Bultmanian to one who affirmed the authority of the Tradition of the Church. That book was later reprinted in a significantly revised form, under the title "After Modernity... What?" In my pastoral theology class, they also used his "Pastoral Theology" as a textbook, which went to the Tradition of the Church for guidance on how to deal with the practical issues of pastoral theology. Reading his works were not the only reason I eventually became Orthodox, but they were a part of a convergence of things that pointed me in that direction.

The third volume of his systematic theology was not published until 1992, and by that time I had been Orthodox awhile, and so was less eager to purchase a copy, though I always had the intention of eventually doing so, in order to complete the set. Just recently, I finally got around to it, and reading it has been a walk down memory lane. Reading the preface reminded me of what a radically different spirit I found in his writings in comparison with most of the material I had studied at SNU.

In the second paragraph of his preface, he wrote:

"At the end of this journey I reaffirm solemn commitments made at its beginning:
  • To make no new contribution to theology
  • to resist the temptation to quote modern writers less schooled in the whole counsel of God than the best ancient classic exegetes
  • To seek quite simply to express the one mind of the believing church that has been ever attentive to the apostolic teaching to which consent has been given by Christian believers everywhere, always, and by all -- this what I mean by the Vincentian method (Vincent of Lerins, comm., LCC [Library of Christian Classics] VII, pp. 37-39,65-74; for an accounting of this method see LG [The Living God (volume 1 of his systematic theology)], pp. 322-25,341-51)
     I am dedicated to unoriginality. I am pledged to irrelevance if relevance means indebtedness to corrupt modernity. What is deemed relevant in theology is likely to be moldy in a few days. I take to heart Paul's admonition: "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we [from the earliest apostolic kerygma] had already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted [par o parelabete, other than what you received from the apostles], let him be eternally condemned [anathema esto]!" (Gal. 1:8, 9, NIV, italics added) (Life in the Spirit, p vii).

I can't remember in which of his books he said this, but I remember him echoing the above sentiments, and saying that he wanted the epitaph on his tombstone to say "He added nothing new to theology."

Thomas Oden is still a Protestant, and so one should not assume that I would agree with him entirely, but his devastating critique of Protestant liberalism and modernity in general, combined with his affirmation of the Tradition of the Church was an oasis in a spiritual and intellectual desert, and it pointed me in the direction of the Orthodox Church.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Tone Tutor

For those who are unable to go to the Summer Liturgical School in Jordanville, the Tone Tutor is an excellent set of CDs that will teach you the 8 tones according to the common usage of the Russian Church, and uses the methods taught at Jordanville. There are 10 CDs: one for each of the 8 tones. One for "mid term" and "final" tests, and one for refreshing your memory. This tone teaches each variation of the 8 tones: the troparion, sticheron, sticheron refrains, prokimenon, and irmos melodies. The program is completely audio based... you need only pop in the first CD, and follow the instructions from there.

This fills an important need. In the 90's there was a cassette tape available, but it was not nearly as user friendly, and the translation used for the text was not the most commonly used ones in ROCOR.

Choir members who have not yet memorized the tones will greatly benefit from this, and especially those who are thrust into the position of manning the cliros, and have no one else to prompt them when a particular tone is called for, and they have no one to get them started. Many years ago, I was in that situation, and I used some cassette tapes that were available, and worked on the tone of the week each week, until I had them all down. But this is a much more thorough program. I highly recommend it.

It can be purchased by clicking here.