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Thomas Clark Oden (1931–2016) was an American Methodist theologian and religious author. He is often regarded as the father of the paleo-orthodox theological movement and is considered to be one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century. He was Henry Anson Buttz Professor of Theology and Ethics at Drew University in New Jersey from 1980 until his retirement in 2004. He remained faculty emeritus until his death.[1]

Thomas C. Oden
Thomas C. Oden.jpg
Thomas Clark Oden

(1931-10-21)October 21, 1931
DiedDecember 8, 2016(2016-12-08) (aged 85)
Edrita Pokorny (m. 1952)
Ecclesiastical career
ReligionChristianity (Methodist)
ChurchUnited Methodist Church
Academic background
Alma mater
Doctoral advisorH. Richard Niebuhr
InfluencesWill Herberg
Academic work
School or traditionPaleo-orthodoxy
Notable worksJohn Wesley's Teachings (2012–2014)


Oden was born on October 21, 1931 in Altus, Oklahoma, the son of an attorney and music teacher. As a youth, he considered two vocations: lawyer or Methodist minister. At age ten, Oden's family moved to Oklahoma City. After the Second World War, Oden returned to Altus and high school where he began his vocation of writing and speaking.[2] Oden earned a BA degree from the University of Oklahoma (1953), a BD from Southern Methodist University (1956), and his MA (1958) and PhD from Yale University (1960).[3] He married Edrita Pokorny on August 10, 1952. They had three children: Clark, Edward, and Laura.[1]

Oden lectured at Yale University, Southern Methodist University, Heidelberg University, Princeton Theological Seminary, Lomonosov University, and the Pontifical Gregorian University, in Rome.

Originally a political and theological liberal, he turned to the patristic writings in the early 1970s under the influence of a Jewish colleague, Will Herberg, and discovered what he described as "ecumenical orthodoxy", the interpretation of the New Testament and apostolic doctrine which is universal and accepted. As he wrote in the preface of his Systematic Theology: "My basic goal is to present an orderly view of the faith of the Christian community, on which there has generally been a substantial agreement between the traditions of the East and the West, including Catholicism, Protestantism and Orthodoxy."[4]

Oden became a proponent of paleo-orthodoxy, an approach to theology that often relies on patristic sources. He published a series of books that he said are tools for promoting "classical Christianity". Oden suggested that Christians need to rely upon the wisdom of the historical Church, particularly the early Church, rather than on modern scholarship and theology, which is often, in his view, tainted by political agendas.

Oden said that his mission was "to begin to prepare the postmodern Christian community for its third millennium by returning again to the careful study and respectful following of the central tradition of classical Christianity."[5]

Oden was active in the Confessing Movement in America, particularly within the United Methodist Church, and he served on the board of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. Dean Timothy George of the Beeson Divinity School called Oden "one of the most remarkable Christians of our time [who] has lived through, contributed to and helped overthrow several revolutions."[6]

He died on December 8, 2016, at the age of 85.[7] Timothy George wrote in a tribute article after his death:

Few theologians of the past 100 years can claim to have had tea and cookies with Rudolf Bultmann, discussed theology with Karl Barth at his hospital bed in Basel, had lunch with Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, had an audience with Pope John Paul II, driven through Galilee in a Fiat with Avery Dulles in the passenger seat, and conferred with Coptic and Pentecostal theologians in Africa. Oden did all of these and much more. Along the way, he was both scorned and lionized, and he bore scars from some of the scrapes he was in.[8]


Oden wrote and edited many books, articles, essays, and speeches on a wide range of topics. The following list is limited to books.[1]

  • The Crisis of the World and the Word of God, 1962
  • Radical Obedience: The Ethics of Rudolf Bultmann, 1964
  • The Community of Celebration, 1964
  • Kerygma and Counseling, 1966
  • Contemporary Theology and Psychotherapy, 1967
  • The Structure of Awareness, 1969,1978 (Standard Book #:687-40075-9)
  • The Promise of Barth, 1969
  • Beyond Revolution, 1970
  • The Intensive Group Experience, 1972
  • After Therapy What?, 1974
  • Game Free: the Meaning of Intimacy, 1974
  • Should Treatment Be Terminated?, 1976
  • TAG: The Transanctional Game, 1976
  • Parables of Kierkegaard, 1978
  • Agenda for Theology, 1979, rpt as After Modernity...What?, 1992 (ISBN 0-310-75391-0)
  • Guilt Free, 1980
  • Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry, 1983 (ISBN 0-06-066353-7)
  • Oden, Thomas C. (1984). are of Souls in the Classic Tradition. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, cop.
  • Conscience and Dividends, 1985
  • Crisis Ministries, was Vol 1 Classical Pastoral Care Series, 1986, rpt as Vol 4, 1994
  • Becoming a Minister, Vol 1 Classical Pastoral Care Series, 1986, 1994
  • The Living God, Systematic Theology, Vol 1, 1987, 1992
  • Doctrinal Standards in the Wesleyan Tradition, 1988, rev 2008 (ISBN 0-310-75240-X)
  • Phoebe Palmer: Selected Writings, 1988
  • Ministry Through Word and Sacrament, Vol 4 Classical Pastoral Care Series, 1988, rpt 1994
  • The Word of Life Systematic Theology, Vol 2, 1989, rpt 1992, 1998
  • First and Second Timothy and Titus: Interpretation, 1989, rpt 2012
  • Pastoral Counsel, Vol 3 Classical Pastoral Care Series, 1989, rpt 1994
  • Life in the Spirit, Systematic Theology, Vol 3, 1992 rpt 1994,1998
  • Two Worlds: Notes on the Death of Modernity in America and Russia, 1992
  • The Transforming Power of Grace, 1993 (ISBN 0-687-42260-4)
  • John Wesley's Scriptural Christianity: A Plain Exposition of His Teaching on Christian Doctrine, 1994 (ISBN 0-310-75321-X)
  • Corrective Love: The Power of Communion Discipline, 1995 (ISBN 0-570-04803-6)
  • Requiem: A Lament in Three Movements, 1995 (ISBN 0-687-01160-4)
  • The Justification Reader, 2002
  • The Rebirth of Orthodoxy: Signs of New Life in Christianity, 2003 (ISBN 0-06-009785-X)
  • One Faith: The Evangelical Consensus (written with J. I. Packer), 2004 (ISBN 0-8308-3239-4)
  • The Humor of Kierkegaard: An Anthology, 2004
  • Turning Around the Mainline: How Renewal Movements Are Changing the Church, 2006
  • How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind, 2007, pb 2010
  • Good Works Reader, Classic Christian Reader Series, 2007
  • Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology, 2009 (ISBN 978-0061449710)
  • In Search of Solitude: Living the Classic Christian Hours of Prayer, 2010
  • The African Memory of Mark: Reassessing Early Church Tradition, 2011
  • Early Libyan Christianity, 2011
  • John Wesley's Teachings
Vol 1: God and Providence, 2012 (ISBN 978-0310328155)
Vol 2: Christ and Salvation, 2012 (ISBN 978-0310492672)
Vol 3: Pastoral Theology, 2013 (ISBN 978-0310587095)
Vol 4: Ethics and Society, 2014 (ISBN 978-0310587187)
  • Oden, Thomas C. (2014). A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity.
  • Classical Pastoral Care series reprint, 1994
Vol 1: Becoming A Minister (ISBN 0-8010-6763-4)
Vol 2: Ministry through Word and Sacrament (ISBN 0-8010-6764-2)
Vol 3: Pastoral Counsel (ISBN 0-8010-6765-0)
Vol 4: Crisis Ministries (ISBN 0-8010-6766-9)
  • Oden, Thomas C. (2011). Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (PDF). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity., that Oden describes as a multi-volume patristic commentary on Scripture by the “fathers of the church” spanning “the era from Clement of Rome (fl. c. 95) to John of Damascus (c.645-c.749).”

Essays In Honor of Thomas C. OdenEdit

  • Ancient & Postmodern Christianity: Paleo-Orthodoxy in the 21st Century, Essays In Honor of Thomas C. Oden, Christopher Hall and Kenneth Tanner, eds, 2002 (ISBN 0-8308-2654-8)
  • Another essay in honor of Thomas C. Oden, “in the wesleyan theological heritage”, also edited with help from Leicester R. Longden ISBN 978-0310754718


  1. ^ a b c Heise 2011.
  2. ^ Oden 2014, p. 14, 15, 19, 22-23.
  3. ^ "Faculty page". Drew University. Retrieved 25 May 2013.
  4. ^ "Reversed Thunder: A Tribute to Thomas C. Oden (1931-2016)". christianitytoday. 8 December 2016. Retrieved 13 December 2016.
  5. ^ Oden, Thomas C. (1992). Zondervan (ed.). After Modernity...What?: Agenda for Theology. Grand Rapids, MI. p. 34.
  6. ^ Oden 2014, p. 385.
  7. ^ "Died: Thomas Oden, Methodist Theologian Who Found Classical Christianity". December 8, 2016. Retrieved December 9, 2016.
  8. ^ "Reversed Thunder: A Tribute to Thomas C. Oden (1931-2016)". christianitytoday. 8 December 2016. Retrieved 13 December 2016.


  • Oden, Thomas C. (2014). A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity.
  • Heise, Jennifer (2011). "Thomas Oden Publications, 1960-2000". Drew University Library. Retrieved 2019-09-09.