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EFAC Australia

 

A Change of Heart 
Thomas Oden, IVP Academic, 2014

I’m getting tired of new books that pretend to be cutting edge Christian books and begin with Tom and Lucy looking out on their vegetable gardens and having some twee conversation. I’m also getting tired of books that have blurbs that give the impression this is the greatest book ever written but the content is empty and vacuous. Am I just getting old and grumpy – probably yes – but I’m also hungry for some substance.

One book that came as a pleasant weighty surprise is Sinclair Ferguson’s Some Pastors and Teachers. It’s a collection of many of Ferguson’s short articles linked to Owen, Calvin and others and since each chapter is about 6-8 pages long it can be read devotionally with great food for the mind and heart. If you have been waiting for something to fuel your faith this could be it.

Another Ferguson book worth reading is The Whole Christ which grapples with a moment in Scottish history when a young candidate for the ministry is asked if repentance is necessary to come to Christ. The young man said “yes” then changed his answer to “no” and was disqualified from entry. Men gathered around him to defend him and the book explains why. It introduces the knife-edge question as to whether people are hearing good news from us or not.

But another book that is a treat to read is A Change of Heart” by Thomas Oden. He was born in 1930 and died in 2016 – the first half of his life a liberal pastor and theologian – the second half a reformed academic. What makes the book so striking is that he exposes his own inner workings as he went down the liberal road – now writing as a repentant and orthodox man.

For example, he talks about reading his New Testament with the cross and resurrection deliberately pushed to the edge. His prayer life dried up and he found himself saying the creed in church with great difficulty. His new gospel became freedom from anxiety, guilt and boredom – the “theo” in theology had become a question mark.

“I loved the illusions… I imagined I was being critical and rational… I imagined I had a share in transforming human history… (but) I did not examine my own motives. The biblical words for this are egocentricity, arrogance and moral blindness” p.56.

The turning point came for Oden when an orthodox Jew accused him of being a lightweight – unfamiliar with the Founding Fathers of the Christian faith. He went back to the roots of the Church and found men with finer minds asking finer questions and giving finer answers. “I was amazed that the intergenerational wisdom of the ancient community of faith was completely accessible within modernity… I had been in love with modernity. Candidly I had been in love with heresy. Now I was waking up from this to meet a two thousand year stable memory… I came to trust the very orthodoxy I had once dismissed… I became even more relevant, not less relevant , to modern partners in dialogue… I found myself standing within the blessed presence of the communion of saints… the antiphonal choir with whom I was singing” p. 140.

Not only does Oden write humbly – but beautifully. It’s a delight to read how he expresses the faith in glorious terms.

The second half of his life takes him into many global opportunities – exposing the hypocrisy he knows so well but also building relationships across a wide spectrum of believers. I found his ecumenical spirit too generous for me but you can decide that one for yourself.

For those of us who have walked a pretty orthodox road most of our days and may find our doctrines getting familiar to the point of contempt this is a fresh set of eyes. For those who teach and toy with liberal scholarship – thinking your students cannot see the uselessness of your position – this is a devastatingly honest expose.

Simon Manchester, NSW

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