Thomas Oden is a big name in the modern resurgence of interest in patristic authors and themes, so I was excited to see Agenda for Theology, a manifesto of his, laying around at a library booksale. As a manifesto, this does have valuable points. Unfortunately, I am completely the wrong audience for him.
First, this book is, as we might expect, incredibly dated. Published in 1979, all of the trends he excited reports and supports were the trends that my professors were excited about. They are still worthwhile – a patristic epistemology, for example, plays better with a postmodern one than a modern – but not quite what we need to breathlessly report to a slumbering academia. For the most part, his side has already won.
Second, Oden explicitly addresses the liberal theological tradition (even citing Schleiermacher as a premodern theologian!). Though I’ve learned a great deal from liberal theology (particularly in its liberationist incarnation), I’ve never taken it too seriously, always considering myself part of what he would call a paleo-orthodox (either Reformed or Neo-Evangelical) tradition. So, as he encourages us to take Tillich less seriously, I wonder who took him seriously in the first place.
While I respect Oden and the massive theological work he has done since publishing Agenda for Theology, this is not a constructive part of that work. By far the best thing about this book, as Oden may well agree, is his closing bibliography of valuable patristic sources.
(Also: entirely tangentially, his use of the term “post-modern” in this text is completely different than most current definitions. This is fine, because he defines his terms early on, but it demands a weirdly disproportionate amount of mental energy to think about post-modernity as anything other than hypermodernity.)