Timothy George has called Thomas Oden "one of the most remarkable Christians of our time." Yet if you don't run in theological circles you are probably left wondering who the heck Thomas Oden is. I wasn't really aware of who he was until about 2008 when I stumbled upon his three volume systematic theology. What impressed me about the work was how saturated it was in the church fathers. I amazed at the breadth of understanding Oden had...so much so that the volumes felt a bit intimidating. Beyond my very limited interaction with those volumes, I had virtually no clue who Oden was.
A few years later I stumbled upon an anecdote that mentioned how Thomas Oden used to be a very liberal (both politically and theologically) Christian who later had a change of heart and became a staunch defender of Christian orthodoxy. I was captivated by the story mostly because you tend to see the results flow the other way: conservatives tend to become liberals.
When IVP announced that they would bee publishing a personal and theological memoir of Thomas Oden, I was excited to get some of the details behind his story. However, having A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir cover to cover, I got even more than I expected. Simply put, this work is a treasure trove of anecdotes, insights into American and religious culture, beautiful writing, encouragement and challenge.
Oden takes each decade of his life and records his memories. He is an expert writer so the text runs smoothly. His style reminds me of Marilynne Robinson. He stories are fascinating. From his time growing up in a rural town in the Midwest, to his days in seminary, to his change of heart and to his editing of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, I found the whole work stimulating. There is seldom a page that goes by that doesn't have some fascinating story.
I found the pastoral wisdom alone in this book to be fantastic. There is something really encouraging watching a Christian mature in his thinking and life over several decades. I found myself often praying to God, "Help me persevere like Thomas Oden!"
The life of Oden is remarkable. He is a scholar with a pastor's heart who has labored for the unity of the church for years. I cannot recommend A Change of Heart highly enough.
*Thanks to IVP Academic for providing a free review copy of this work in exchange for a fair review*