Response To Thomas C. Oden, “The Long Journey Home” -- By: Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 34:1 (Mar 1991)
Article: Response To Thomas C. Oden, “The Long Journey Home”
Author: Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.

Response To Thomas C. Oden,
“The Long Journey Home”

Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.*

It is a pleasure to respond to Tom Oden’s long journey home. Once upon a time Tom wasted his substance in riotous thinking in a far country, but he found no soul food there. So Tom has come back where he always belonged.

Maybe somewhere there are evangelicals who want to stand in for the elder brother, Pharisees who want no parties for postliberals. To any of them Robert Farrer Capon has the right word in his commentary (The Parables of Grace) on the Luke 15 parable. To Mr. Respectability, to the elder brother, the Father says, “Lighten up, Harold. Find the punchbowl, put on a funny hat, and come inside. Somebody you know has just come back from the dead.”

Tom’s theology aims to be irenic and consensually ecumenical, and on both these scores it strikes me as remarkably successful. Theologically, we Christians have been in the habit of defining and defending ourselves as different from other Christians. We keep forgetting, as Thomas Ryan says in an acute essay, that these differences, though familiar, are not normal: “The Gospel of Jesus Christ asserts that our real identity is not at the edges of our Christian existence where we can brag about our specialties, but at the center where we are rooted in Christ and where the bond of the Spirit yokes us together.”

Tom Oden’s theology is in exactly this respect centrist Christian theology: irenic, massively traditional, ecumenically attractive, and spiritually vital.

In this connection I should like to add a word of appreciation for Tom’s irenical confession that he does not mind occasionally slouching toward Grand Rapids. He states his desire to find rapprochement between the sons and daughters of Dort on the one hand and those of the Remonstrants on the other. In the same spirit let me say in return that, for us Calvinists, Arminius is not just some heretic. No, he is our heretic, a Reformed heretic, for whom we cannot help feeling great fondness. And, seriously, great respect. One reason is that Arminius conducted himself in a gentle, peaceable way. His opponents did not.

* Cornelius Plantinga is professor of systematic theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

T. Ryan, “Ecumenism and Compassion,” Mid-Stream 25 (1986) 184.

Tom Oden’s writing first got my attention in his Agenda for Theology, published in 1979. There and in After Modernity… What? Tom offers intelligent, angular, often devastating criticism of much of modern t...

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