Oden, Pastoral Theology
Tuesday, October 25, 2011 at 7:54PM
Dr. Carlus Gupton in Christian Leadership, Church Leaders, Ministry Resources, Pastoral Theology, Pastoral Theology
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Thomas C. Oden, Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry. Harper & Row, 1983.

Refeferenced in: Pastoral Theology

LifeandLeadership.com Summary

Now almost thirty years old, this is a classic pastoral theology. Like most of this genre, it attempts to provide some sort of unifying, centered vision of ministry over against the overly pragmatic and culturally driven models. In his love for the patristics witness on pastoral theology, Oden is in the company of Andrew Purves’ Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition (2001), though Oden’s work is more encyclopedic in volume and scope.

Oden’s special contribution is an ancient-future look at the most respected early traditions concerning the pastoral role with the intent of arriving at a consensus. He says: “I have sought to state without embellishment the core of that ancient ecumenical consensus on the office, gifts, and practice of ministry,” yet to do so in a way that is not “insufferably dull.” (Oden is usually a joy to read) He tries to constrain his own opinion and stay away from grand proposals. He quotes few modern writers, but “stresses more heavily the more consensual patristic sources, weighing most heavily the eight ‘great doctors of the church’: Athanasius, Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus, and John Chrysostom from the East and Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory the Great from the West.” (7)

This is not, however, simply a historical survey. Oden arranges the wisdom of the ancients under five broad areas (from the Table of Contents):

  1. Becoming a Minister: discovering pastoral identity, discerning and following one’s call, the meaning of ordination, and women in the pastoral office
  2. The Pastoral Office: shepherding as pivotal analogy, the offices and gifts of ministry
  3. What Clergy Do and Why: the role of the minister relative to worship, baptism, eucharist, preaching, teaching, and equipping the laity
  4. Pastoral Counsel: visitation, care of souls, the work of the spirit in comfort, admonition, and discipline.
  5. Crisis Ministry: theodicy for pastoral practice, ministry to the sick, care of the poor, pastoral care of the dying

This is not dry commentary. Oden hits his target of not wanting to be dull and uninteresting. He weaves biblical insight, historical wisdom, and current commentary together into a very refreshing look at the pastoral role. Although he operates from a fairly traditional, mainline Protestant definition of pastoral tasks, he makes a noticeable effort of inclusiveness. It is graduate level reading, but in a style that not just the seminarian but any experienced minister can appreciate.

From the Publisher

This much-needed book fully integrates principles of pastoral care, leadership, and theology to restore to ministers a clearly defined pastoral identity. Moving from a critique of inadequate models for ministry — from community organizer to T. V. evangelist — Oden develops a more classical model, rich in its references to the past and compatible both with Christian faith and theology through the ages and with current needs.

Reconciling classical tradition with practice, Pastoral Theology will be a standard resource and reference in the field. Oden distills the best ideas of the two millennia of ecumenical Christian thinking concerning what pastors are and do. Pastoral Theology provides the foundational knowledge of the pastoral office requisite to the practice of ministry. It will be of interest to persons preparing for ordination in its review of key issues; at the same time, Pastoral Theology will appeal to all those who have considered entering the ministry, those who want to know more about what clergy do and why, and those ministers who want to review their ongoing work in the light of a systematic reflection on the pastoral gifts and tasks.

About the Author

Thomas C. Oden is a widely respected theologian and leading figure in the emerging post-denominational ecumenical scene, the author of Pastoral Theology and a three-volume systematic theology including The Living God, The Word of Life, and Life in the Spirit. He is Henry Anson Buttz Professor of Theology and Ethics at Drew University. Oden serves as chairman of The Institute on Religion and Democracy and is the general editor of the acclaimed Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series.

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