Word of Life: Systematic Theology: Volume Two

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A leading American Protestant theologian addresses important Christological concerns in this sequel to The Living God—second volume in a three-volume systematic theology.

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Overview

A leading American Protestant theologian addresses important Christological concerns in this sequel to The Living God—second volume in a three-volume systematic theology.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060663643
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/28/1992
  • Series: Systematic Theology Series , #2
  • Edition description: 1st HarperCollins paperback ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 608
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.38 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas C. Oden is the Henry Anson Buttz Professor of Theology and Ethics at Drew University and the author of more than twenty widely read books, including Pastoral Theology, Agenda for Theology, and Kerygma and Counseling. He is also the general editor of the pioneering series The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture.

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Preface

Working Assumptions

The decisive question of Christian testimony is not whether it is palatable but whether it is true. The vocation of theologian places the writer under obligation to deliver an accurate reading of Christian teaching, even when it points to a narrow way.

There is a crisis in the study of Christ today. It has to do with whether Christ can be known historically, and whether he addresses us as one who is dead or as a living person.

My purpose is to set forth the classical teaching of the person and work of Jesus Christ on which there has generally been substantial agreement between traditions of East and West, Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox. I will be listening intently for the ecumenical consensus that has been gratefully celebrated as reliable Christian teaching by believers of widely varied social locations and cultural settings and periods -- African and Russian, pre-European and European, ancient Near Eastern and modern Asian, as expressed by both women and men, whether of the first, tenth, or twentieth century.

This book is more like a travel guide than a reference work. A travel guide is often taken along to the place visited even if it is dog-eared and coffee-stained. The reference work remains neatly back home on the shelf. I hope this will be a useful traveling advisor and practical resource for anyone seeking to understand or attest Jesus Christ.

Those already motivated to learn of Christ do not mind if others find the details of such an inquiry a bit tedious or demanding. Those already deeplytouched by Christ are eager to learn all they can of him. This book is also for those who have tried to pray to Christ but could riot, have sought solace in Christ but not experienced it, have puzzled over the death of Christ and felt absurdity.

The Living God (the first volume of this three-volume series) dealt with the doctrines of God, creation, and providence. This volume, The Word of Life, plunges into perplexing issues of whether the Word became flesh, whether God has entered history in Christ, and whether that has saving significance for us. (This will be followed by another volume on the Holy Spirit, church, sacraments, and the Christian life -- Life in the Spirit.) Though integrated into a larger system of theology, this volume can be read as a self-standing argument. It commends but does not require the reading of its companion volumes.

Classic, Consensual, Ecumenical Teaching

My mission is to deliver as clearly as I can that core of consensual belief concerning Jesus Christ that has been shared for two hundred decades -- who he was, what he did, and what that means for us today. I seek language that makes plausible today the intent of classical Christianity, while avoiding misconceptions that have become attached to its popular exposition.

I will deal with those teachings on which the central stream of classicalexegesis has generally agreed as expressing the mind of the believing church. Readers have a right to expect that I will restrain my own idiosyricratic way of looking at things, My aim is not polemics but peacemaking, not dissent but consensus, not with knocking down other positions, but building up the plausible layers of argument employed in defining the Christian teaching of salvation.

I intend to set forth in connected order those points most commonly held on Christ and salvation. Systematic ecumenical theology looks for a cohesive grasp of the whole of classic Christian teaching, so that each part is seen in relation to the whole. At ambiguous points where that central core is not fully evident, I will either leave the subject for further inquiry or rehearse principal viewpoints that remain in tension.

The most intriguing questions of Christian teaching still echoing through the centuries may be stated in plain, uncomplicated words:Why did God become human? Is Jesus truly God? If so how truly human? If both divine and human, how so? Did God die? What does resurrection mean? Did he pay the penalty for our sins? Is Jesus' mission now complete? Do we pray to Jesus? Can he change our lives? These are among the questions that stimulate this inquiry, intended as much for critical examination by laypersons as clergy, for laity as well are called to attest Christ and teach salvation.

Overcoming the Defensive Posture

This study was written out of a practical, specific motivation to solve a pastoral and teaching problem. Search as I might, I have not been able to find a concise, systematic statement of the meaning of Jesus' authority, life and work that sufficiently attends to classic Christian exegesis (especially of the first five centuries) without getting embroiled in ever-extending modern historical interpretations and debates. This is a modest attempt to supply one.

Why this subject? Recent academic studies of Jesus tend to approach him with a kind of braced defensiveness. They seek to win points with modem consciousness without sufficient disavowal of skewed modern assumptions.They yearn to gain acceptable credentials in the secularizing university, leaving the community of prayer to fend for itself. Amid such defensiveness, only the faint aroma of classical Christianity remains. The pungent smell is of the waste products of modernity.

This defensiveness is illustrated by Paul Tillich's guarded statement that "Faith cannot even guarantee the name 'Jesus' in respect to him who was the Christ" (Syst. Theol. 11, p. 107). Meanwhile Tillich imagined that Christianity could still speak somehow of "a personal life in which the New Being has conquered the old being. But it does not guarantee his name to be Jesus of Nazareth" (Syst. Theol. 11, p. 114). The same defensive mentality is even more influentially expressed in Rudolf Bultmann's view that little can be known of Jesus and that Christian teaching can therefore only be derived from the early church's kerygma, not from Jesus himself; because we cannot say much about what (was) happened to Jesus, we can only assert that (dass) something happened that constituted for others a saving event and upon that uncertainty preaching must hinge (TNT I, pp. 3-63; KM, pp. 34-43). Countless influential studies have followed those of these mentors. The closer they approach Jesus, the more their language becomes strained, forced, guarded, despairing, and strapped by a thousand deadly qualifiers (Marxsen, BCSP, pp. 67-76; Kasemann, ENTT; Fuller, FNTC; Perrin, MPNTC; ofWink, BHT, pp. 2-14).

Word of Life. Copyright © by Thomas C. Oden. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2002

    An invaluable Theological Tool

    "I fanatasize putting a terse disclaimer on the cover advising readers not to buy this book first, but at once go and buy ancient Christian writings and then this one as an ancillary helper" This quote, from the preface of the book, aptly sums up Thomas Oden's aim. Thomas Oden is a significant conservative Christian Theologian. The 'Word of Life' is the second in his three part series of Systematic Theology. It examines in detail the basic Christian doctrines around the person and work of Jesus Christ. The aim of all three books is to take the reader through what he calls consensual Christian thought from the founding of the church through to the present, identifying the position held by the church on each major theology concerning (respectively by book) the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This means that much of the work is taken up with quotes and summaries of the writings of past church 'greats'. In 'The Word of Life' the reader encounters writers and teachers from Augustine to Tertullian to Origen and on into more 'recent' church voices, such as Luther and Calvin. Oden claims no originality for his book. Instead he seeks to hold fast to the church tradition, setting out what the church has believed on each doctrine for most of its 2,000 years, and why. What emerges as a result is in my view a triumph of conservative scholarship. The trend to 'de-deify' Jesus Christ is shown to be a heresy with a long history, and not merely the purvey of Funk of the Jesus Seminar. We encounter the classical Christian divine-man, Jesus of Nazareth, and I for one am refreshed to see Him as He needs to be for Christianity to claim any relevance in the 21st century. I highly recommend this, and the other two books in the series.

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