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Thomas C. Oden


Because of Christ

Reliving contemporary theology with Carl Braaten.

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Just as Braaten wrote his Harvard dissertation in Heidelberg under Tillich's direction (on Martin KÄhler's epochal book The So-Called Historical Jesus and the Historic-Biblical Christ), so did I go to Heidelberg to work further on refinement of my Yale dissertation, looking toward finishing my books on Bultmann and Barth. There were so many parallel experiences in our lives—too many to enumerate.

Braaten edited Tillich's A History of Christian Thought. He was among the first to confront the strengths and limitations of Bultmannian teaching. He was an early participant in the Pannenberg Circle. He was among early Lutheran dogmaticians to describe and analyze and critique the New Hermeneutic. He was in the thick of the battle throughout almost every major Lutheran debate of the past fifty years.

Braaten details his experiences among his Lutheran brothers and sisters. These are amply recorded in the flood of editorials he wrote over his long and fruitful life. His years at the Lutheran School of Theology, Maywood Campus, and Oxford's Mansfield College are thoroughly described in his memoir. Then came his exceedingly productive years at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (1968-1991), where there were some crucial victories but also many heartaches. With Robert W. Jenson, Braaten authored two volumes of Christian Dogmatics that will be read by serious readers for many years to come. It was in these years that he and Jenson edited and wrote robustly in dialogue: A Journal of Theology. He and his wife LaVonne were ever active in speaking and writing on behalf of good health and good food.

A major turn occurred in 1991, when Braaten formed the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology and began to publish Pro Ecclesia, the successor to dialog. I was privileged to have been in on the early conversations on the formation of the Center. I was at that time working in the United Methodist Church renewal efforts in parallel with Braaten's work with Lutheran issues. I managed to get him to come for an interview at Drew University, hoping he might join me there to become my close colleague in theology, but Drew was having enough trouble handling me, much less Carl Braaten in tandem with me, and Braaten could see that he would not be in his element at Drew.

Just as I would remain committed to the renewal of the United Methodist Church from within the church, so did Braaten remain committed to the Lutheran tradition and its interpretation while leading ground-breaking dialogues with major figures of both evangelical and Catholic theology. The list of "Center Books" published by Eerdmans—20 volumes over ten years of magnificent work—is truly a remarkable achievement. As Carl nurtured the Center, I was engaged in my corollary work of producing the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Note that these two great publishing projects were done not by the mainline publishing houses of the Lutherans and Methodists (Augsburg Fortress and Abingdon) but by traditionally evangelical publishers: Eerdmans and IVP. In both cases the foundation was classic consensual ecumenical Christianity. Thanks, Carl, for your magnificent memoir.

Thomas C. Oden is Henry Anson Buttz Professor of Theology and Ethics Emeritus at the Theological School and the Graduate School of Drew University. The author of many works of theology, he is the general editor of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (InterVarsity Press).


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