Oden relates historical doctrine
to modern Christian life

Memory, tension and possibility were the central themes of a Jan. 14 Minister's Week address by Amy Oden, Bell Associate Professor of Church History at Oklahoma City University. The speech was part of the Candler School of Theology's 62nd annual Minister's Week, whose theme was "The Place of Doctrine in the Life of Faith."

In her address titled "Trust Me, I'm A Doctrine: The Recovery of Doctrine as Memory, Tension and Possibility," Oden discussed Christian history as a segue into modern-day Christian life and how doctrine can be recovered and used in these categories.

Concerning memory, Oden said doctrine is important because it allows us to "remember what has happened doctrine reminds us what God has spoken in the light of our own community." Memory as a whole allows people to build from their pasts into the future: "We are continually being shaped and remade in the image of God if we are paying attention," Oden said.

"Doctrine gives us memory of what God has said and done," she said. "This is essential for the spiritual life of a community it is the task of the church historian to remind us what has been said."

Tension as it relates to doctrine is an issue because of the "strange" dichotomy between the views of Jesus Christ; one presents him as a human being, while the other pronounces his untarnished divinity. "We have been sorely tempted to lean from one side to the other," Oden said. Ultimately, "both sides are rejected. Our doctrine did not allow for one side to embrace the other.

"As a Christian community we've had to struggle with the relationship of spirit versus structure," Oden continued. "There are a variety of tensions in which God works and speaks to us."

Oden said that doctrine allows for the possibility of reform, using several analogies to prove the point and the theory that "a living witness is dynamic." She explained how 12th- and 13th-century Christians had "radical forms of service and poverty," and that often servants and "sisters" of God were "pilgrims and strangers in this world." These Christians had an "alternate vision of the spiritual landscape," which led to alternate social visions as well. "This practice proves the possibility for reform and renewal in our communities," Oden said. While Christians today should not necessarily be paupers, the story and its context could be noted as an "alternate vision of revelation itself."

In the 20th-century Christian community, "we aren't sure who we are or how to use doctrine," Oden said. However, "if we measure our affirmation of pluralism by the rejection of orthodoxy, we aren't in a much better place. Affirming pluralism doesn't mean that we have to throw out doctrine [doctrine] depends on alternate visions for its own life."

In addition to her work at Oklahoma City University, Oden is the author of In Her Words: Women's Writings in the History of Christian Thought.

-Danielle Service

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