Oden relates historical doctrine
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."
to modern Christian life
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,"
"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
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.
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