Oden on Pastoral Care and Modern Problems in Theological Education

Reading Thomas Oden, Theology Today – Vol 42, No. 1 – April 1985 – ARTICLE – Pastoral Care and the Unity of Theological Education.

“There is a sense in which all theological disciplines-biblical, historical, theological, church and society, and practical-lack a fully adequate integration. Given the sociology of specialization and the momentum of professionalization in university disciplines, all theological disciplines have been for fifty or more years, tending centrifugally toward disintegration, but none more so than pastoral care.”

“Admittedly all the major families of disciplines of theological education have at times attempted to accommodate reductionistic historical, scientific, and empirical methods that have in turn tended to estrange each discrete discipline from the central, integrating spirit of holistic, orthodox Christian theology. All have borrowed methodologies so extensively from the cultural context that they have lost their centers. But no discpline illustrates this more powerfully, dramatically, tragically, and influentially than does pastoral care.”

“Often these [modern] methods, if taken consistently, would rule out the fundament of Christian pastoral care: that God cares for humanity in Jesus Christ

“It is part of the illusion of modernity, the pride and arrogance and pretense of modern consciousness, that, after all these centuries of social wisdom and soul-care experimentation, it has been abruptly assumed that we must now wipe the slate clean and deliberately learn nothing from this experience. Modernity teaches us that we must on our own discover autonomously and de novo, through our own individual experimentation and without benefit of historical memory, the rudiments of pastoral-theological integration.”

“Many theological students today, and regrettably most of their professors, do not even know the name of Nemesius of Emesa; much less have they read his brilliant classic statement of Christian psychology and therapy. Nor have they read Chrysostom on the priesthood or Gregory of Nazianzus on the principle of seasonable counsel. It is unlikely that most persons teaching today in pastoral care even have a copy in their libraries of the great single treatisu in the history of pastoral care, namely, Gregory’s Liber regular pastoralis

“Biblical study is in an identity crisis today in part because it has become so stickily entangled in an endless syndrome of the objectivizing treatment of Scripture as merely historical report. This often assumes that the modern exegete has the competence to dissect and judge Scripture, as if it were dead and he or she were performing an autopsy, that is, as if the text had no living power of its own to address and reformulate the contemporary human struggle

One finds that these primary sources [of church history], such as the council canons, deal with pastoral issues quite often. Yet all that is remembered are the trinitarian and Christological formulations. Chalcedon, for example, dealt with many issues of pastoral authority, secession, territoriality, administration, liturgy, and pastoral care, but it is remembered almost exclusively for its Christological formulations. This promising re-appropriation of classical pastoral care may have an invigorating impact upon the study of church history.”


“Pastoral Care and the Unity of Theological Education”, Theology Today, Vol 42, No 1, April 1985

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