September 30, 2011

Tom Oden on the Theologically Marginalized

Which group is now the most oppressed and underrepresented in mainline theological education? Here's Tom Oden's answer from Requiem: A Lament in Three Movements:
A new form of oppression analysis is required in our stuffy cubbyhole of academia, to show that the most marginalized and oppressed group in Protestant theological education is currently least represented in its faculties: those who come from its evangelical and pietistic heartland. Those most maligned and humiliated and demeaned are believers who bear the unfair epithet of "fundamentalist," like the Jews who wore the Star of David on their clothes in Nazi Germany.
Those who have the least-heard voice in the academic caucus game - far less than ethnic minorities or officially designated oppressed groups - are evangelical students from the neglected side of the exegetical tracks. I speak candidly of biblical believers who are assigned pariah roles in Scripture courses, those forced into a crisis of bad conscience by being required to conform in ideologically titled courses, who are given bad grades because they have read C. S. Lewis or Dorothy Sayers or taken Francis Turretin or have grown up loving the hymns of Fanny Crosby.
It is time for those who have patiently sat through repetitive courses in guilt to apply a specific social oppression analysis to the new oppressors: the tenured radicals in syncretistic faculties who replicate only themselves when new appointments are made, who are tolerant only of latitudinarians, who neither have nor seek any church constituency, who debunk the plain sense of Scripture, who never enter a room with a Bible unless armed with two dozen commentaries that enable them to hold all decisions in a state of permanent suspension, who lack peer review because they do not know any colleagues in the guild different from themselves (135).
So, according to Oden, the most underrepresented and marginalized in academic theology are not an ethnic or gender minority but evangelical orthodox believers. What do you think?

4 comments:

JME said...

I think he makes a fantastic point, but it is a fact conservatives should acknowledge with humility. Conservatives can be just as guilty of excluding those (even other conservatives) who do not share their particular theories or paradigms.

thefuerstshallbelast said...

Sure. That may be a current reality. But it's not as if many of these people haven't EXCLUDED THEMSELVES from the discussion by their 'The Bible said it so I believe it...case closed' mentality that cares nothing for hard, critical exegetical work beyond the 'conservative vs. liberal' landscape.

I'm not, of course, saying Oden is wrong. I'm merely saying that this didn't happen just because of the liberal agenda. These 'fundamentalists' helped themselves out of a seat at the table, too. I've seen it, myself.

Matt O'Reilly said...

Hi Tom, thanks for your comment. Oden is not really talking about actual fundamentalists. He's talking about serious evangelical scholars (of the sort you and I studied under), who are unfairly labeled fundamentalists and who are not adequately represented in the mainline seminaries.

Matt

thefuerstshallbelast said...

Right. And in that sense I agree with him - some scholars have been unfairly marginalized in the academy just because of their belief.

With that said, having done biblical studies in the academy, there are plenty of biblical scholars of the Evangelical or 'believing' sort that ARE accepted in the academy - NT Wright, for example, was used and quoted from quite often in my graduate courses at the University of Missouri (by no means a conservative school).

So I've often wondered why Wright was liked so much and others are not. I can't say I have a really good answer for this...maybe it really is the liberal agenda (but, then, why like Wright?).

In the end, my education at Asbury embodies great, respectable, believing scholarship...I think of our Genesis class with Arnold.

But there were a few times, in a couple other classes, when I really felt like the 'conservative' stance was being taken because it was, well, 'conservative', despite the evidence to the contrary.

When anyone disregards evidence because of their prior theological agenda, they're excluding themselves from the seat of scholarship...that goes for both liberals and conservatives (and those who don't wish to be defined under that false-dichotomy).

In the end, though, I might add this to Oden's thoughts - If Bible-believing scholars are excluded from the seat of scholarship in the academy, then women are severely underrepresented in conservative, Bible-believing New Testament departments. (But maybe that's a discussion for another time.)

Hope you're enjoying your new appointment.