I blame it on my “Friday Nights” I have with my kids. A “Friday Night” only comes every so often. The kids (Katelynn 12, Kylee 11, Will 8, Zach 4) get to stay up as late as they want, eat as much candy as they want, and drink as much coffee as they want and dad will stay up with them and play video games all night long. They live for “Friday Nights.” This time, we had a “Friday Night” on a Tuesday night, since daddy was kinda on vacation. The kids are big talkers, but normally don’t last long. Maybe 2am and they are all crashed on the couch. However, the two boys made it all night this time. Zach crashed on the couch at 4:30am. Will made it until 5:30am! Grrrr. I had to fulfill my promise so I ended up getting to bed around 6am. I got up with only a few hours of sleep. I was delirious. I was not thinking straight. This is my excuse for what follows here.
Fast forward to 11am.
I pulled up to the house. I knew exactly where it was. I did not even need a map. It was about two miles away from where my parents used to live. The house was festooned with Christmas decor. It was a modest home near a pond. My parking job was sloppy, partly due to the fact that I was undecided as to whether I was staying, and partly because I had to park in a cul-de-sac. The same thought went through my mind that had gone through it for the last twelve hours: He is going to think you are a nut. You cannot just walk up to someone’s house that you don’t know and expect to talk to them. Are you a stalker? However, I countered this with a classic: Michael, you are probably the only one crazy enough to do something like this, so it will work.
I saw no distinctive marks that would make me believe this was his house. Nothing on the mail box (and I certainly was not going to check the mail – though I did think about it for a second). No door mat that said, “Welcome to the Odens’ Home.” I still was not even sure if this was his home. All I had was an internet search, done the night before, which led me here. The conclusions of Google are not something to be relied upon, so I was ready to apologize for knocking on the wrong door.
You see: a few days ago someone came to the Credo House in Edmond, Oklahoma (where I work), and said something astonishing: “Did you know Thomas Oden lives in Oklahoma City now?” Now, for those of you who know me, you know that this is something that I, if anyone, should have known. “No he doesn’t!” I responded, with some degree of theological authority mixed with some degree of “what-if?” excitement. “Yeah, he does,” came the response. I thought about countering with, “Yeah, right. Then why hasn’t he been here?” – as if that would have sealed the deal regarding this person’s obvious lack of knowledge. You must understand: Thomas Oden is a heavyweight in my field. He is a theologian of theologians. His stature is such that one would think he was a dead theologian. A vapor? A myth? A dark knight? Someone who would not really exist but for all the theology books I have at Credo which have his name printed on them. Sure, he is the greatest living Arminian theologian. Sure, he is the creator of “paleo-orthodoxy.” Sure, he is the general editor of the Ancient Christian Commentary Series (ACC) that is yet to be completed. Sure, I am a Calvinist. Sure, I believe in “progressive orthodoxy.” Sure, I cancelled my subscription to the ACC. But I still admire and respect this man quite a bit. He is a living hero. Why wouldn’t he have come by the Credo House? Surely he has heard of it! After all, he is trying to get Protestants to find greater roots in the early church fathers. He is the living Protestant father of the Patristics. And the Credo House has the Cappadocian bar which enshrines the early Eastern Fathers. The Credo House is his type of place. Surely he does not live in Oklahoma City. “But wait,” I thought. “Maybe he has been here and I did not know it?”
That Tuesday night I decided to do some research. Sure enough, there were enough sources on the internet that said he retired from Drew University and moved back home to Oklahoma! Try as I might, I could not find an email or a phone number. I sent an email to the only address I found, which was returned the moment I sent it with the dreaded “undeliverable message” tag in the subject line. The only address I found connected to Thomas Oden and Oklahoma was a business address that led me to this house just down the street from my parents’ old house.
There I was. As giddy as the first day I went to “Discover Dallas” at Dallas Theological Seminary in ’95 (or was it ’94?) and saw Chuck Swindoll. Chuck came to the table I was sitting at with a friend and said, “These guys look kinda artsy.” My friend and I have fought since that day about who he was calling “artsy.” Due to its possible association with being feminine, I have continually insisted it was him and not me! Anyway, I rang the doorbell. A lady answered within about four seconds, which did not give me the time to consider the “well-I-tried” excuse.
“Can I help you?”
“Yeah, is this Thomas Oden’s house?”
“Yes it is.”
“Is he here?”
“Is he expecting you?”
“Uhhh, no.” (I wanted to say something else that justified my being there, but I could not think of anything so I left it at that)
“May I tell him who is here?”
“Yeah. I am Michael Patton.” (As if that would have any relevance to her or him!)
She left and came back about thirty seconds later. All I could think was that there was no way I was going to get past this step in the Thomas-Oden-Visiting process.
She returned and said, “How do you spell your last name?”
“P-A-T-T-O-N” (I knew that the right spelling of my last name would not contribute anything to my cause, but I obliged anyway.)
Before she left I tried something tricky. I have only used this twice since being in ministry, because there were only two other times I thought it might help me gain ground. One time was when I got pulled over for speeding. I told the cop, “I am in ministry.” Let’s just say I will never do that again and leave it at that. The other was when I was visiting a friend in a psych unit at a hospital. It got me in.
“Oh, and I am in ministry,” I said.
She came back about fifteen seconds later and said, “Come on in.”
Are you kidding? It worked!
At this point I was not even sure if it was THE Thomas Oden whose house I was invading for no reason. However, the moment I walked in, I knew I was at the right place. The hallway to the kitchen (where I was being led) was lined with books. Theological books! Many books I recognized. Many I did not. The ones I did not recognize were going into a mental list called, “Books I have to have simply because Thomas Oden has them.”
She led me to a seat at the kitchen table. She informed me that Thomas would be out in just a bit. By this time, I realized she was a maid or nurse. She was very kind. We had some small talk. I don’t remember what I said. All I know is that I was doing my best to convince her that I was not a psycho and that she was not irresponsible to let me in.
Finally Thomas Oden came around the corner. His look was both welcoming and a slight bit confused. Who wouldn’t be? I held my Justification Reader in my hand as I introduced myself. Why Justification Reader? For three very intentional reasons: 1) It was a sufficiently obscure Oden work for me to think he would believe I must really know about him to have this book with me. Had I used his more popular Systematic Theology, I might have looked more like a groupie. Why? I don’t know now, but I had it worked out in my mind then (#sleepdeprived). 2) It contained the most hard evidence that I had actually read it, cover to cover. There were underlines in every chapter (unlike others, where the first three chapters are underlined and then nothing for the rest of the book – a telltale sign that I started the book and got bored with it). 3) Just in case I could not think of any reason for being there when he asked the dreaded, “Why are you here?”, at least I could say (as pitiful as it is), “Can you sign my book?”
He immediately invited me into his den. I sat down and we began to talk. He was everything you would hope someone like him would be. He was very articulate. Gracious as can be (as if that is not obvious, since I had not been kicked out of the house yet). I don’t ever even remember having to give an excuse as to why I was there. He just began to ask me about myself. In my nervous condition, I did some name dropping. “Um, yes, after I was a pastor for five years at Chuck Swindoll’s church, I came back home…” They were all clumsy, but he was kind nonetheless. He was excited about me being involved with Swindoll and asked some questions about him. And since I am also a Swindoll stalker, I was able to answer (probably better than Chuck could have himself!). There was a bit of deception that I am not proud of. I made it sound like I was friends with Roger Olson. After all, he is an Arminian and I did have Olson on Converse with Scholars five years ago! Sigh . . . He will probably call Olson and say, “Guess who stopped by the other day? Your friend Michael Patton!” To which Olson will respond, “Who?” D’oh!! Oh well, we are all sinners and Oden knows this. Besides, Olson may know of me from my blog!
We talked for about ten minutes. I became increasingly comfortable. He could obviously tell I was a nervous fan, but he handled me well. I told him all about the Credo House. I think I even said (as I tried to impress him) that he could get free lattes for life! Oh well. I am the President of Credo House Ministries. I can do that kind of stuff. He asked me if I wanted him to sign the book I brought. After asking me what my name was again, he signed his book. Then he walked me back into the kitchen as he went and got a book. He said that he had some homework for me. What? I thought to myself? I am now like…like…a legitimate Oden student? A fleeting thought came to my mind, that he wanted me to come back over and over again to discuss theology. It would be like a personal mentorship or something! We would be best of friends. I might even consider becoming Arminian just for this. Okay, back to reality. . . He then gave me a book. It was a new copy of his revised Systematic Theology. Wait, a signed copy of his revised Systematic Theology! How cool was that?
As it was time for me to go (he had an appointment he had to get to), I thought seriously about hugging him and saying something stupid like, “May the Lord bless you for the work you do for the kingdom.” I kept revising the wording of my benediction so many times in my mind that, thankfully, it was too late and awkward for me to either try to hug or give the benediction. (I was stuck on the word “kingdom” for some reason.) Who was I to bless him anyway?
I walked out to my car and drove away. I thought about who to call and tell this unbelievable story to. However, the choices were few. Who, besides me, gets this excited over something like this? So I called Tim Kimberley and Carrie Hunter, my two coworkers. We all laughed at how excited this Calvinist was to meet an Arminian statesman. But that is just who I am. Oden is a hero of mine and (oh no, here we go) “May the Lord bless him for the work he has done for the kingdom.”
That was my meeting with Thomas Oden. I will let you all know if he takes advantage of his free lifetime supply of coffee at the Credo House (I hope he does).