It was one of the first papers I ever gave in an academic setting--a look at Possidius' Vita Augustini (LIfe of Augustine) as a fifth-century discipleship tool. There were only about 7 people in the room, which is not unusual for a patristics paper at an academic conference. But one of those 7 was Thomas Oden, editor of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (among many other works) and a scholar of early African Christianity. As I wrapped up my paper and opened it up for questions, to my horror Tom Oden had questions! Though I really wanted to find the nearest exit and get out of there, his question (something about the Pachomian influence on Augustine's monasticism) was straightforward and demonstrated his own curiosity and passion for growth as a scholar. Afterward, we chatted some more about African monasticism and he gave me his email address to stay in touch. More than anything, Tom Oden modeled for me humility, graciousness, and even a pastoral posture in scholarship.
Later, I learned more of Oden's journey--from the anti-war movement in his college days, to being a theological liberal, to eventually embracing evangelical convictions. He arrived at what he called "paleo-orthodoxy" by reading the church fathers. Through editing the ACCS on Intervarsity Press, he helped a new generation of Christians to access the church fathers' writings, particularly how they thought about Scripture. Personally, I most profited from Oden's series on the early African church --How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind, Early Libyan Christianity, and The African Memory of Mark--and was honored to write reviews for each.
Reflecting his passion for the faith and theology of the early church, Oden once stated that he wanted his tombstone to read: "He made no new contribution to theology." Professor Oden's contribution to theological and historical studies was, of course, significant and will continue to shape a new generation of students of the early church.