I just read Reformed and Always Reforming: The Postconservative Approach to Evangelical Theology by Roger Olson. Throughout the whole book I was nodding my head and shouting amen. Roger is a theology professor at Treutt Seminary– Baylor University. Essentially Roger articulated an evangelicalism that may be suited for the 21st century. I believe that Roger has been involved in conservative Evangelicalism in the past and now in the present he wants a new approach.
Conservative Evangelicalism vs. Postconservative Evangelicalism
Conservative evangelicals love their Doctrine. It is all about Doctrine! Roger alludes to the fact that when conservative Christians attempt to identify whether a person or a group is Christian, they often turn to examination of doctrinal beliefs. (67) Millard Erickson and DA Carson, two big hitters within the conservative Christian scholarly circles, argue “cognitive knowledge and affirmation of correct doctrines are the defining hallmarks of authentic evangelical faith”. I whole heartedly agree, but I think correct doctrine is too subjective and interpretative based. Roger questions this correct doctrine notion by asking: What if a system of doctrine could be constructed this perfectly which reflects biblical revelation in all its its factual assertions, would the Bible no longer be necessary? And yet the Bible does remain necessary. (163)
Postconservative Evangelicalism wants something more than only having “correct” doctrine. Theology is a pilgrimage and a journey rather than a discovery and conquest. (55) Postconservatives want transformation, not information. Postconservative evangelicalism views all doctrines and theological systems as “man made” rather than “God made.” (88) Posteconservatives put doctrines as secondary, while they put the Great Tradition of Christian belief primary. Think about it: Not until the mid 300s do we start to see concrete doctrine/creeds.
Task of Postconservative Theology
Postconservative evangelical theology seeks to develop a progressive orthodoxy that is dynamic; the vision of truth changes as new light is discovered in God’s word by faithful, Spirit led interpreters. (200) The postconservative theology is always reworking itself while putting the Holy Spirit in the driver seat. The Words of the Bible are not simply carriers of information, but means of transformation. We need to realize that the Bible is the instrument of the Holy Spirit within the community of God’s people to lead and guide them in their discernment of the meaning of their common spiritual experience. (83)
A Bad Habit of Conservative Evangelicalism
At times it seems like conservative Christians are too closed minded and too closed on their doctrinal systems. Why do conservatives assume that the received doctrinal paradigms created by human beings like ourselves are incapable of improvement? What if we as human beings are weak, get our interpretations wrong from time to time, and need correction in how we construct our doctrine? Alister McGrath reminds conservatives, the Bible is God’s word written, but our interpretations of it are not. Also Roger agrees by saying, all interpretations are at best “approximations of God’s truth that do not call for “automatic conformity” but critical investigation to see if they are true. (161)
To say that one has a correct doctrine is a bit authoritative and judgmental. Essentially since one has the correct doctrine, then this implies a done deal with no room for improvement or correction. In order to be correct, one needs to be always corrected. Postconservative theology is a reconsidering and reconstructing of our doctrine and theologies in light of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ and in Scripture is required by our own finite and fallenness and not by culture or any defect in any given revelation. We tend to forget that there was authentic Christianity before there was orthodoxy and tradition. (94).
Dialoguing in the midst of Diversity
We as Christians regardless of our doctrines or theology need to stand together in unity while acknowledging our diversity. We are all trying to become Christ like, so therefore we need be able to get along. Roger argues that people who are locked into the old paradigm like to map theologies on a rightward-leftward spectrum based on responses to the Enlightenment and modernity. (235) Unfortunately, there is way too many gray aspects of this black and white spectrum. Even how we define a “conservative or a moderate evangelical” is very difficult.
Therefore we must be okay functioning in a church body where everyone may not agree with our doctrine/theology, but agree that we all love Jesus. We are all different: in who we are, our life experiences, and our interpretations of the text. However God created us with differences and we all have a commonality: We love Jesus. I am suggesting, with the massive help of Roger’s book, is that (1) we as Christian need to continue to keep dialoguing, in a healthy and non-hostile way, with each other and (2) we need to be okay living in some ambiguity when trying to figure God out.
Right now, go to Amazon.com and buy this book.