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Reformed and Always Reforming: The Postconservative Approach to Evangelical Theology (Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology) [Paperback]

By Roger E. Olson (Author)
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Item Number 63749  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   256
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.51" Width: 6.28" Height: 0.65"
Weight:   0.8 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Oct 1, 2007
Publisher   Baker Publishing Group
ISBN  0801031699  
EAN  9780801031694  

Availability  1 units.
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Item Description...
Introduces a postconservative evangelical theology Describes, explains, and mobilizes a movement Theologians, pastors, seminarians, and serious thinkers will find many depths to plumb in this exhaustive survey of critics, advocates, and fellow travelers on the evangelical journey.

Publishers Description
The community of evangelicals sometimes seems so broad as to defy definition, but theological conservatism has been one consistent marker. Now, says theologian Roger Olson, postconservatism is moving beyond conventional battles against liberalism and heresy to posit a dynamic and realistic approach. While conservatives strive to preserve tradition and protect orthodoxy, postconservatives urge openness to doctrinal reform without abandoning orthodoxy. Where differences exist between doctrine and Scripture, doctrine must be brought into conformity with the Word. Postconservatives want to free evangelical theology from its paradoxical captivity to rationalism and its obsession with "facts" so that it may recognize truth in experience and personal knowledge. Theologians, pastors, seminarians, and serious thinkers will find many depths to plumb in this exhaustive survey of critics, advocates, and fellow travelers on the evangelical journey.

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More About Roger E. Olson

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Roger E. Olson (PhD, Rice University) is professor of theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University. He is a prolific author whose volumes include The Story of Christian Theology and The Mosaic of Christian Belief. He is also coauthor of 20th-Century Theology.

Roger E. Olson currently resides in the state of Texas.

Roger E. Olson has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology
  2. Westminster Handbooks to Christian Theology

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1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Theology > General   [4167  similar products]
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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Faulty premise equals faulty conclusions.  Apr 21, 2010
Let me begin by saying that I am a conservative evangelical with whom Dr. Olson obviously disagrees and from the evidence in this book, he obviously does not understand. The primary problem with this book is that Dr. Olson constructs a view of conservative evangelicals as "traditionalists" that does not truly represent them. He claims that the "essence of conservatism in theology is a determined - if often implicit and unacknowledged - adherence to tradition." This is true in some respect, but definitely not in the respect he proposes in this book. Conservative evangelicals do have a determined adherence to tradition of sola scriptura, the doctrine that the Bible is the only infallible and inerrant authority for the Christian faith. This is the very tradition to which Olson claims conservative evangelicals are not adhering because they instead are exalting traditional theological formulations from the early church and the magisterial reformers as infallible sources of authority instead.

This simply is not true and completely mischaracterizes conservative evangelicals. If this were true, you would expect to go to the books of conservative evangelicals (such as D.A. Carson, Millard Erickson, Wayne Grudem, and others he mentions by name) and see their theological arguments against postconservative ideas like Open Theism, inclusivism, etc. coming from traditional statements of historic theology such as creeds, confessions, or reformation writings. That is not what they do at all. Instead, they address these errors almost solely from clear exegesis of the Scriptures. Conservative evangelicals still hold to many of the doctrines of the early church councils and the reformers because they continue to be faithful expressions of what revealed about God in the Bible. I have never met a conservative evangelical who views theological traditions in the way Olson portrays them. In fact, I do not recall any conservative evangelical who embraces historic theology without careful examination under the authority of Scripture. Not one of the conservative evangelical theologians Olson mentions operate out of a "frozen" historic statement of Orthodoxy. On the contrary, they test and support every one of there theological convictions from Scripture and clearly view Scripture as having the authority to reform anyone of their current positions.

The real reason conservative evangelicals reject the theological "innovations" of postconservatives is that they are simply not biblical. Postconservatives reject inerrancy and embrace other sources of theological authority that lead to them forming theological conclusions that clearly conflict with the Bible. Olson clearly recognizes that the conservative evangelicals he is criticizing welcome clear, faithful reformulations and restatements of theology to contemporary audiences (contextualization) whether those audiences are Western and postmodern or third world and prehistoric. The difference is that conservative evangelicals, unlike postconservatives, require that those restatements remain faithful to the infallible, inerrant Scriptures.

Olson completely misrepresents the disagreement between conservatives and postconservatives in an attempt to put his camp on the side of biblical faithfulness. His arguments will only be convincing to those unfamiliar with the theological methods of those he criticizes and postconservatives. Olson and postconservatives love to claim Scripture is their highest authority, but their theological methods do not reflect that conviction. Some among them openly embrace other sources of theology as equally inspired and authoritative, and all of them reject an inerrant view of Scripture. In the end, postconservatives compromise the Scriptures and that is what leads to their "new innovations" in theology instead of a willingness to be creative while remaining under the Scriptures authority as Olson claims.

So how can Olson get away with this misrepresentation of conservative evangelicals and remain winsome and convincing to evangelicals? I think there are at least two reasons. First, few in his audience probably understand the danger of the compromises made by postconservatives in terms of biblical authority. There are hints throughout the book, but until you have seen how there theological methods play out (see Brian McClaren's A New Kind of Christianity) it remains unclear what theological "innovations" will result from their position. Second, there are some legitimate criticisms that can be raised against many conservative evangelicals that resonate with the readers that are experienced with that tradition. Some conservative evangelicals (though not the ones that Olson mentions) seem to reduce theology to a cold intellectualism and are in need of more emphasis on the transformative role that doctrine should have in the life of a Christian. But postconservatives fail to recognize that right doctrine (orthodoxy) is foundational to right practice (orthopraxy), and the foundation cannot be neglected with any hope of saving the building. Olson seems to believe you can maintain a God-honoring, faithful community of faith which experiments liberally based on their own spiritual experience with doctrine, a point where conservatives strongly disagree. Undermining doctrine, especially with a primary motivation of cultural relevance, leads to a church that may express the culture but can no longer change it with the truth of Jesus Christ.

How To Be an Evangelical and a Leftist  Mar 17, 2010
I am sympathetic to Olson's theological point: evangelicals, especially those of a highly Calvinist viewpoint, tend to view much of the traditional theology of the fundamentalist/modernist controversies and the Old Princetonians as a kind of magisterium that cannot be challenged. He points to Hodge's Systematic Theology as apparently exercising this function. This critique is I think essentially correct.

However, Olson's real concern, what gets his blood going, is an effort to recreate an evangelicalism that is comfortable with the political left in general and the Democrat party in particular. His championing of Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo and Ron Sider makes this absolutely clear. Now, if your objective is to have Christian teaching and doctrine that are closer to the Biblical roots and the historic teachings of the Church, as exemplified by the Greek Fathers, then I highly doubt that reading that Bible in a way that supports the academic leftism regnant in the universities is going to get what you are looking for. It certainly is going to make you more palatable to your friends in the university who are overwhelmingly leftists and have nothing but contempt for ordinary Americans, especially Republicans. Even after all of the controversies and differences of opinion, one thing should be abundantly clear after a century of liberal/evangelical dispute and dialogue: a Christianity that looks just like the received wisdom of the secular elites is of no use to anyone. Unfortunately, Olson has become an advocate of just such a syncretism.
A much needed corrective to conservative evangelicalism  May 12, 2009
If his Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities were not enough to stake his position in the evangelical theological world (and make me a big fan!), Roger Olson's Reformed and Always Reforming: The Postconservative Approach to Evangelical Theology should do the trick. Personally, I have had a growing nebulous feeling of discontent with much of conservative evangelicalism (politically, theologically, etc.) over the last couple years, but I have had few options of where to go with these feelings. I knew straight out liberalism wasn't the answer, but what else is there? Thus, for me Reformed and Always Reforming was like a breath of fresh air, exploring new options for evangelical theology that transcend the old conservative/liberal dichotomy.

On the first page of his introduction, Roger Olson makes the aims of his work clear: `This is a book about theology and not sociology, politics, or even ethics' (7). Though Olson's project is about theology and not ethics or politics, he views the aim of his project in the same stream as that of Jim Wallis, Ron Sider, and Tony Campolo, namely, to demonstrate how `it is possible to be more evangelical by being less conservative' (7).

Olson argues that conservative evangelical theology, characterized by the writings of Carl F. H. Henry, Wayne Grudem, Tom Oden, and D. A. Carson, among others, has become too tied to tradition - either in the form of the `ancient ecumenical consensus' or the `received evangelical tradition' - to allow the Spirit to speak in a fresh way to the community of faith through new interpretations of scripture. However, instead of rejecting conservativism for liberalism, Olson explores the movement known as `postconservativism', which embraces what is best about conservativism, such as reliance on and fidelity to scripture, without adopting conservativism's less palatable features, such as its perceived defensiveness, exclusivity, traditionalism, and dogmatism.

As paradigm examples of postconservative evangelicals, Olson discusses Stanley Grenz, Clark Pinnock, and Kevin Vanhoozer, among others. He begins by describing the common traits of the postconservative style represented by these theologians: a focus on transformation over information, a vision of theology as `a pilgrimage and a journey rather than a discovery and conquest' (55), an uneasiness with the Enlightenment and its influence on evangelicalism, a view of evangelicalism as a `centrifugal center of powerful gravity' rather than a set of `outlying boundaries that serve as walls or fences' (60), an experiential rather than doctrinal emphasis, and finally, a respect for tradition without traditionalism. These common traits and others closely related become the topic of discussion for the bulk of the book.

Though Olson tries to keep the tone as amiable as possible, he is not known to pull punches when he feels that a position or theologian has been mischaracterized or treated unfairly. This is precisely what he feels has been the case with postconservativism and its proponents at the hands of their conservative critics. Reformed and Always Reforming is thus one part explication and one part polemic. For the most part this makes for a lively and provocative read, but there are points where Olson's allegiances may cause him to gloss over or even defend some of the weaknesses of the postconservative move in theology. For example, in his discussion of Nancey Murphy's postfoundationalism, Olson appears to endorse a coherentist view of truth over a correspondence view (though later he commends a correspondence view as well). But while coherence is certainly a helpful epistemological category, it will never be a more fundamental metaphysical criterion for truth than correspondence with reality, even granting the postfoundationalist critique of our epistemic limitations. Here, as elsewhere in the book, one wonders if adopting a theology influenced by postmodern philosophy is truly an advance over one influenced by modern or ancient philosophy.

His virtually continuous references to Open Theism (the view that God doesn't know exhaustively all future contingent events), which he doesn't endorse per se but nevertheless seems open to (and seemingly enamored with), might cause some readers to be unduly fearful of the postconservative move in evangelical theology. If Open Theism is viewed as the only or even the primary fruit of postconservative theology, it is unlikely that postconservativism will be warmly received by the larger evangelical community. However, focusing on that one issue would be a mistake. For one thing, I am quite confident that many postconservatives, such as Vanhoozer, are not proponents of Open Theism. For another thing, it appears as though Olson's understanding of Open Theism is broader than how it is typically understood. He seems to include as Open Theism views where God willingly self-limits his knowledge, rather than the more narrow view in which God literally cannot know future contingents even if he wanted to (because it is logically impossible to know them). But more importantly, Olson simply uses Open Theism as an example of postconservatives' openness to exploring new avenues in biblical theology, even if the result lands them outside the mainstream of tradition. In this way, they are open to continual reform in light of scripture, rather than being tied to tradition at the expense of new scriptural insights. Since postconservatives tend to have a narrative emphasis to scriptural interpretation rather than a propositional one, it is not difficult to imagine how Open Theism might arise from such a hermeneutic (e.g., focusing on God changing his mind in the story of Jonah rather than on passages emphasizing his immutability found, say, in the epistles). Whether or not this is a good hermeneutical principle to follow is, of course, a whole other discussion.

Those who read Reformed and Always Reforming straight through may also find it to be a bit repetitive at times. It almost reads as though each chapter is intended to stand on its own, despite the topical threads running throughout. On the other hand, Olson may feel it necessary to repeatedly drive home his point, given the way postconservatives have been misrepresented often to the point of slander. And for giving this new voice in evangelicalism a proper hearing, I believe that Olson has done Christian theology an important service worthy of a careful read.

The Case for Christian Orthopathy, Narratives and Innovation  Apr 9, 2009
Do you believe that Scripture's primary purpose is to ignite transformation over and above providing information? Do you believe the Bible is more about performing speech-acts (to be performed over and over again) than communicating truth-sets (to be defended against heresy)? Would you still accept someone into the Christian family based primarily on his/her Spirit-inspired relationship with God (as opposed to his/her adherence to selected creeds)?

Do you find something wrong with equating the essence of Christianity in timeless doctrines and propositions? Would you agree that orthodoxy (right thinking) is important without becoming a litmus test of true faith and not as important as orthopraxy (right living) and orthopathy (right experience)?

Do you believe that the traditional creeds deserve a vote, but not a veto in theology? Would you be willing to accept corrections to the creeds if these corrections can be shown to be Scriptural? Do you feel there's something not very right if the creeds are treated as immutable, unchangeable, all-authoritative and almost on a par with Scripture itself?

Do you believe the task of theological reconstruction is an never-ending process and that it ought never to be complete once and for all? Do you generally favour and welcome theological innovation/creativity, as long as it's done with Scripture as the 'norming norm'? Does theology as 'pilgrimage' and 'faithful dramatic performance' resonate with you? Do you work well with ambiguity and believe it represents an opportunity to learn and construct more?

Do you believe that evangelicalism is a centered-set movement, as opposed to a boundary-set organisation? Do you believe that being an 'evangelical' is more like being an 'Asian' (with fuzz boundaries) than like being a 'Malaysian' (where a national ID card will suffice as a definition)? Do you believe that a pre-occupation with who's "In" or "Out" is unhealthy?

Are you open to and appreciative of the works of Clark Pinnock, Stanley Grenz, Kevin Vanhoozer, LeRon Shultz, Gregory Boyd, Brian McLaren, etc. trusting that they have important value to add to the theological task?

If you can answer Yes to even a third of the questions here, then you'll probably like Olson's book because you'll fit well into the category of post-conservative evangelical theology and theologians he's promoting. This book also takes a good 'two-steps-back' approach and spells out the issues and debates happening in the evangelical world. Whilst I'm glad it was concise and innovative in its own right (Olson does offer some fresh pseudo-proposals e.g. his listing of five themes around which all post-conservatives agree), the only downside seemed to be its repetitive nature (especially in the first three chapters). Nevertheless, if you've been drifting in the direction of the questions above, this book is an absolute must to pull together the elements of the godly mess you've embraced(!).

Therein lies the book's greatest contribution: Articulating the reasonably recent movement and firing a pioneering shot for its cause and the theologians behind it.

On the other hand, if you've been shaking your head (and clicking your tongue) throughout this post, you'll find Olson's book distasteful, not least because it implies that you (and those who inspire your way of thinking, e.g. D.A. Carson, John Piper, D.H. Williams, Millard Erickson, etc.) have missed the point about the Christian faith and story and have, in fact, done some harm by continually attacking anyone and everyone who doesn't agree that evangelicalism (let alone Christianity) should be characterised by an absolute fixed set of doctrinal propositions.

For those who feel that theological thinking is synonymous with heresy-hunting and restating traditional propositions, this book would be prepped for the trash heap, because to appreciate this book requires you to enter the mindset of theological innovators and narrative-thinkers who sees greater value in construction as opposed to criticism.

This is surely too heavy a price to be 'always reforming'. Remaining (merely) Reformed and (very) conservative would, in this case, be a no-brainer.
Revisiting Evangelical Theology  Oct 4, 2008
Reformed and Always Reforming: The Postconservative Approach to Evangelical Theology is a descriptive and prescriptive account of the move of some evangelical theologians to what has come to be termed a "postconservative" style of doing theology. Olson finds himself among this growing group, and seeks to set out the methodology that underlays this shift. Thought that may in fact sound a bit dry, Olson in fact turns in a compelling story of the development of a new brand of evangelical theology.

He begins by identifying just what this "postconservative" theology is by first describing "conservative" theology. He lists ten characteristics:

1. Correct doctrine as the essence of Christianity.
2. Revelation is primarily seen as propositional.
3. There is the tendency to elevate some tradition to the level of magisterium.
4. Suspicion of the constructive task of theology.
5. Evangelicalism is a bounded set: people are either in or out.
6. Many who call themselves evangelicals wouldn't be considered evengelical by conservatives.
7. High levels of suspicion toward modernity and postmodernity in favor of the ancient or traditional.
8. Tend to think that it is possible to do theology relatively uninfluenced by culture or history.
9. Tendency toward harsh, polemical rhetoric, staying close to fundamentalist roots.
10. Tends to be done "in the grip of fear of liberal theology" (25).

After setting the stage with a sketch of "conservative" evangelical theology, he moves briefly through a discussion of shared ground, before then beginning to explicate the "style" of theology that he terms postconservative. It is in fact the task of the rest of the book to lay this out, but some major trends and themes can be listed as distinctive (in essence, they are the flip sides of the ten things he has pointed out about conservative evangelical theology listed above). Some of the important aspects might be layed out as follows (the choice and numbering are my own:

1. Consider relveation's purpose to be transformational more than informational.
2. The constructive task of theology is cointinuing; there are no "closed, once for all systems" of theology that have perfectly enshrined the truth about God (55).
3. Concern about the deep roots of conservative evangelical theology in modernity and the desire to move beyond foundationalism.
4. See evangelical theology as a "centered set" rather than a "bounded set"; that is, less focus on who is in and who is out and instead focusing on who is closer to the center and who is moving away from that center. This includes some comfort with ambiguity that is often lacking in conservative evangelical theology.
5. Recognize that the core of evangelical faith is spiritual experience rather than doctrinal belief. This doesn't mean it doesn't have informaitonal content (it's not merely generic belief itself or belief in some anomalous "ground of being") but that this language is "second order," the communal expression of the experience of God in revelation.
6. While tradition is greatly respected, it is not enshrined as definitive; this means systems and theologians of the past can be helpful and essential conversation partners but the assumption should never be made that they have provided final formulations equal to the status of scripture or fully authoritative as interpreters of the Scriptures.

Throughout the remainder of the book, Olson fleshes out these elements of the postconservative style of theology, looking often at important postconservative thinkers who embody these trends. This includes frequent discussion of Stanley Grenz, John Franke, F. LeRon Shults, and Kevin Vanhoozer as especially lucid expositors of this style of theology. He also undertakes detailed discussions of some proponents of the conservative style, such as D. A. Carson, and Carl Henry, with frequent references to Charles Hodge.

For myself, I have found Olson's vision to be a compelling one, in that he illumines many of the weaknesses that I myself have found with traditional "conservative" evangelical theology, such as it's seeming obsession with who is in and out, and it's often harsh polemic tone in discussions within and outside the evangelical family, and with its sole focus on proposition in revelation. As Olson points out, even taking these points, one is still "conservative" in the larger scheme of theology; they don't make one a "liberal," in any meaningful way (contrary to what many "conservative evangelical" theologians might claim). I think this great book shows the promise of evangelical theology as a vibrant and faithful exponent of the faith into a new century. It makes a great intro to these important themes and to the theologians who are on the cutting edge of evangelical thinking about God.

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