What then is postconservatism? What is the postconservative evangelical impulse? Roger Olson, in Reformed and Always Reforming, sees six features. Friends, this is the singular contribution of this book and it will be discussed for years to come, and this postconservatism is one of the reasons why many are attracted to and sympathetic with the emerging movement. Here they are:
Besides deriving from the Pietistic stream of Evangelicalism, the six features are:
1. Transformation before information. Here he pushes against Carl Henry and Paul Helm and finds support in Clark Pinnock and Kevin Vanhoozer. [By the way, while I think Vanhoozer has a postconservative style about him, I see him more as a mediating theologian — like Bloesch and Alister McGrath. His postconservatism is tied into his linguistic theories more than the content of his actual doctrines.]
2. Theology is a pilgrimage and a journey rather than a discovery and a conquest. “How awfully easy it is for people who think themselves in possession of God’s infallible Word to transfer that infallibility to themselves.” (This from Pinnock.) Again, he appeals to Vanhoozer’s use of imagination and performance as the nature of theological discourse.
3. Dissatisfaction with conservative evangelicalism’s reliance upon Enlightenment and modern modes of thought. Noll and McGrath are both cited here for defense, and he also brings in Grenz and Franke and Walsh and Middleton.
4. Its vision for evangelicalism is not shaped by a “who is in and who is out.” Postconservatives are centered sets while conservatives have boundaries. The centrifugal power of evangelicalism is diminished by the boundary setting some use and it turns it into an organization.
5. The enduring essence of the Christian faith is spiritual experience rather than doctrinal belief. Here he appeals to Stan Grenz’s “convertive piety.” Grenz: “To be truly evangelical, right doctrine, as important as it is, is not enough. The truth … must become personally experienced truth.”
Doctrinal language of the church [is] second-order language.
6. Holds relatively lightly to tradition while respecting the Great Tradition of the Church. Posconservatives believe conservatives see evangelical doctrines as incorrigible — incapable of being corrected. For postconservatives, the Great Tradition is “ministerial” and not “magisterial” in function. He appeals to Vanhoozer’s statement that the church’s proclamation is always subject to correction from the canon.
On this one, I think Olson needs to emphasize incorrigibility, which I see in the present discussion by the Neo-Reformed over the New Perspective. All evangelicals believe, at some level, in the corrigibility of doctrine; the question is whether they do the correcting or whether they take a defensive stance every time correction is suggested. At that moment one sees the postconservative from the conservative. It’s not about claim; it’s about capacity and willingness to correct.