Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Reforming 5

posted by xscot mcknight

Chp 2 of Roger Olson, Reformed and Always Reforming, is about “Christianity’s Essence” and his concern is “transformation over information.”
He begins with conservative evangelicalism’s identification of the essence, and here he sees an entry point in calling Cons Evang “post-fundamentalist evangelicals” (68). Both Joel Carpenter and George Marsden focused on showing how evangelicalism was a reform of fundamentalism. Postconservatives are doing the same: reforming evangelicalism.
Why? Because “there is no final stopping place in the process of ongoing correction and reform short of the return of Jesus Christ” (69). But, postcons think cons evangelicals are “too obsessed with the cognitive and intellectual sides of the gospel and of Christian existence” (69). I’d like you to read that carefully: it is not an either/or or a false dichotomy Olson is drawing here; instead, it is emphasis. Postcons want to correct this “one-sidedness.”
And, of course, postcons have been accused of a slippery slope. Olson says back: “it is a vicious calumny unjustified by any fair reading of the works of postconservatives” (69).
Millard Erickson says the “doctrinal component is a major component of Christianity… [and it] will be regarded as the most important permanent element” (70). That is what Olson is talking about. Yes, Erickson and cons evangs do believe in transformation; and postcons believe in doctrine. The question is one of emphasis.
DA Carson is another example in Olson’s illustrations of conservative evangelical emphasis on doctrinal content as the essence of Christianity. Carson: “the historic gospel is unavoidably cast as intellectual content that must be taught and proclaimed” (71). Again, he is fair with Carson: “Scripture’s purpose is not simply to fill our heads with facts, but to bring us to the living God” (72). But, Olson thinks the burden of both Erickson and Carson — do you think he is accurate here? — “is to preserve and protect the cognitive doctrinal content of historic evangelicalism — evangelical orthodoxy — as its permanent, enduring, and unchanging essence” (72).
Is conservative evangelicalism’s emphasis on doctrinal content? And is its emphasis an overemphasis?
Next post: postconservativism’s “experiential impulse”.



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Luke

posted March 31, 2008 at 1:03 am


I think Olson has hit the nail on the head here. I certainly do think that conservative evangelicalism’s emphasis is on doctrinal content, and it is extremely overemphasized. They are more concerned in minutia in their doctrinal statements than in experience and life. Like Olson, I by no means say that they don’t believe that transformation is important, but they certainly overemphasize information.
Information is great. I’m at a seminary where I get information all the time, but when we emphasize this so much that we either neglect transformation or put it in the background, we completely miss the big picture. It’s kind of like the Pharisees and their obsession with the Law. They were so caught up in information it wasn’t even funny. They studied, examined, exegeted, memorized, and taught, but they completely missed the big picture, and Jesus had some of his most harsh words for this crowd…even though their intentions were great. They didn’t see the intention behind the Law, and because of that one little discrepancy they completely rejected Christ when he tried to tell them the truth.
I fear the same for many conservative evangelicals. They are so caught up in protecting, defending, and preserving (hence conservative) creeds, confessions, and doctrinal statements, that they are missing the big picture in the process. I think the men Olson quotes in his book are certainly at the top of the list in conservative evangelicalism who believe this way(Grudem, Erickson, Carson…and I would probably add Piper too).
I fear Jesus would have the same words he spoke to the Pharisees to these people because of their overemphasis. Jesus is more interested in how we live than in what we know. Jesus is more interested that a person be transformed by the power of the Spirit than whether they can fully articulate the Trinity or believe in the inerrancy of Scriptures. Jesus is more interested that a person live right than if they believe in immutability or can articulate the hypostatic union or ascribe to a premillenial view of eschatology.
Some of these other things are certainly important, but orthopraxy must certainly be emphasized more so than orthodoxy, and quite frankly conservative evangelicals have this completely in reverse. Good stuff Scot



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Wolf Paul

posted March 31, 2008 at 3:02 am


[quote]And, of course, postcons have been accused of a slippery slope. Olson says back: “it is a vicious calumny unjustified by any fair reading of the works of postconservatives” (69).[quote]
As much as I appreciate Olson and what I have read of him so far, this retort won’t wash.
The point of a slippery slope is not that those accused of being on it have done or said anything wrong (thus no justification is needed from a fair reading of their works) but that my experience (as the one to call it a slippery slope) indicates that if you go that way you are likely to end up where you did not intend.
Rightly or wrongly (but no viciousness or calumny involved) conservatives see a resemblance between some of the things being proposed and said by postcons and those things which led to the liberalism and revisionism we see today in some denominations.
The way to deal with that is not to cry “vicious calumny!” but to show those concerned conservatives why their concerns and worries are unfounded.
And of course, to the extent that both cons and postcons descend into name calling both of them are deficient in their testimony.



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Richard

posted March 31, 2008 at 4:01 am


Remembering reading Kierkegaard once; he stated something that I knew to be true. In essence he wrote that a child can not fooled by his parent’s lack of belief in God.( Perhapse Jesus was including that when He said ” Unless you become like a little child…)
The Apostle Paul wrote to us ( as I understand it) that in whatever guise the Gospel is preached, at least it is preached.
We thank our Heavenly Father for the “gut” realization that He is at work among us, as us (Vine and branch), not only in the location of our present footprints but also in His realm of His Spirit where He is worshiped in truth, where according to the scripture )we can take pleasure in defending), we are one with Him. (He that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit.)
It is here, in His Spirit, that the ongoing finished work of Christ Jesus where the individual and the community is one with God is realized. It is here that Jesus knew what was in the minds of men. It is here that Jesus speaks of when refers to saying, “When you have done this to the least of these, you have done it unto me.”
It is here that virtue is passed not only by words but by the touch of His garment. Our foundation is Spirit and truth, the person Jesus Christ whom by the Holy Spirit conforms and confirms us into His image by His risen eternal Life.
The foundation of self, builds upon itself, placing the cross above itself and out of reach of the promised rest which is the death of the self, that has to be the loss of the self, in order to find the new self who is Life.
I read many comments placed in Jesus Creed and realize that there is the art of placing words in such order with such detail that would leave many unable to participate in the ongoing structure of the ongoing conversation… Scripture is not our first Love…scripture did not bring us the Good news. The Good news Himself brought us the Good news.



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Ben Wheaton

posted March 31, 2008 at 4:32 am


Luke,
If conservative evangelicals are the Pharisees, then the postconservative evangelicals are the Sadducees; and lest we forget, Jesus was quite tart with them: “you know nothing at all!”



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Brad Boydston

posted March 31, 2008 at 4:34 am


I read this book a few months ago and it left me asking, how is it that we (those of us out of the Arminian, Holiness, Wesleyan, Lutheran Pietistic, Evangelical Covenant, or Anabaptist streams) are “post”-conservative if we were never really conservative in the first place? At least we were never conservative in the way that the definition has been formulated by modern Reformed orthodoxy.
That little nit-pick didn’t stop me from ordering Roger Olson’s next book in the series — How to be Evangelical Without Being Conservative — which is in the queue on my desk waiting for some free time.



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Wolf Paul

posted March 31, 2008 at 4:43 am


Brad,
because words generally mean what we want them to mean. It is nit-picking to insist that words have some logical or inherent meaning — or something like that :-)
Words are chosen for their “feel” or “flavor” or “atmosphere”, not for their etymology or dictionary definition, or for some other logical reason.
Witness “emerging church” — nobody so far has been able to tell me what is emerging about the church that hasn’t been there since Christ founded it.



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Richard

posted March 31, 2008 at 4:50 am


Hurrah! Wolf Paul



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Scot McKnight

posted March 31, 2008 at 5:07 am


Wolf Paul,
On slippery slope … no it is not about what “may” happen but what is argued to be “inevitable.” The point, really, is that moderate views are not on the slippery slope toward liberalism. Actually, Wolf, I think the slippery slope approach to moderation is a modern version of the ancient rabbinic principle of “building a fence around the Torah.” That is, if the Torah says this (don’t get drunk, so moderate consumption of wine), then we’ll build a fence (never drink any wine and you’ll never get drunk). Slippery slope is a similar form of protectionism.
And Olson does just what you suggest: he shows vicious calumny by showing that many postcons are deeply into information but teach that it is not complete until it leads to transformation.
Brad, that’s a good observation; some of them weren’t conservative but moderates all along. Many were though, and those are the ones he instances throughout the book. Very little attention to Anabaptists etc..



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Brad Boydston

posted March 31, 2008 at 6:47 am


Scot wrote: “Very little attention to Anabaptists etc…” (#8)
True. He does give a very slight tip of the hat to Anabaptist influence in chapter 1. He could have done more in that area — but that’s not really his background — and Anabaptists emphasize some different elements of transformation. (He does give more direct attention to Anabaptists in the next book — in the section on transforming culture without domination. But I suspect that since you wrote the forward to that book you are already well aware of what he says.) :-)
He does, however, frame the post-conservative movement as emerging out of the Pietistic and (surprise, surprise) Arminian streams. He contends that there have always been “two historical styles or approaches to evangelical faith.”
I’d suggest that while there are some new players on the court and a few of them have some cool new moves, this isn’t really all that new of a game.



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Dan Brennan

posted March 31, 2008 at 6:47 am


Scot,
I think he does a fair job, even though I would fall under the label of the post-conservative. What is illuninating in this conversation is the fact a Trinity seminary student can go to a class taught by post-conservative like Vanhoozer and walk ten feet across the hall into her next class taught by Carson. The sense of emphasis is different but both have their feet firmly planted in evangelicalism.
Is the conservative bent towards the cognitive an overemphasis? It’s a challenge to answer this because if you step inside Carson’s world he would undoubtedly allow for “experience” to be present and real in Christianity.
It’s not easy to be critical of what may be a conservative’s (like Carson)lack of emphasis in experience.
The answer to the question is not a simple yes or no.
But along the lines of “emphasis” I’m in agreement with Olson.



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Scot McKnight

posted March 31, 2008 at 6:53 am


Brad,
Good point. I do think the postconservative has discovered things that have been a significant element of the Anabaptist and European Free Church tradition, if not also Pietism, for a long time — and not just part of the Pietistic stream of the evangelical movement deriving from the Wesleyan and Arminian traditions. This is an important supplement, if not correction, of the Olson thesis.
Dan,
No matter how hard Olson tries to say that it’s a both-and for both cons evangs and postcons, and a matter of emphasis, the book will be used to show the experiential rules for postcons and the cognitive rules for the cons evangs. He is emphasizing the emphases, without making them polar opposites.



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Mick

posted March 31, 2008 at 6:58 am


Doctrine makes up the banks of the river but is not the river itself. Important – yes. It is a critical part of the layout that makes up and helps shape the river’s direction as the river also redirects and reshapes it’s own banks at times. It contains the “life” we need but it exists for the sake of the River – not the other way around.



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John Frye

posted March 31, 2008 at 7:07 am


Scot,
I think a good parallel reading to this post about Olson’s analysis is your CT article where you review Thiselton’s book *Hermeneutics of Doctrine.*
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/marchweb-only/113-32.0.html



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Matt Edwards

posted March 31, 2008 at 8:03 am


Scot,
I appreciate your analysis of this chapter and the way you posed this question. I think the real issue may be the rhetoric used by both sides. It seems that both conservatives and postconservatives are concerned with both doctrine and practice. I think everyone has been around people who care so much about right doctrine that they have no room for following Christ. At the same time, I am sure we have all met people who “care more about orthopraxy than orthodoxy” and as a result don’t believe the things historically crucial to Christianity. I think both groups want to avoid these extremes.
I think we need to tone down the rhetoric when we talk about other groups. You linked to a post by Piper that implied that anything short of Reformed theology is un-Christian. Obviously this is an overstatement. At the same time, postconservatives have been guilty of caricaturing conservatives as dispassionate toward social justice and the environment. While this may be true of some, I find this largely to be a straw man argument. You can be a conservative and live like Christ. You can be postconservative and still have a creed.
I wonder if the next step for both groups is to reach out to the other. Maybe the conservative wing should focus on how reformed theology leads to concern for the poor. Maybe the postconservatives need to be more vocal about their beliefs and where the “boundary markers” of the faith lie.
Another key might be spending time with people from the other camp. I am sure that John Piper has a reason for being so passionate about Reformed theology. If we found out what that was over a cup of coffee, he probably wouldn’t seem like such a bad guy. I read a short blurb about Bart Ehrman’s journey that changed my perspective on him and his views.



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T

posted March 31, 2008 at 8:16 am


Scot,
I couldn’t help but think of our discussion of what constitutes “orthodox” Christianity in reading this post. I’m still looking forward to your discussion with Tony Jones on this topic (or have I missed it somewhere?).
Regarding your last question, I’d say that is an accurate statement, certainly based on the actions of Carson, Piper, MacArthur, etc. toward ministries that differ over doctrinal issues (whether it’s Calvinism, cessationism, the role of women, etc.)
As we discussed re: “orthodoxy”, at least in my conservative circles, one’s orthodoxy is almost entirely an issue of one’s professed doctrines. It has little to do with how that gets lived out. Yes, both camps care about doctrine, both care about transformation, but it is completely fair to say that one of the characteristics of conservative evangelicalism is to emphasize the former, while posts (and Anabaptists) emphasize the latter.
I can’t help but think that this emphasis is encouraged by our definitions of “orthodoxy” (or by the near complete swallowing of orthopraxy by orthodoxy). The so-called “essential” teachings of Christianity are almost exclusively facts about Jesus and the atonement instead of the teachings that Jesus himself prioritized. The practical result being that one can supposedly be practicing “orthodox” Christianity and do nothing that Jesus said to do (or at least nothing beyond what the pagans already do) if one will affirm the right list of facts about Jesus. We conservatives tend to produce more affirmers of facts about Jesus than people who do what he said to do.



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Matt

posted March 31, 2008 at 8:25 am


I suspect it’s less an over-emphasis on doctrine than in conservative evangelicalism than it is an underemphasis on transformation. Or, and maybe this is more to the point, it is a selective over-emphasis on doctrine coupled with a selective under-emphasis on practice.



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T

posted March 31, 2008 at 8:56 am


Matt (#14),
You make some very important points. I liked this: “Maybe the conservative wing should focus on how reformed theology leads to concern for the poor. Maybe the postconservatives need to be more vocal about their beliefs and where the ?boundary markers? of the faith lie.”
On the conservative side, our total depravity, our real poverty, ought to and can become the basis of seeing ourselves as just like those in physical poverty. It can and should (and is intended to) be our basis for empathy, compassion, and action. Our total dependence on mercy ought to make us merciful, and it can. In fact, showing mercy is the only real proof of whether one really knows God to be merciful.
And on resurrection, those of us who say we trust in Christ’s physical resurrection (and in ours to come), can’t we, mustn’t we, be leading the way in risky agape love, and in inviting the poor to dine with us? (It’s a lot harder to do if there’s no resurrection!) Let’s judge one another’s trust in the resurrection, if at all, by the extent of our love for each other–how much we risk and give of ourselves for our friends and enemies.



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ChrisB

posted March 31, 2008 at 9:00 am


?the historic gospel is unavoidably cast as intellectual content that must be taught and proclaimed?
I don’t know what exactly he’s quoting, but I recently read a very similar statement from Stott. I think we have to keep in mind that Erickson and Carson have spent their careers defending the faith against those who would like to say, e.g., that Christ’s resurrection or deity or miracles were not literal, historical events.
I don’t think any evangelical is going to deny the experiential element of the faith, but the conservatives are concerned with ensuring that people are experiencing the true Christ and the historic faith.
Of course conservatives go to extremes. I continue to think that in a fallen world, and in a fallen church, we will continue to need a pull back and forth between extremes to keep us in the vicinity of the right path.



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mariam

posted March 31, 2008 at 10:37 am


I too am looking forward to the discussion of what orthodoxy is, because I expect what are viewed as “essential” beliefs look quite different across Christendom. Re orthodoxy without orthopraxy. Living as Christ asked us to, regardless of doctrine is still a good thing, where as orthodoxy without orthopraxy is completely useless – worse than useless, really. I would say it better to err on the side of putting our efforts into right action. THe only way that we know whether we are on the right path is the fruit of our faith. Does our theology make us more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, compassionate, generous, faithful, gentle, and self-disciplined? As loving Christians do we suffer without complaint, do we rejoice in the good fortune of others, rather than being envious; are we self-effacing, polite, not easily provoked; do we set our minds on things that are honourable, truthful and good, rather that obsessing about sin and judging and gloating over the weaknesses of other; do we bear, believe, hope and endure all for the sake of our Lord? If a theology helps us become more Christlike, even in small and gradual steps, then it is a good theology.



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Sam Andress

posted March 31, 2008 at 10:37 am


It does seem to me accurate that “conservative” evangelicalism emphasizes cognitive doctrinal ascent as the key marker of orthodoxy. Now, I considering myself “emergent” still find doctrine extremely important and do believe that local churches need to teach doctrine. However my experience of growing up within evangelicalism of the conservative persuasion, is that it is pervaded by a consuming myopia. Emerging out of that and after spending three years at Fuller Seminary (evangelical?) and several summers lived in various parts of Africa, I have come to a much more robust understanding of theological interpretations. I find that much “conservative” evangelicalism and pentecostalism (which I spent time in) does not find its orthodoxy in the early church but rather in 18th-20th century interpretations.
It is an over emphasis in the sense that it is often significantly at the expense of orthopraxy. What about the historical orthodox practices of the church? The benedictines, Catholic social teachings, Anabaptist insistence on the Kingdom of God here and now and radical conversion into a life marked by new practices? Much of evangelicalism in practice (and sometimes in scholarship of the Carson ilk) is ignorant of these historical realities of the family of God. My reading of guys like Carson is that they have a closed off hermeneutic. It seems for him that the Bible exists in some sort of vacuum and can be “objectively” interpreted just by a plain reading. But the plethora of interpretations since the reformation shows us this is not the case.
I was in Seattle this weekend and heard Mark Driscoll preach an excellent sermon on the doctrine of the Trinity. The problem is that being one who is not part of Mars Hill in Seattle, I could fully see how his method is saturated with reformed categories. Is that wrong? No. But it is wrong to not be aware of those and then dogmatically proclaim that a Calvinistic interpretation of the Scriptures is THE interpretation all Christians have had for all time. That is just not the case.
So my rub with say a Mark Driscoll, beyond, his sometimes egregious hyperboles is that for his brand of conservative neo-evangelicalism often links orthdoxy with the 15th and 16th century. Similarly John Piper tends to make Jonathan Edwards and Calvin the preeminent interpreters of Scripture. Fine. But again not for the whole church for the whole of history. They were such in a particular place and time and we should be in dialogue with them, but it would be idolotrous to colapse the whole doctrinal project into their hermeneutics.



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Jason Powell

posted March 31, 2008 at 10:48 am


Scot,
We need better acronyms. For the conservative evangelicals…how about CEV’s?
for the Postcons….how about PCEV’s? (or maybe just…”those guys that are right”…jk!)
blessings



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Matt Edwards

posted March 31, 2008 at 11:57 am


Mariam (#20),
I don’t know that orthopraxy apart from orthodoxy is any better than orthodoxy without orthopraxy. The Pharisees are kind of demonized in the NT, but if you look at literature by and about them outside of the NT, they were doing a lot of good things. They understood the ways of God and were trying to live them out. So, why was Jesus so antagonistic to them? Because they rejected him as God’s Son.
I am studying the Gospel of John right now, and Jesus seems to care a lot about WHAT people believe about Him. I am completely with you that orthodoxy without orthopraxy is useless, but I am not sure that the other way around is any better.



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Tyler

posted March 31, 2008 at 12:50 pm


From an outside perspective I think your posed question is right on. Conservative evangelicalism seems overly concerned with doctrine. This leaves a bad taste in the mouth of new Christians and unbelievers. Doctrine without transformation is dead.
However, as one who is reading Erickson’s “Christian Theology” for class (all 1300 pages…ouch) there is a richness to doctrine that can take the believer to a new level of transformation. I just think we need to be careful with how important we make doctrine.



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ChrisB

posted March 31, 2008 at 1:46 pm


Mariam said: “Living as Christ asked us to, regardless of doctrine is still a good thing”
On the contrary, I’d say living as Christ taught is impossible without the right doctrine. The reality is that we live what we believe (with some margin of error for sin).
To put it in Jesus Creed terms, those who over-emphasize doctrine fail to love God with all their strength; those who over-emphasize practice fail to love God with all their minds.



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RJS

posted March 31, 2008 at 2:30 pm


Ah – a good ? no – a great question: Is conservative evangelicalism?s emphasis on doctrinal content? And is its emphasis an overemphasis? Beware – you?ve hit a real sore spot for me, and I may go off the deep end a bit.
It seems to me that conservative evangelicalism?s emphasis on doctrine is an overemphasis because, and only because, it is excessively selective in the definition of orthodox doctrine. The selection can vary from group to group – but nonetheless there is a distinct selection. To be blunt, I could not care less about defending the Baptist distinctives (and I am a Baptist), the Westminster confession, Calvin?s Institutes, Luther?s Catechism, the Chicago statement on inerrancy, or any other man-made attempt at definitive statement. If history has taught us anything – and we need to learn from and walk with our history in the great traditions of the church – it is that everyone must be getting/have gotten a fair bit of the detail wrong in the honest attempt to follow God and his gospel.
I agree with ChrisB on one important level – living as Christ taught is impossible without right doctrine. We can only love God with our minds if we wrestle with the nature of God and his action in the world. Wrestling with, thinking about, and discussing the doctrinal expression of the faith is of critical importance for many (all?) of us, because this is how we come to grips with what it means to be Christian – and follow the commands of Jesus (orthopraxy).
But we need humility in this process. If anyone thinks they?ve finally nailed it down for all of posterity – well that?s just stupid. Thinking that we?ve finally dotted the i?s and crossed the t?s and finished everything off with definitive finality seems dead wrong in the light of our many Godly forbearers and contemporaries who have held varying positions. When any conservative evangelical group uses the dotted i?s and crossed t?s to set boundaries, the emphasis is immediately an overemphasis.
When we are defined by boundaries – rather than by following the center, we may, dare I say we will, slide down a slippery slope to unloving legalism. Frankly, those boundaries are not worth defending. The value in the search for right doctrine comes in keeping us focused on the center.



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mike wittmer

posted March 31, 2008 at 3:07 pm


I don’t think it is possible to over-emphasize doctrine or ethics, for we need a full array of both. First John 3:23 says that God commands us to “believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another.” I find that the more I believe the better I live and the more I live the better I believe. Do we inadvertently mislead when we set up the question as either belief or practice?



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Ron Fay

posted March 31, 2008 at 3:18 pm


Carson does not overemphasize orthodoxy versus orthopraxy, I find that the overemphasis lies in the approach to the unsaved. The world is to be Evangelized, not taken care of. I get the feeling that Luke’s gospel is radically overlooked by many of the mainstays of Evangelicalism. When I taught the Intro to the NT for Bob Yarbrough, he asked me to teach on Luke’s theology and literary issues. When I went through and taught the major issues as I saw them, I got some stunned expressions and even some Amens from the younger generation.
I get the feeling that it is not so much an emphasis on doctrine as it is a lack of emphasis on works in the world. The church is to be taken care of for sure, but it seems like the world is to be Evangelized or ignored.



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Luke

posted March 31, 2008 at 3:41 pm


Amen Ron, hence the word “Evangelical”. It is a shame many people feel this way…as if all we have to do are “get people saved” and then let them be. Evangelicals need to wake up and realize it’s not the 1920s anymore.



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John Frye

posted March 31, 2008 at 4:55 pm


Hooray for RJS for bringing out once again the value of centered-set versus bounded-set beliefs/practices. With this in mind, we can imagine Volf’s “exclusion and embrace.”
Every behavior expresses belief (of some kind). The old saw, “Show me how a person lives and I’ll tell you what that person believes” holds true.
I appreciate Olson’s intentional analysis that it is not an either/or but a both/and; and he is simply spotlighting the overemphases of each side, the CEVs and P-CEVs.
There is a tenacious content to evangelicalism: Trinitarian, Christocentric, Spirit-empowered community-based, eschatological and missional. When the CEVs say this is best and only expressed in Reformed thought and tradition, they have established some unnecessary, debatable boundaries.



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RJS

posted March 31, 2008 at 5:39 pm


John,
As I read back through what I wrote, I cringed a bit as I did go off the deep end ? I said what I meant, but I didn?t mean to sound so “preachy.” Oh well, I am somewhat passionate on this as it is really the foundation of what was a major discovery for me ? that the core of Christian orthodoxy is centered-set beliefs and practices. I have not yet found a bounded-set definition of orthodoxy, established expression of Christian doctrine that I could hold to unreservedly with intellectual integrity. This is why, as I said on the Weekly Meanderings post Saturday, I could not and would not teach at a conservative evangelical institution. But tossing all of those bounded-set ideals in the trash and focusing on a centered-set approach to following Christ ? that I can do, and with intellectual integrity.
I like your description of tenacious content to evangelicalism: Trinitarian, Christocentric, Spirit-empowered community-based, eschatological and missional.



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RJS

posted March 31, 2008 at 7:31 pm


In #11 you replied (to Dan) No matter how hard Olson tries to say that it’s a both-and for both cons evangs and postcons, and a matter of emphasis, the book will be used to show the experiential rules for postcons and the cognitive rules for the cons evangs. He is emphasizing the emphases, without making them polar opposites.
If, in fact, the emphasis for P-CEVs is experiential and for CEVs is cognitive, I don’t really know what to call myself. While experiential is of great importance ? I would have to say, I think, that cognitive rules; both-and of course, but with emphasis, if we must specify emphasis, on cognitive. I just do not agree (at all) with the way that cognitive emphasis on doctrine works itself out in CEV bounded-set thinking.
It seems to me that conservative evangelicalism’s emphasis on doctrinal content is an overemphasis, or perhaps more accurately a misdirected emphasis, because it is characterized by bounded-set thinking, not because doctrinal content is highly valued.



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RJS

posted March 31, 2008 at 7:34 pm


Ok, #30 should have started:
Scot,
In #11…



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Scott

posted March 31, 2008 at 7:59 pm


The problem,as I see it,is that Evangelicalism’s “doctrines” that is wants to use to demarcate itself from others and define itself by are often not the catholic doctrines of the sort of the concilar decrees but of a lower order which often speak to arising from “party” disputes, which encourage more fissures and divisions.



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Jim Robertson

posted April 1, 2008 at 12:12 am


Lucky me. I copy type a quote for Fitch’s blog, and it fits this conversation too!
From Alan Lewis, ?Between Cross & Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday?.
?How can dogmas, rendered static, finished, absolute, recover their dynamic and be reformed other than by critical subjection once again to the church?s originating, self-identifying story? Whereas the purpose of doctrine is to preserve that story, there are times and instances when it is necessary for the story in turn to critique and reform the church?s doctrine, thus exercising its own priority as God-given Word over the reflections, conceptualizations, and formulations of the church.? pp. 140-141
?For theology is the servant, not the master, of the story, and as we have said above, although doctrine can and does vitally safeguard the story by giving it conceptual precision, it may also blunt and betray aspects of the gospel, or allow it to stagnate and ossify within the bounds of absolutized dogma, rigid orthodoxy, or cultural conditioning. The reality, veracity, and power of the Word itself is confirmed when the story breaks free of those chains, subjecting our axioms to critical judgement and creative refinement. ? p. 165



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VanSkaamper

posted April 1, 2008 at 1:01 am


I’m enjoying Olson’s book, but, as generous as he’s trying to be, I’m not sure I can buy into this particular distinction he’s making. I know he’s talking about emphasis and not a dichotomy, but it’s still…
RJS wrote: If, in fact, the emphasis for P-CEVs is experiential and for CEVs is cognitive, I don?t really know what to call myself.
You and probably a whole lot of other evangelicals, myself included.
While experiential is of great importance ? I would have to say, I think, that cognitive rules; both-and of course, but with emphasis, if we must specify emphasis, on cognitive. I just do not agree (at all) with the way that cognitive emphasis on doctrine works itself out in CEV bounded-set thinking.
Well said. It’s easy to call out certain, more outspoken individuals like Carson and Piper and and knock their boundary drawing, and it’s also easy to be critical of church communities that foster an over-developed passion for doctrinal purity (as they define it), and miss the point of transformed lives, the power of an indwelling Christ, etc.
However I learned about transformed lives, community and being conformed to Christ’s image in the conservative evangelical communities in which I grew up, primarily in the 70’s. These things were explained or positioned as the purpose of dispensing good doctrine, as God’s desired effect of a mature, grown-up faith.
I think we’d all agree that you can’t have transformation without information…transformation comes from acting on information. We are first hearer’s (of something propositional or cognitive) and then doer’s. It seems to me that information and sound doctrine are a means to an end (transformed lives, living communities), and it’s a mistake to view them as ends in and of themselves.
It may be well be the case that dry, sterile doctrinal fetishes might more often characterize those who’ve gone off the rails in the conservative direction, while those similarly unhinged in the postconservative circle would suffer from unchecked and deceptive subjectivism due to an emphasis on experiences without the regulating influence of good doctrine (which, BTW, is just as sure a way to foster divisions and fissures as the other extreme).
I also continue to find Olson’s categorization of Vanhoozer as a postconservative a bit of a stretch. I think that he’s far more accurately put in the mediating category, because although there are definite postconservative aspects to his views (or his style of expressing them), his emphasis, even when talking about different Biblical literary genres, is our cognitive understanding of Scripture and doing good theology.
I suppose the best thing to do is wait for Kevin to respond in a book or an article, and at that point we’ll see exactly how comfortable he is with being seated at this particular table.



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Dan Brennan

posted April 1, 2008 at 6:22 am


I would agree that it would be premature or superficial to suggest that Vanhoozer’s hermeneutical approach is any less cognitive than Carson’s. Both of them embrace hermeneutics that are fully robust when it comes to the cognitive.
I think the difference is an emphasis–emphasis in the sense that Vanhoozer’s cognitive approach is more inclusive not only of experience, but also of other cognitive angles of the gospel and scripture. There is more of a “catholic” meaning to the cognitive for Vanhoozer that embraces a broader acceptance of the cognitive and the experiential.



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Hunter Beaumont

posted April 1, 2008 at 9:32 am


One observation: Olson is interacting with and critiquing other academics. But at a popular-level (i.e. in the life of its churches and parachurch movements), do conservative evangelicals over-emphasize doctrine? Many evangelical academics would say their churches don’t emphasize doctrine enough!
This then explains why the academics are so concerned with doctrine: They are often driven by their view that the churches are NOT concerned enough with it, and so academic theologians view themselves as the de facto protectors of sound doctrine, filling a void in the church.
So as a critique of the evangelical academy, Olson makes some valid points. But evangelicalism is much more than the academy and when you take a broader view, does this “it’s too concerned with doctrine” resonate? Perhaps you can make this critique of our most influential academic theologians, but can you make the same critique of our most influential churches?



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Doug Allen

posted April 2, 2008 at 8:37 pm


The discussion makes me wonder- with reference to almost 2000 years of church history when has (does) doctrine become idolatry and is there anything within doctrine to prevent it?



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Jim Robertson

posted April 2, 2008 at 11:21 pm


Doug #38. Here is Alan Lewis, again in ?Between Cross & Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday? speaking to your concerns:
?… there is another danger in the doctrinal enterprise. It is that theology will cease to recognize its limitations and penultimacy, so that dogmas, instead of being potential vehicles of doxology and self-surrendering intellectual humility, become instead arrogant claims to final, ultimate truth, more the objects of idolatry than expressions of worship. Doctrine, as such, we have argued, is a proper tool, at the churches service, helping it reflect and regulate, while acknowledging its own fallibility and partiality, its falling short of truth itself and thus its own need for further refinement and reform. But doctrine ? and those who formulate it and have the authority to apply its authoritative norms ? can sometimes lose sight of the limitations and penultimacy of theology, that inescapably human, finite science. Dogma can become fixed and static formulation, infallible propositions abstracted from the dynamic reality of the story of the story?s Subject into compendia of irreformable, lifeless and legalistic statements. They can then be applied authoritatively precisely not as invitation to reform and further thought, but as barriers to such, in their absoluteness and finality.? p. 140



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Doug Allen

posted April 3, 2008 at 8:17 am


Hi Jim,
Thank you for your response. Lewis writes clearly enough, but the second part of my question still really bothers me- how can that “danger of doctrinal enterprise” be recognized and addressed? After reading all the “reforming” series and the “Pete Ennis WTS and CT” posts, I’m very discouraged.



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Ron Fay

posted April 4, 2008 at 4:55 pm


I and some other students actually had a long talk with Dr. Vanhoozer about what label would best fit the model he describes and the area we should next broach theologically. He out and out rejected “post conservative” and “post evangelical” because he stated simply he is neither reacting against nor willing to get past either, instead he wants to take the good from both and build on them. He considers himself both Evangelical and conservative, but progressive as well.



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