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”.