Roger Olson, in Reformed and Always Reforming, argues that conservative evangelicalism has a one-sided emphasis on doctrinal content as the essence of Christianity and a corresponding neglect of experience. Postconservatism, accordingly, has an experiential impulse.
Well, Olson goes back to Carson at this point: “I cannot escape,” Carson says in his book on the gagging of God, “the dreadful feeling that modern evangelicalism in the West more successfully effects the gagging of God … than all the post-modernists together” (75 from Olson’s book). Olson thinks this comment is “frantic and overblown.” He then points to Wells’ rhetoric about evangelicalism, who he thinks “at times [seems] to be operating out of a hermeneutic of suspicion rather than a hermeneutic of charity” (76). I am certain Wells has done this with respect to megachurches; what I read in his book corresponded to nothing I have witnessed in five years at the mother of megachurches. Now, let me put this in perspective: What Olson is saying here is that conservative evangelicalism’s biggest worry iis about doctrinal drift among evangelicals.
His contention is this: “Authentic Christianity and true evangelical faith have more to do with the personal transforming power of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ than with factual knowledge or affirmation of correct ideas” (76). Postconservatism does not “in any way” reject or neglect the “importance of correct thinking” but they “regard transforming spirituality as more crucial for identifying authentic Christianity and for understanding true evangelical faith” (76).
He weighs in with strong words that the postconservative experiential impulse is not at all like Schleiermacher. “Postconservatives have no interest in being liberal; accommodation to culture is not what postconservative evangelicalism is about” (77).
“Doctrine is secondary; it is the second-order language of the church that brings to expression this transforming experience” (78). “Of course, doctrine comes into play along with experience, but doctrine serves experience and not vice versa. One is the master and the other is the servant” (79).
OK, that’s enough for today: What do you think of these claims for postconservatism?
Next post: I’ll give a statement or two from McGrath, Grenz, Pinnock, Vanhoozer, and Henry Knight II.