Despite having published on the issue of evangelical identity back in 2001, I must confess to losing touch with the kind of arguments that tend to characterise the movement. That’s not because of lack of interest or concern – I still name the movement as hugely significant for my formation – rather, we have both shifted I think, the movement and I.
But I came across a book which stirred my interest again and all the more so after I laid hands on it and began to read. It’s called Reformed and Always Reforming, by Roger Olson, and published by Baker Academic.
Olson asked a fascinating question, ‘Can we be more evangelical by being less conservative?’ and he outlines the post-conservative evangelical phenomenon – something I haven’t been conscious of. His purpose is to persuade the reader that there is a style of doing evangelical theology (and that phrase is significant and interesting; ‘a style’ of doing theology) that cannot fairly be described as ‘conservative’, but neither is it liberal or post-liberal, for the actors still name themselves as evangelical.
Rather than create a box with heavy boundaries, I prefer to regard postconservative theology as a ‘fuzzy’ category defined by a gravitational centre without definite boundaries
He argues that conservative evangelicalism has alleged a consensus based round a set of described doctrines which are closed to reflection or consideration. This, in effect, is to set these human statements on the same plane as Scripture, making them a form of magisterium against which to judge who is in and who is out. The style of doing conservative evangelical theology relies heavily on authoritative tradition either in the form of those who assert biblical inerrancy and the propositional dimension of revelation, or those who appeal to ecumenical doctrinal consensus plus the teaching of the magisterial reformers.
Posrconservatives on the other hand, tend to regard revelation as something more than propositions whose main purpose is transformation not information (this is another key phrase).
I’m not through the book yet, but even at the early stages I wonder whether some of this carries baggage of previous hurts or slights from some of the conservative evangelical heavyweights like Don Carson and David Wells. Nevertheless it is a fascinating study from which I’ll post more.