Don't Call Me Postconservative

Roger Olson's Reformed and Always Reforming and a new theological tug of war we'd do best to avoid.

Growing numbers of evangelical theologians now describe themselves as postconservative. Roger Olson of Baylor University's Truett Theological Seminary defends what he calls the distinctively postconservative approach to theology in his book Reformed and Always Reforming (Baker Academic). He champions a range of evangelical theologians who offer tremendous gifts to evangelicalism. Their voices should be heard by more evangelicals, and Olson's grand tour and useful introductions will help that happen.

Nevertheless, my appreciation comes with a major concern. By Olson's definition, I am postconservative. But I think the term is more trouble than it's worth: rashly triumphalist, historically confused, philosophically incoherent, and needlessly divisive.

Postconservatives "try to move beyond the limitations of conservative theology," Olson writes, "without rejecting everything about it." They still center theology on the Bible, conversion, the Cross, and transformation. But whereas conservatives show "slavish adherence" to an "incorrigible" tradition, postconservative evangelicals say they defer to tradition and orthodox doctrine critically and constructively.

Olson roots postconservatism in Pietist circles rather than the Old Princeton School of Reformed theology that dominates conservatism. Conservatives "under the spell of the Enlightenment" understand theology mainly as information, while postconservatives, he says, are grateful for postmodernity and regard theology as "a pilgrimage and a journey rather than a discovery and conquest" aimed primarily at transformation.

Alongside all that conservative limitation, slavery, incorrigibility, bewitchment, and conquest, Olson attempts to display the fruit of postconservative doctrines ...

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Don't Call Me Postconservative
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February 2008

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