If we are to engage in the "honest dialogue" to which Roger Olson calls us, we must ask: Is the traditionalist/ reformist distinction the best way to name the conflict? Or does the deeper difference lie in inordinate accommodation to the assumptions of dying modernity over against the determination to grasp the opportunity of grace amid a dying culture? I think the latter is a more penetrating distinction.
THE WRONG TYPOLOGY
Olson's attempt at typological fairness actually has deep affinities with what he calls reformism. This is a somewhat tendentious typology that conservative evangelicals will find only partially illuminating but probably not perennially useful. For instance, Olson typifies traditionalism as having the view that "God has revealed doctrines." Classic Christian teaching is not best defined as unchangeable language or fixed propositions but as the living tradition of apostolic teaching that is always the same even as it penetrates various new cultural assumptions and languages. What is revealed in the Son is the Father's own merciful heart, not doctrines about mercy. Our vulnerable thoughts, language, and doctrinal reflections are always finally accountable to that revelation.
No evangelical could feel accurately described by the caricature of a "traditionalism" that views "historical doctrinal confessions as absolute boundaries," for the only absolute boundary to which evangelical confession can appeal is the apostolic testimony concerning God's own coming in the Incarnation, Cross, and Resurrection as a midrash upon Hebrew scriptures. The ecumenical councils play a role only insofar as they help identify long-agreed-upon, consensually received boundaries against false interpretations of Scripture. Since ...1
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