Monday, June 30, 2008

Book Review: “Reformed and Always Reforming”, by Roger Olson

Overview—Give a brief overview of the book, including its theme, perspective and approach.

"Reformed and Always Reforming: The Postconservative Approach to Evangelical Theology" is Roger Olson's apologetic for what he calls "Post-conservative Evangelical Theology" as well as a shot across the bow at "Conservative Evangelicals". He argues that conservative evangelicals are too tied to modernity and its dependence on rationalistic systematizing and propositional statements on the one hand, and neglecting the role of personal experience and creative theological reflection on the other. In each chapter he takes on a different aspect of theology from postmodernism to open theology.

Critique—Offer a brief critique of the book, including elements of strength and weakness.

Having come from a classic liberal church background to evangelicalism, I felt as I was passing Olson going the other way. He distances post-conservatism from liberalism, but it seems like a distinction without a difference! He has certainly done his homework and interacts with most of the major players on both sides of the fence. However, there is a lot of ax-grinding here. He sets transformation against information as if there was a necessary dichotomy (Jonathan Edwards would disagree). In arguing for the narrative over the propositional, he uses many propositions and no narrative. He belittles conservative evangelicals for belittling post-conservatives evangelicals. All the while he deftly avoids actually arguing for any real positions (is he an "open theist" or not?). He just thinks they should be on the table.

Application—Offer some specific application to your own ministry— demonstrating the value and relevance of the material in this book.

Reading this book was an exercise in frustration. I suppose the application could be two fold. On the one hand, while reading I was sharpened in my thinking and confirmed in my (hopelessly!) conservative evangelicalism. Over and over I felt he was missing the point, as my marginal notes will attest. One the other hand I did have to agree that there is an element in the evangelical church that values right doctrine over right experience. We settle for believing the right things about God, without ever really knowing God. This is a real danger and tragedy. So I was challenged to love God with all my heart, mind, and strength.

Best Quote—Be sure to include the page number where the quote can be found.

Page 34: "Throughout that furor over inerrancy and evangelical identity, I determined to remain evangelical and to allow no one to push me out of that camp while remaining true to my pietistic, Arminian heritage that did not place value on the kind of rational certainty sought by the evangelical movement. It has been a struggle. Now, at age fifty-four and secure in a tenured position at a major Baptist university, I am ready to declare quite publically which side I am on."

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