Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Few Thoughts on the Future of Evangelicalism

Just read a very interesting blog post and listened to a very interesting pod-cast about the current state and future of Evangelicalism that I thought I would pass along.  I am still negotiating my relationship to Evangelicalism.  I will say that through the prodding of a couple very close friends and reading Rachel Evans' blog (from which one of the posts I want to draw your attention to here comes) I am beginning to reconnect more with my Evangelical roots.  More thoughts on that later when I am not under the crushing weight of the end of the semester...

So this started when I saw a link from Rachel Evans' blog to this interview with theologian Roger Olson on the Homebrewed Christianity site.  The opening of the pod-cast is a little home brewed and the interviewing is a little messy, but its very much an interview worth listening to. Olson talks about a lot of different things in the hour or so long program, but over the course of doing that he gives a pretty good description of some of the current trends in Evangelical theology and some of the difficulties it faces.  One of my only points of criticism came when he took up the issue of younger people from the "post-conservative" crowd abandoning the Evangelical label.  His thought is that keeping the label allows for the maintainance of some relationships or connections that would not be possible without it.  Certainly true, but I think the other side of the coin is equally true- there are some relationships and connections that can probably never be made with the Evangelical label.  The "cash value" of Evangelicalism doesn't solve the problem of choosing a label, I think, because being "mainline" has an equal, perhaps greater "cash value."  The question could possibly be asked which set of connections and relationships are more significant, but that seems a bit too political for my liking.  Overall, I was a little disappointed with that part of the discussion.  However, on many other points he makes some very insightful assessments and comments.

Then, I clicked to another post on Rachel Evans' site entitled "The Future of Evangelicalism."  It was a very well written post, I thought, that largely describes the growing rift in the Evangelical community from the side that I find myself most aligned with.  It has a more pessimistic outlook on the idea of maintaining the Evangelical label than Olson's interview did, and that may pretty adequately describe the attitude I've had lately.  But it also highlights that such a rift is not inevitable.  The problem, as I see it, is that the solution she has outlined requires the "Neo-Reformed" movement to give up a lot more than the "Post-Conservative" movement- I cannot imagine Piper or Driscoll openly saying "we are fine with people holding an Arminian theology.  We don't hold it, but if you want to hold that view, be our guest."  That kind of conciliatory gesture seems to me to require a pretty radical change not just in the rhetoric of these leaders but also some of their fundamental theological ideas, particularly as it pertains to the locus of theological authority, which as I understand it is the very thing that they see as defining "Evangelicalism."  Which means, I predict, that such ideas won't be given up, the rhetoric from the "Neo-Reformed" movement will continue to get more and more fundamentalist in tone, and more progressive minded Evangelicals will continue to leave the Evangelical community altogether.


  1. Alex,

    When you say that you can't imagine Piper or Driscoll saying the above quote, the impression I get is that you believe that because Piper and Driscoll and others like them deeply disagree and find Arminianism inadequate, that therefore they believe Arminians to be un-evangelical. Or perhaps by there emphasis on the doctrines of grace they are perhaps unnecessarily excluding certain people? Is this what you're getting at, or am I misreading this? Please clarify a little more what you mean to convey.

  2. Dallas,

    Thanks for the comment!

    What I am getting at here is that I think the rhetoric of a lot of Neo-Reformed thinkers is not very conciliatory toward others who might disagree with them. The staunch insistence, for instance, that they are just "being faithful to the text" in their theology implies that their opponents are not faithful to the text, though I think writers who disagree with them, like Roger Olson, Ben Witherington, or NT Wright, would all consider themselves "faithful to the text." The rhetoric employed by the Neo-Reformed crowd is confrontational and unhelpful in the sense that it implies that they are the only ones who properly understand and use the text and that all others are in some sense twisting the text for their own ends- whether it be a "man-centered theology" (the common accusation against Arminianism) or a "works-based salvation" (the common accusation against NT Wright, et al). I personally find these kinds of accusations frustrating for a number of reasons, but most prominent among them being that they are largely straw-man arguments being employed alongside other less than charitable rhetoric to give the impression that anyone who holds to these views is questionably Christian (maybe on the margins of Christianity, but certainly not a Christian in good standing).

    Two prominent examples in recent memory for me would be part of Kevin DeYoung's review of the new Rob Bell book where he maintains that Bell is "worshiping a different God than the God of the Bible." How Kevin DeYoung has gained the authority to make that kind of statement I don't know, but certainly that kind of rhetoric implies that Rob Bell is no longer within the boundaries of Christianity. For more of my response to this, see another post:

    Similarly, the thrust of Piper's response to NT Wright is that Wright has crafted a "new gospel" and does not have the same view of God as does Piper (and apparently traditional Christianity- a dubious claim, in my opinion). Again- what gives Piper the authority to make such sweeping assertions against another Christian leader and teacher?

  3. Ok, thanks for the clarification. I have some agreements and disagreements. Like you, however, I'm nearing the end of this semester, so I do not have a lot of time to answer as thoroughly as I would like. As soon as I get a chance though, I will respond. Hope your finals go well. May the Lord bring to remembrance all that you have learned.

  4. Same to you, friend! Hope everything goes well with the end of the semester, looking forward to reading more of your thoughts when we both have lives again...


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