Neo-liberalism or postconservative evangelicalism?

It is always good to allow people to speak for themselves so as the next post in my series on neo-liberalism with thanks to every thought captive I am going to give some exerts from a book.

Justin Taylor has done a great job of doing this in “Reclaiming the Center” stating that “a significant shift is taking place in some segments of evangelicalism”. He is not sure what to call this group but settles on what to me is the totally unacceptable juxtapositon of two contradictory words- postconservative evangelicalism. He describes the group as follows-

“They are self-professed evangelicals seeking to revision the theology, renew the center, and transform the worshiping community of evangelicalism, cognizant of the postmodern global context within which we live. They desire a generous orthodoxy that would steer a faithful course between the Scylla of conservative-traditionalism and the Charybdis of liberal-progressivism.

I will not be conceding that neo-liberals have the right to call themselves evanglicals, just yet. It is up to them to pursuade me and others why they still want to bear that name. So for want of a better term, neo-liberals it is.

So how does Justin Taylor describe this group? (Incidently, my term neo-liberals… is probably broader than the group Taylor describes)

“Whereas traditionalists view the church as a bounded set, with strong boundary identification as a sign of authentic evangelical faith, reformists see the church as a centered set: the boundaries are open and undefined, so we should focus upon the center usually identified as the oft-cited Bebbington quadrilateral: conversionism, the belief that lives need to be changed; activism, the expression of the gospel in effort; biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible; and . . . crucicentrism, a stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross…….

…the old guard of evangelical scholars is obsessed with battles over inerrancy, higher criticism, and liberal theology….

The postconservatives, on the other hand, have seized the opportunity to reform, reshape, and revision theology. They are eager to engage and learn

from nonevangelical theologians, healing the divisions caused by modernity. They see the essence of Christianity not in doctrine but in a narrative-shaped experience. Sources for theology include not only the Bible, but also Christian tradition, culture, and the contemporary experience of God’s community. Postconservatives are open to open theism, have a hope of near-universal salvation, and place a renewed emphasis on synergy in the divine-human relationship. They are willing to rethink the language and concepts of Chalcedonian Christology, viewing Jesus divinity in relational terms. They are impatient with triumphalism, epistemological certainty, and theological systems, judging that traditional evangelicalism is suffering from a kind of hubris with regard to truth-claims….”

I struggle to recognise a group like this as Christian let alone Evangelical. Justin Taylor states that the group “believe in experience rather than doctrine as the enduring essence of evangelical Christianity” but interestingly in the light of Winks attempts to convince me he is not a neo-liberal, Taylor goes on to report the claim that this group have an over-riding commitment to ongoing reform of evangelical life, worship and belief in the light of God’s word. I fail to see how these two statements can possibly both be true.

How does the group see us? According to Justin Taylor’s introduction which quotes Roger Olson extensively

The postconservatives and their proposals are liberated, bold, vibrant, interesting, new, relevant, committed, faithful, fresh, and fascinating. The traditionalists are old guard, obsessive, reactionary, highly rationalistic, rigid naysayers with a scholastic spirit who love nothing more than gatekeeping, control[ling] the switches, and patrol[ling] the boundaries.

There is also a not too subtle attempt to imply that many of us are simply not “getting it” with regard to the way the world is. Taylor explains that to the neo-liberal –

The younger evangelical is anyone, older or younger, who deals thoughtfully with the shift from twentieth- to twenty-first-century culture. He or she is committed to construct a biblically rooted, historically informed, and culturally aware new evangelical witness in the twenty-first century.

There is nothing wrong with that statement, but there is everything wrong in the underlying implication that unless I want to ditch certain theological positions I am not wanting to be culturally aware and am not thoughtful.

What of Brian Maclaren, who is much loved in Emergent circles? He is described by Justin Talor as follows

“As McLaren interacted with unchurched postmodern seekers and studied

church history, he began to reexamine not only his changeable methods

but also his so-called unchanging message. He realized that his fairly standard

method-message system was relatively new in comparison with the

varied tradition of Christendom. As he searched for an unchanging message,

an irreducible doctrinal core of mere Christianity held in common by all

Christians at all times, he began to despair at the diversity of interpretations

and proposals. His doubts about both his methods and his message continued

to grow……

…he advocates dialogue over debate, community over individualism,

experience over proof. McLaren argues that evangelicals tend to think

that the gospel is about how individual souls get into heaven when they die;

emergent postmoderns point instead to Jesus message about the kingdom of

God, which concerns the here-and-now, not just heaven; community, not just

individuality; all of creation, not just the individual soul.

Stanley Grenz is described as the main theologian of the movement. He is described as believing that

to be evangelical means to participate in a community characterized by a shared narrative concerning a personal encounter with God told in terms of shared theological categories derived from the Bible…..This means that evangelicals have now shiftedfrom a creed-based to a spirituality-based identity. Spiritually rooted theology is the essence and ethos of the evangelical movement….What is the foundation for this new theological vision? Traditional evangelical theologians have seen propositional revelation as foundational material for the theological enterprise. But Grenz rejects this as the product of an outdated modernist mindset that ignores the social nature of theological discourse……

….Whereas traditional evangelicals tend to see Scripture as the only source of theology, Grenz argues that we must also draw upon the theological heritage of the church and the thought-forms and issues of our historical-cultural context.

Doesnt that all sound strangely like liberalism and its social gospel to you?

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