I have been assured this will be published in the next issue of First Things.
To the Editor, First Things:
If Gerald McDermott is right, Martin Luther is the person ultimately responsible for liberal theology (“Evangelicals divided,” April, 2011). Like those evangelicals McDermott labels “meliorists” (a term none of us use!), Luther dared to challenge time honored and settled traditions. Of course, I disagree with McDermott that fresh and faithful biblical research that challenges traditional doctrinal formulations inclines toward liberalism. True liberalism is, according to nineteenth century theology scholar Claude Welch, “maximal accommodation to the claims of modernity.”
McDermott’s meliorists (postconservative evangelicals) are the true Biblicists in the divide among evangelicals that he describes. We do not advocate accommodation to culture; we regard Scripture as the sole ultimate norm for doctrine and practice. For us that means everything outside of Scripture is at least in principle open to revision if fresh and faithful interpretation of Scripture demands it.
I reject McDermott’s characterizations of my approach to theology as I’m sure most, if not all, of those he calls meliorists do for theirs. In fact, as a committed Protestant, I can only regard his elevation of tradition to functional infallibility an accommodation to Catholic theology.
Roger E. Olson
Professor of Theology
George W. Truett Theological Seminary
Waco, TX 76798