Division in the evangelical house

In a recent post here I mentioned the division among evangelicals between those I call neo-fundamentalists and those I call postconservative evangelicals.  I do not claim that all evangelicals must fall into one of these two camps.  Rather, many of the leading evangelical theologians and biblical scholars fall into one of them.

I do NOT consider all “traditionalists” neo-fundamentalists.  Neo-fundamentalism is NOT defined by beliefs held; it is defined by HOW beliefs are held and HOW disagreement is handled.

According to Marsden, Noll, Carpenter, Balmer and other leading historians of the evangelical movement in the 1940s and 1950s self-identified fundamentalists such as Carl McIntire and self-identified new evangelicals (the term Marsden uses for them) such as Harold John Ockenga and Carl F. H. Henry did not so much disagree about doctrines as about attitudes and behavior.

One major disagreement that led to division was over the “essentials category.”  Ockenga and Henry MAY have agreed with the fundamentalists about matters such as premillennialism (I’m not sure they did, but that’s not the issue), but they disagreed with them about how important it is.  Must one be premillennialist to be a Christian?  Many fundamentalists were saying yes.  The new evangelicals were saying no. 

Also, the fundamentalists claimed Pentecostals cannot be evangelicals (and perhaps are not even Christians).  The new evangelicals wanted a “bigger evangelical tent” that includes as many as evangelically committed Christians as possible.

In short, the fundamentalists were, from a new evangelical perspective, too narrow minded, mean-spirited, anti-intellectual (in terms of adapting to the “material facts” of science, for example), divisive and separatistic.  Division within the evangelical house had to happen.  The new evangelicals claimed the fundamentalists caused the division when they refused to join the NAE and by their caustic behavior toward fellow evangelicals.

The two evangelical movements went their separate ways for decades and there is still real division between self-identified fundamentalists and heirs of the new evangelicals.  In my opinion, this was fully in display at the Pilgrims on the Sawdust Trail conference at Beeson Divinity School in 2001.  A leading self-identified fundamentalist professor of theology spoke and rebuked new evangelicals such as those at Fuller Theological Seminary for compromising the true evangelical faith.  And that AFTER Fuller Seminary president Rich Mouw gave a very conciliatory talk about the need for new evangelicals to rediscover and revalue their fundamentalist roots.

One plenary speaker condemned open theism as “just process theology.”  I stood in line at the microphone for quite a while waiting my turn to ask him a question.  When it was my turn I challenged his equation of open theism with process theology on the ground that open theism affirms God’s omnipotence and creatio ex nihilo.  He did not even both to answer me.  He just said “Olson, you and I are never going to agree on this so just sit down.”  It was a public humiliation of both of us (but not intended as a humiliation of himself by the speaker, of course). 

The man who told me to “just sit down,” refusing to engage in dialogue over this very important issue, is not a self-identified fundamentalist, but at that moment he was BEHAVING like one (as fundamentalist behavior was viewed by the new evangelicals of the 1940s and 1950s).

The organizers of the conference did not invite a single progressive or postconservative evangelical to speak.  All the speakers were conservative evangelicals with the possible exception of Rich Mouw who, at least at that time, was rejecting the label “postconservative” and who published an article in Books & Culture describing himself as a conservative evangelicals.  (I certainly do NOT consider Mouw a neo-fundamentalists, however.)

I observed my friend and co-author Stanley Grenz reach out to those I am calling neo-fundamentalists even as they were vilifying him in their talks and publications.  For the most part, they refused to engage in dialogue with him.  My friend Greg Boyd reached out to a leading conservative evangelical critic of open theism who was speaking in constituent churches misrepresenting open theism.  The theologian refused to meet with him.

I attended a conference of conservative Reformed evangelicals.  I thought we were going to have productive dialogue.  That never happened.  The members of the organization sponsoring the event refused even to sit with those of us they considered liberal or on our way toward liberalism at meals. 

I could go on and on and on with many more examples.  I’ll cite just one from personal experience.  In 1998 an influential pastor, author and speaker called me to have lunch with him.  He pastored a constituent church of the denomination controlling the institution where I taught.  When I met him at his church he volunteered to drive to a restaurant for our lunch conversation.  I had high hopes of productive dialogue because this pastor had been giving the college a very hard time about open theism and women in ministry.

The pastor said to me “This is not an inquisition; I just want to get to know you and find out what makes you tick.”  He repeated his promise that this was not an inquisition several times.  However, during lunch, it became clear to me it was an inquisition.  He tried to get me to take a strong stand against open theism with him and when I refused he said he would get me fired.  His words were “I won’t let you do that.”  When I asked how he would stop me (from remaining friendly to open theism) he said “I’ll get you fired.”

When we parted ways in the parking lot of his church he said “Roger, should I tell the pastors who know we had lunch today….” and repeated back some of the things I said during our lunch conversation.  That made clear it WAS an inquisition.  He was not asking my permission; he was just wanting to make sure he told them what I said correctly.  I considered this unethical behavior–an evangelical behaving badly.

I have a recording of two leading conservative evangelical theologians discussing open theism and Clark Pinnock specifically.  They were carrying on this conversation in front of a live audience, but the recording does not make clear when or where.  One of them declares Clark Pinnock “not a Christian,” his theology “pagan,” says Pinnock denied the omnipotence of God, and declares he would not have fellowship with Pinnock.  (Of course, anyone who knew Clark knew he believed in God’s omnipotence.)

This is the problem–evangelicals behaving like fundamentalists (as the new evangelicals regarded fundamentalists in the 1940s and 1950s and after that).  I do NOT say all self-identified fundamentalists are unethical. Rather, I am saying that using unfair tactics (misrepresentations, character assasination, heresy-hunting using questionable means) was, from the new evangelicals’ perspective, a flaw in much of the fundamentalist movement and the new evangelical movement needed to be purged of that bad behavior.

My argument is that something similar is happening now.  A group of conservative evangelicals are behaving in the same ways as the fundamentalists of the 1940s and 1950s.  (What does one make of a Baptist group requiring missionaries to sign statements that they do not speak in tongues even in private?  [This particular Baptist group does not have a doctrinal statement forbidding speaking in tongues and never has had one.]   To me, that’s the same attitude and behavior as the fundamentalists who refused to join the NAE because it included Pentecostals.)

From my perspective, SOME conservative evangelical theologians, denominational leaders, biblical scholars, etc., have DE FACTO already declared, by their behavior, the division between them and postconservative, progressive evangelicals who, generally speaking, believe in the same basic doctrines they believe in.  (To his dying day Stan Grenz affirmed biblical inerrancy, but some of his critics insisted he didn’t mean it because in Theology for the Community of God he placed the doctrine of Scripture within the doctrine of the Holy Spirit!) 

There comes a point when one has to give up and say “Okay, have it your way.  We’re not part of the same movement anymore.”  I am saying that.  They may go their way and I and mine will go our way.  We both use the label “evangelical,” but it is too general to cover all of us without qualification.  To me, they are behaving like fundamentalists, so that’s what I’ll call them with “neo-” in front to distinguish them from Carl McIntire and the older, separatistic fundamentalist movement (that still exists but does not participate in evangelical endeavors).

The problem is, both sides of this divide want influence in evangelical parachurch organizations and sometimes in evangelical denominations.  Many of the neo-fundamentalists are setting up their own, alternative institutions to rival more mainline, middle-of-the-road ones they suspect of being compromised theologically.

In many ways, it is the old fundamentalist/new evangelical split repeating itself.  I have come to think it is permanent and there is no point in trying forever to reunite the two sides.  It’s exhausting and one simply puts oneself at risk because some of the neo-fundamentalists, so long as they are given recognition as evangelicals, can do great damage to you.  (Some of them have invented quotes and attributed them to me to damage my reputation and influence.)

REPEAT–I AM NOT saying that all conservative evangelicals are neo-fundamentalists.  Some are and some are not.  The neo-fundamentalists are recognizable among the conservatives by their aggressive behavior toward fellow evangelicals, their willingness sometimes to use underhanded means to “win,” their inclusion of non-essentials of doctrine among the essentials of Christian orthodoxy and their obsession with “evangelical boundaries” with the clear intention of excluding people from evangelicalism who grew up in it, have always been part of it, are influential within it, but whom they consider doctrinally unsound using extremely narrow definitions of doctrinal soundness.

  • Ben

    Wow, thanks for the insight Roger. So sad how pride can callous hearts within “God’s people.” This is the danger of knowledge I suppose. It’s necessary and critical to the Christian life and yet instead of continually humbling us it can also work to puff up. I guess this is where we’re challenged to pray for people who come against us in ways that are un-loving and slanderous. We just have to know the Lord will vindicate us at the end of the day as long as we work to show God’s love in the face of that kind of corrupt, sinful, behavior.

  • Aaron

    I have often wondered what draws people to either a rigid fundamentalist attitude, or a more open and accepting attitude within the church? Im asking from a sociological/anthropological/psychological point of view. Is it simply the way they have been brought up? Does it have to do with their relationship with their parents when they were kids? Does being type “A” or obsessive compulsive or any of those categories make someone more susceptible to either way of thinking? I mean it is fascinating to me WHY different leaders have such different attitudes regarding doctrine? I would love to hear peoples opinion on this?

    • http://RogerEOlson.com Roger

      Even more bewildering to me is how some self-proclaimed evangelical theologians can use dishonest means to promote their cause.

    • Marshall Noblitt

      I was trained as a sociologist in college. Ethnocentrism is a cultural phenomenon shared by all groups across the globe. It just means ‘we are us’ and ‘they are not us’. Sort of a way to strike a group identity. I think it is born from fear of not being safe. ‘Safety in numbers’. I also think people can escape this by education and gaining a personal sense of safety. Education alone will only give rise to our main discussion point.

      • http://RogerEOlson.com Roger

        I call it tribalism. It certainly is on the rise in the world today and I agree it partly explains some of the bad behavior among evangelicals.

  • Scott

    So are you arguing for separation from these “neo-fundamentalists”?

    • http://RogerEOlson.com Roger

      I think I answered that in response to a comment/question yesterday. They have already separated from me and people who think like I do. I was once asked by the president of the ETS to deliver a plenary address at its annual meeting. He knew I am not a member and do not believe in biblical inerrancy (as most inerrantists define it). He said they often have plenary speakers who are not members and don’t believe in inerrancy. I agreed to speak. Then he withdrew the invitation after the executive committee objected most strenuously. I know what their objections were as they replied to his e-mail by pressing “reply to all” and my name and e-mail address was among theirs! Their objections bordered on being slanderous to me. I tried to initiate conversation with them about their accusations, but they simply dropped me from the e-mail list. Only one responded to me and we had a good discussion that went nowhere. I felt that we came to agreement on the Bible’s trustworthiness and authority and I told him I don’t consider our common view “inerrancy.” That’s just a bad word for what we both believe. That didn’t matter; he insisted that I would have to use the word inerrancy to be part of the ETS. That proved to me that “inerrancy” has become a shibboleth. The separation has already happened; I’m just announcing its finality (so far as I can predict) from my side. I don’t intend to keep trying to build bridges between me and them.

  • Jeff Martin

    Dr. Olson,

    Good post! Though how exactly would going your separate ways look like? Do you mean stop conversing with them, or do you mean something else?

    Personally I am happier to call myself Christian and not have to worry about using \evangelical\ even though I grew up similar to you. This approach for me has opened so many more doors than closed, especially with non-Christians.

    Dr. Olson, have you read Stephen Fowl’s \Engaging Scripture\. I like it because it focuses more on attitudes in working out one’s theology

    • http://RogerEOlson.com Roger

      What I mean by going my/our separate way is that I will no longer attempt to reach out to them or respond if they reach out to me unless I am convinced their approach is well intentioned and it is safe to respond. Their behavior so far has convinced me that is not the case. I will also do my best to convince anyone who will listen that they, the neo-fundamentalists, do not speak for all evangelicals or even for evangelicalism. Please understand me, though. I would reach out to conservative evangelicals who do not have a neo-fundamentalist spirit. This is not about doctrines; it is about behavior.

  • K Gray

    It’s hard to follow or use terms which, although traditionally applied to theology, now depend on personal experience of perceived bad behavior. It’s always in the eye of the beholder.

  • Greg Milford

    Roger,

    Thanks for the Stan Grenz references. I was in his class at MHGS the semester he passed away. Anyone accusing Stan of lacking in fidelity to the faith, intellectual rigor, or personal character have already shown a dearth of their own. Our class, our school, the church catholic lost a great one when Stan went home.

    • http://RogerEOlson.com Roger

      Of course, I couldn’t agree more. I knew Stan very well; we were like brothers. He was continually reaching out to his critics and very often being slapped for it. I remember once he wrote to one of his most outspoken evangelical critics and said “I thought we were on the same team.” He received no reply; instead the person published something in which he said he had “taken Grenz to the woodshed” (in a previous article that misrepresented Stan’s views).

  • Clinton

    Olson:
    I graduated from Truett a couple of years ago and never had the pleasure of taking a class taught by you. I have been keeping up with your blog for the last couple of months and really enjoy your thoughts on the current culture of evangelicalism.

    You mention \the essentials of Christian orthodoxy,\ and I was wondering if you could point me in the right direction of books or articles or even do a blog entry yourself about the essentials of Christian orthodoxy. The more and more I see neo-fundamentalists narrowing their definitions of doctrinal soundness the more and more I see people questioning what the essentials are. What are the essentials? I know that might be a big question, but thought I would ask…

    • http://RogerEOlson.com Roger

      I’m sorry I didn’t have you in class. Is it too late? We have a D.Min. program, you know! :) I will definitely give that some thought and possibly create a post answering that question in the near future. Please watch for it. I tried to answer it in The Mosaic of Christian Belief; apparently that wasn’t as helpful as I hoped.

      • Clinton

        I will have to check out The Mosaic of Christian Belief. I have only looked at a few of your books, but I think that one would be great! I will put it on my list. I hope to see a blog post discussing the question though! Thanks!

  • Derek

    Let’s suppose that some of us were to accept everything you say and agree to use the labels you have created. Do you accept that there are some progressives who have misrepresented themselves, i.e. they have presented themselves as evangelicals, but in fact, they are really those in the mold of a Harry Fosdick? Many of the narratives you describe are not entirely the result of a fundamentalist ethos, but of true betrayal that has occurred in many churches, denominations, organizations and seminaries.

    • http://RogerEOlson.com Roger

      As I have said repeatedly, I am not opposed to honest criticism based on fair reading of people’s views. That is not the issue. The issue is vilification, character assasination, treating secondary doctrines as essential, misrepresentation of others’ beliefs, etc. It’s a matter of behavior, not beliefs. I have myself criticized fellow evangelicals I think are drifting too far from the center.

  • http://requisite_danger.bluecastle.us/ Josh Hopping

    Great post and good observations. History is definitely repeating itself – much to the sadness of Christ. If only more of His followers would live out their faith instead of debate areas of grayness… =?

    • John I.

      It’s not debate or disagreement simpliciter that is the problem, but rather how the debate is carried out.

      J.

  • http://twitter.com/brettagib Brett G

    Dr. Olson,

    I continue to follow you carefully on your blog. I really appreciate your insight, your articulation of the current trends in evangelicalism, and your ability to find yourself in the midst of it all.

    This post, along with several others, has identified to me a deep problem in much—to use your terminology—neo-fundamentalism. This problem, as I see it, is really a dividing up of the theological task.

    Eugene Peterson articulated it best for me first in a lecture I heard him give. From John 14.6, Peterson says, “The Jesus Truth, only when it is wedded to the Jesus Way, produces the Jesus Life.” I find that many in the neo-fundamentalist fold have separated Jesus Truth from the Jesus Way. There is a strong emphasis on truth, protecting the truth, insisting on the centrality of the truth. We bicker and argue about differences of truth and belief. The Jesus Truth, as I see it, is what we put in the dogma, doctrine, opinion categories you and Stan Grenz identified: these are beliefs. These are things we can and will disagree about. We will even disagree about how many things should go into which categories.

    The Jesus Truth is important, even vitally important. But it isn’t everything.

    The Jesus Way is something that often gets left out of our theological discussions and disagreements. In omitting it from our conversation about God, we miss a current that runs right through the biblical narrative: the way of God and the way of Jesus as opposed to the ways of the world (e.g. the ways of “the other nations” in the OT, the way of the Pharisees in the NT). The difference between the church and the world is not merely in what we believe; it is also in how we live, how we orient ourselves to that belief. The Jesus Truth, only when it is wedded to the Jesus Way, produces the Jesus Life.

    The major problem with neo-fundamentalists to me—and this is what I hear you saying—is that there is a deep divide between the Jesus Truth and the Jesus Way. They insist on certain beliefs, but they do so in a way that is incongruous with the way of Jesus. They behave badly: they ignore the Jesus Way.

    I think our theological discussions should be subject not just to an evaluation of the Jesus Truth, but also to the way that Jesus walked: the way of the cross. Is it possible for our theological conversations to be cruciform? I think if we don’t embody the way of Jesus, the way of the cross in our theological discourse, then we will never see the Life that Jesus promises.

    Peace. Hope.
    Brett

    • Bones

      Excellent! Very well put… thank you!

  • Tom Montelauro

    Given your experience, Roger, and that of so many others, with fundamentalist thinking and behavior among evangelicals, why not consider giving up the label “evangelical” altogether? After all, don’t those of us who have a “centered set” rather than a “bounded set” understanding of Christian doctrine have more in common with liberals, classical traditionalists, and main-line churches than we do with evangelicals? I, at least, am tempted to refer to myself as simply a Christian who accepts the ancient creeds as good summaries of the faith and am always searching for greater light.

    • http://RogerEOlson.com Roger

      I can’t do that. That would be to give up a very good label that I’ve lived with comfortably my entire life just because some people have hijacked it. Perhaps it’s too late and I’m just a Don Quixote jousting at windmills, but I’m just stubborn enough to hold the label tight and refuse to give it up to the neo-fundamentalists. Besides, I have less in common with real liberals than with neo-fundamentalists (in terms of beliefs)!

  • Jeff Kimble

    Many years ago, the Northeast chapter of the ETS invited John Sanders to speak at one of its chapter meetings. Curious about John’s views on providence and omniscience I attended that meeting. I think this occurred before the “official” brouhaha over open theism in the ETS at large. In any event, I found John an engaging, thoughtful, and kindhearted Christian brother who graciously answered a number of my questions, and I left that conversation impressed by the genteel and irenic way John handled those questions. Although I’m not an open theist, John extended both courtesy and grace as we discussed his book on providence and his views on open theism. As a result, the later ordeal over open theism in the ETS distressed me greatly, as I found many of the criticisms leveled against John and Clark Pinnock unnecessarily harsh, and forgive me, narrow. (Sorry, but sometimes that moniker fits.) It’s too bad that our public discussion of theology (albeit at times controversial) doesn’t reflect a more collegial and civil demeanor (such as John Sanders demonstrated toward me) instead of constantly drawing lines and swords.

    • http://RogerEOlson.com Roger

      That entire controversy over Pinnock, Sanders and Boyd also distressed me greatly because of what I detected as a mean-spiritedness toward them among some of their most outspoken critics and because of the common misrepresentations of their views based either on faulty reading of what they wrote or on hearsay. For example, one of the most vocal critics of open theism declared in print that open theism promotes belief in a God who “gives bad advice.” The author never explained that this is not what open theists themselves say and that they reject that representation of what they believe.

  • http://savlasav.blogspot.com Tim

    Dr. Olson,
    As one who probably falls more in the “conservative evangelical” camp than anywhere else (with Calvinistic leanings, no less!) I’m saddened by much of what you describe. It reminds me of Mike Huckabee’s statement in the 2008 campaign, “I’m conservative, but I’m not mad about it.” Would that more conservative evangelicals embodied this stance.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim

  • Cody

    Could the “parking lot pastor” be John Piper?

  • Jim

    I think we all might agree that a broad and generous evangelical ecumenism provides a healthier and happier framework within which to pursue the agenda of modern evangelicalism. But in the real world, and in light of the aggressive reductionism of, say, the neo-Reformed movement, is this really the answer? I think we have to ask whether pursuing debate or engaging in the familiar agenda of modernistic evangelicalism, no matter how passionately, is going to be enough. In my thinking, developments in current theology/mission are encouraging and ought to continue driving us beyond these classic stand-offs towards a new, progressively defined, paradigm.

  • http://www.shapingwords.blogspot.com Jim

    Dr. Olson:

    I recognize a lot of the behavior you describe as the type of behavior one often finds in political contexts. The pursuit of political power often engenders these kinds of divisions based on interpretations of ideology or, more simply, who is part of my group and who is not. My question is, do you think there is a connection between the evangelical pursuit of political power in the last decades and the kind of behavior you describe? Once one enters the political arena one learns this kind of behavior as part of what it means to be in the political sphere. But once one has engaged in this kind of behavior in the political sphere it would be difficult to just leave it there. I think it would tend to transfer to other areas of one’s life.

    Thanks for the excellent post.

    Jim

    • http://RogerEOlson.com Roger

      I suspect that a lot of the bad behavior I have observed and experienced among evangelical theologians has to do with gaining a kind of political influence–especially within the evangelical movement and its related institutions. I know for a fact that some of them have complained to CT editors (of the past) when I or Stan Grenz were published in CT. One of them complained to a CT editor that I lack “biblical fidelity.” That person (who lives in the same state and only 100 miles away!) never contacted me to ask about my views about the Bible. In fact, we’ve never met. Fortunately, the CT editor in question knew me better than that. I am all about questioning the authority of tradition, not Scripture.

  • Andrew

    We become what we worship.
    I think this behaviour stems in part from a particular view of God.

    • Warren Aldrich

      Hit the nail on the head here. Sadly.

  • Morten Jensen

    Roger, a comment from abroad: I am sorry to read what you have written here. For several reasons: The pain you have experienced, the low hopes you have left and the conclusion you have come to.
    My comment: I would really have hoped that you had left much more space for an open Third Way – a way of constant humility, forgiveness and reconciliation. The way you describe the “neo-fund.” is not that Third Way – but neither is your way, as I see it. We have nothing but unconditional exhortations in the Bible to seek reconciliation within the Church. I can see the situation, when this is difficult and that for practical reasons, you will set up a cease fire – but unfortunately, I feel that you are using the same kind of rhetoric as they are. Sorry to say so.
    I have found one organisation so far that really seeks to provide such a Third Way – namely the Lausanne Movement. The Cape Town Commitment is a must read for all evangelicals who seek reconciliation within the church. Please read it, please review it – and be amazed!
    I honestly hope you will experience healing for some of the wounds you so openly describe and that you will find it a truth that on many sides of our divides in the church, there are Christians striving to be Jesus-like in these issues.
    Sincerely, Morten Jensen, Denmark

  • Calvin Chen

    Hi Roger,

    FYI I used Mosaic of Christian Belief for a Christian doctrine discipleship group a few years ago for college students in an evangelical university parachurch ministry at a highly selective flagship state university. It was strongly recommended to me by one of my professors at TEDS, who also used it for a freshman-level introduction to theology course at Wheaton. Unfortunately, Mosaic was a *bit* above the reading level of what most undergraduates these days can handle (especially outside of the humanities), but I greatly appreciated your irenic but evangelical approach to theology. (And I say this as a Reformed guy)

    I have a question regarding those you label as neofundamentalist. How would you distinguish them from those Scot McKnight calls the neoReformed? I see them as the same people, just different traits that the two of you are honing in on. Are there any Arminian neo-fundamentalists?

    • http://RogerEOlson.com Roger

      I’m sure there are; I just haven’t experienced them (yet).

  • Ken Stewart

    A stimulating post, Roger. You are not the first, and will surely not be the last, to note that there is a fundamentalist-like resurgence going on nowadays among people, who on account of their access to higher education, ought to be more temperate. But as we all reflect on this distressing phenomenon, a few caveats:
    1. You have probably experienced more personal pain and angst over this trend than most, by virtue of having been targetted for abuse and threat. This gives you ‘inside’ knowledge to be sure, but it creates a danger that your assessment of the scene is too personalized. Personalized analysis, while authentic (because based on eyewitness) carries big blind spots with it.

    2. If a new fundamentalism is arising, it remains true that the old fundamentalism never went away, never expired. The institutions and individuals which opposed NAE and Billy Graham’s cooperative approach either live on or have fresh successors. So then, have we _multiple_ waves of fundamentalism? Yet there are light years separating the old anti-NAE perspective and your contemporary critics. Educationally, they come from different universes.

    3. If there are undeniable evidences that this neo-fundamentalist strain can flex its muscles inside ETS, please understand that ETS continues to be a quite broad coalition of evangelicals who find it a useful big tent. Militants in ETS gravitate towards the executive in an attempt to be the doorkeepers of the organization. But it is well known that this is an eclectic evangelical organization, now in process of shedding some of its reputation for shrillness earned 10 and 20 years ago. Post-evangelical guests are regularly present as invited speakers (Tom Wright was present again, last year)
    4. Christianity Today magazine continues to follow the ‘big tent’ idea and exercises a moderating influence to restrain extremist fringes in the evangelical movement. In a way, CT magazine is a kind of a ‘referee’, or ‘moderator’ working to tell various evangelical factions to ‘dial it back’. For example, CT’s approach to the Rob Bell brouhaha has been much more temperate and measured (while still firm) than that of the right-of-center evangelical blogosphere.

    All this to say, you have correctly identified a fundamentalist-leaning conservative evangelical tendency raising its voice today. But it does not follow that these people control the evangelical future and it does not follow that ‘big tent’ evangelical gatherings and movements are doomed. Forbearance is in order all around.

    3.

    • Calvin Chen

      Ken,

      With regard to your fourth point, CT’s recent treatment of Rob Bell and its feature on Al Mohler and SBTS a while back have returned a bit to the “big tent” approach of movement evangelicalism. However, over the last few years (perhaps due largely to the influence of one particular writer/editor) has often taken on a neoReformed, neo-fundamentalist, and often polemical tone.

      • http://www.covenant.edu/academics/undergrad/bible/faculty/stewart Ken Stewart

        Calvin:
        I agree with you that CT magazine has featured articles from one such writer. To my knowledge, he is now no longer a staff member (yet contributes occasional pieces). Yet, to allow that CT employs one such writer ( you allege no more) does not disprove that CT is following the ‘big tent’ approach. It simply means that CT’s idea of a big evangelical tent is that it embraces the neo-Reformed as well as other points of view. Even more significant (I think) than CT’s past reliance on this one journalist’s pieces is its current reliance, at regular intervals, of Michael Horton of Escondido, CA. Horton is a Reformed theologian well right of center. But this does not prove that CT is going hard-line Calvinist, but only that it is trying to engage a broad spectrum. So let’s not confuse inclusion of voices with blanket endorsement of those voices. Having said this, it does not necessarily follow that CT’s contributors share the magazine’s own ideas about the value of the big-tent approach. One could as properly infer that such writers would prefer a tent of much smaller dimensions.

  • http://danutm.wordpress.com Danut Manastireanu

    Dear Professor Olson,
    I have read with great interest but also deep sadness your post here. It is because of this kind of experiences, but also because I have changed theologically during my PhD studies on Orthodox ecclesiology, becoming more liturgical and sacramental, that I have left for good the Baptist fold here in Romania, joining the Anglican communion.
    O whole series of personal horror stories, as well as the hate messages I get constantly on my blog made me believe, as you do, that the is no hope for the healing of the rift between neo-fundamentalists (mostly neo-reformed, but not only) and the postconservatives, which I consider myself being one.
    It is a sad conclusion, but I think this sort of realism could protect us from even more harm, and a lot of wasted energies.
    Please receive my sincere appreciation,
    Danut Manastireanu, Romania

  • http://sivinkit.net/ Sivin Kit

    Thanks for sharing in this post. I’ve been following your writing for years since some of the books you co-authored with the late Stanley Grenz. So a further thanks on all the books you have written which I have benefitted much.

    I can almost feel your pain in the this particular blog post. Like it or not, so much of not just the content but also the attitude within the debates in the west and USA in particular is imported by our own Malaysians. It’s tragic especially when I see it affecting our witness in a majority Muslim and Non-Christian environment where including the Roman Catholics Christians are about 10% of 28 Million people. One example is especially experienced in the the University context. Some of us are beginning to feel the fatigue and wonder about the futility of engaging self-proclaimed ‘Truer Evangelicals’.

  • Gary Foster

    Well said. I consider myself a “Progressive Evangelical” along the lines of Dr. Bloesch. (A Reformed Seminary Prof, who passed away not long ago)
    I think your conclusions are right. They drew the line with the “inerrancy” shibboleth. Let them have it. The folks to the left of us could use our witness and fellowship and I think that is the gift we can bring and where the energy might best be directed.
    I had it with fundamentalists long ago and their intolerance and close mindedness. I even shudder to use the word “Evangelical” but I want to communicate that my faith has a certain vitality and fidelity.
    I had my criticisms of Michael Spencer,(Internet Monk) who predicted the “Coming collapse of Evangelicalism” a couple years ago. I do think he had a good point though.
    Fundamentalism is a dead end road that compromised itself culturally long ago. Let them go.

  • Professor X

    This is largely anecdotal Dr. Olsen and does little to prove your point except vilify those who you claim have been villainous toward your ilk.

    I could share just as many stories and academic experiences during my career that would highlight the narrow-mindedness and caricature-creating actions and teachings of progressive evangelicals (your term).

    I don’t know what this really accomplishes except to further divide and make each camp more suspicious of the other.

    I would encourage you to paint the evangelical landscape as if it is so one-sided in offense. Even the whole Rob Bell fiasco of late began with him declaring the beliefs of those he disagrees with as oxic. I fail to see how this is conversational or generous in any manner.

    • http://RogerEOlson.com Roger

      Did he name someone and try to get them fired from their teaching position or try to get publishers not to publish them? Did he misrepresent and caricature specific people’s beliefs? I don’t recall that. That is what I was talking about from the neo-evangelicals. I have not seen as much of that from moderates or progressives.

  • Warren Scott Taylor

    Roger,

    You are way to nice to those in your profession who are intentionally using what ever power or influence they think they have to protect their hegemony.

    Where I come from, we guys like that for breakfast. These guys can’t even go to the bathroom without saying loudly, ‘God is Sovereign, God knows everything, and Get Used to it.’

    Scott Taylor
    Huntsville, AL.