Announcement of a new book on evangelicalism

It’s just out: Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism published by Zondervan.  Edited by Andrew David Naselli and Collin Hansen in the series Counterpoints edited by Stanley Gundry.  The authors of the four views are: Kevin T. Bauder (Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Minneapolis), R. Albert Mohler, Jr. (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), John G. Stackhouse, Jr. (Regent College) and Roger E. Olson (Baylor University).  Bauder writes on Fundamentalism; Mohler writes on Confessional Evangelicalism; Stackhouse writes on Generic Evangelicalism; Olson writes on Postconservative Evangelicalism.  Each author responds to the others.

Fireworks.

After participating in this project for the past two years and now reading the entire book (including all the responses) I can only say that this book proves there is no one “evangelicalism.”  The continental divide is between Bauder and Mohler, on the one hand, and Stackhouse and Olson, on the other hand.  Yes, of course, there are differences between Bauder (who represents separatistic fundamentalism) and Mohler (who does not push “biblical separationism” as strongly as Bauder).  But overall and in general, Bauder and Mohler represent a narrow, exclusivistic brand of evangelicalism that highlights correct doctrine as the essence of what it means to be evangelical.

Stackhouse and I find it difficult to locate our differences.  I’m sure we have them, but like Bauder and Mohler, it’s somewhat difficult to see how our visions of evangelicalism are very different.  I’m sure John thinks of himself as more conservative than I, but I don’t really think so.  I’m pretty conservative; I just don’t think you have to be as conservative as I am (e.g., premillennial) to be an evangelical.  John’s evangelical “tent” is just as broad as mine, so far as I can tell.

My biggest complaint is that Mohler just doesn’t get it.  And I can’t for the life of me figure out why.  He continues to insist that evangelicalism has boundaries.  Really?  Who sets them?  Oh, of course, he does!  (Excuse the sarcasm.)  He refuses to acknowledge the obvious fact that evangelicalism is a movement and movements CANNOT have boundaries.  Yes, of course, we can talk about who’s “in” and who’s “out,” but not in terms of firm, recognizable boundaries.  Without a magisterium there cannot be boundaries.  All we can do is appeal to the historical center of common conviction and experience and ask whether a person is moving away from it or towards it.  I fear if Mohler has his way evangelicalism will be narrowed down to people who believe in a literal six day creation (twenty-four hour days) about six thousand years ago.  (Oh, and of course, people who don’t practice yoga in any form!)

This book demonstrates quite conclusively that there are now at least two evangelicalisms (in terms of theology).  They are separated by 1) whether or not biblical inerrancy is necessary for authentic evangelical faith (which even Carl Henry denied!), 2) whether a foundationalist epistemology is necessary for authentic evangelical theology (there would go Calvin!), 3) whether theology’s constructive task is ever ongoing until Christ returns (I might mention here an excellent article by Mohler’s associate dean Bruce Ware in JETS some years ago arguing for a revision of the traditional idea of God’s immutability [but apparently that kind of creative thinking isn’t allowed others]), and 4) whether doctrine or experience (conversional piety) is the sine qua non of authentic evangelical faith and life.

Buy the book.  Read it.  Decide which evangelicalism you belong to.  I don’t think it’s possible to belong to both and I don’t see any middle ground between them.

NOTICE!  I am not arguing that Bauder and Mohler and their ilk are not evangelicals!  I’m arguing that, demonstrably, there are now two evangelicalisms (at least).  Bauder and Mohler and those who agree with them are evangelicals–just of a different kind.  John and I are evangelicals of a different order (I won’t even say “higher”).  All of us (both types) can trace historical, theological and sociological roots back to the Reformation.  But apparently we can’t get along.  How sad.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • CarolJean

    Here’s hoping that you can “get along” in the big evangelical tent even if you can’t come to an agreement.

    Is being evangelical the same as being orthodox?

    • rogereolson

      Not in my book. Yes, evangelicals are orthodox (i.e., with respect to the key doctrines of historic Christian faith), but not all orthodox are evangelicals. Evangelicalism is, as one person put it, orthodoxy “on fire” (i.e., passionately inwardly appropriated and lived out in a life of fervent discipleship).

  • Clay Knick

    Obviously this is why the SBC split, among other reasons.

  • Ross

    I’m not an evangelical, but I’m curious about your #4: Why can’t you say doctrine and experience are individually necessary and jointly sufficient conditions for being evangelical (meaning neither is the sine qua non)? Or is that Mohler’s position already?

    It just seems like any description of evangelicals, even from the outside, will involve both basic experiential claims (conversion, personal relationship) and basic doctrinal claims (if only about foundational questions like the authority of Scripture).

    • rogereolson

      For evangelicals, doctrine is essential but not “the essence” of authentic Christianity. The essence is life–the new life of Jesus Christ lived out from within a person. Correct doctrine is not to be dismissed, but what exactly constitutes it is an ongoing conversation. All doctrines are “man made” (as opposed to revelation itself which is from God) and are therefore potentially revisable. That is to say, none is incorrigible.

  • Tim Reisdorf

    You are correct, Roger. It is sad. And it is discouraging when one can be accepting of others – others who have drawn their boundaries of acceptance so narrowly as to exclude those who really have very much in common with them.

    In the end, I guess, I wouldn’t be too concerned if someone said I wasn’t an Evangelical. But saying I was not a follower of Christ is quite another matter. I hope the two would not be conflated.

    • rogereolson

      It would be nice if all could do that. The problem is, being evangelical has become a badge that gives one entrance into a whole subculture of power and money. Let me use an analogy. When I attend the annual AAR/SBL meeting (about 9,000 religion scholars) my main reason for attending is to browse the publishers’ displays–about 100 of them. All the new books are there to peruse and the publishers and editors are available. But to get into the display hall one must have the coveted AAR/SBL badge that proves one has paid the convention fee. Without it you won’t get in to see the books and their publishers. Evangelicalism has become like that–a network of schools, publishers, mission agencies, denominations, etc. IF you are regarded as less than authentically evangelical you’re locked out. Administrators won’t even give you the time of day. That’s why there’s a battle over who counts as authentically evangelical. SOME people would like to be the “deciders” of that status. They tend to be “inclusivity challenged”–they tend to narrow the category down to people who agree with them and they wield tremendous influence simply by virtue of scaring people about lurking heretics.

      • Tim Reisdorf

        Nearly 20 years ago, Robert Gundry was “pushed out” of the ETS for his beliefs expressed in his commentary on Matthew. Is that an example of just the sort of thing that you are arguing against? Are there other notable examples of this sort of thing happening? (I think that I heard that G Boyd was getting in some trouble with Evangelical leaders about his Open Theistic views, but I don’t know how that ended, if it has ended. And did anything ever come of J Stott’s Annihilationism?)

        • rogereolson

          Stott was pressured by American evangelicals to partially recant his annihilationism. He ended up by saying it was just a thought, not something he was committed to. I was about to join the ETS when Gundry resigned under pressure. I decided then that any evangelical professional society that couldn’t include someone as conservative as Gundry (a dispensational premillennialist who doesn’t believe in the secret rapture) is too near fundamentalism for me. I walked with Greg Boyd through a heresy-hunt put on by neo-fundamentalists within our (then) denomination. They accused him of “Socinianism” because Faustus Socinus (a non-trinitarian radical reformer) held a similar view of the future as open even for God. But, of course, it takes much more than that to be “Socinian!” A lot of dirty, underhanded tactics were used by some of his detractors to push him out of the denomination and evangelicalism generally. (They didn’t work, but I saw the toll it took on him personally and on the college where we both taught.) Clark Pinnock and John Sanders survived attempts to oust them from the ETS. Frankly, I don’t know why they wanted to stay in it. But the process was, in my opinion, cruel. (I’m talking not about the process as it unfolded in terms of quasi-legal issues within the society but the process as in things said about them during it.) I know whereof I speak because I was subjected to the same tactics just for being supportive of the open theists (as evangelicals).

      • Tim Reisdorf

        And surely you remember Kenneth Goudy at Bethel College. I believe you were still a teacher there and I was a student there at that time. I remember one of my Physics teachers who was on a committee to investigate the matter was so upset that he had a heart attack! Ken Goudy is one of the most gentle men I’ve ever known and his “ouster” scandalized the campus.

        Then add the money and status that go with the label of “Evangelical” and the whole thing starts to really smell of something besides faith, hope, and love.

        • rogereolson

          I thought I recognized your name. Yes, I remember that well. But the college had no choice as the denomination passed a binding resolution regarding employees (we were then all employees of the denomination) that eliminated Gowdy. (It would also have eliminated some others if they had been as open about their views as he was.) That binding resolution was proposed by an influential pastor whose name we would all recognize. I saw the grief Gowdy’s firing caused everyone including those who had to carry it out. This is what happens when a college is owned or controlled by a denomination.

  • http://www.friartucksfleetingthoughts.blogspot.com Clint Walker

    I am amazed that you are percieved as that controversial after reading much of your work. I am also amazed at how effectively those that are fundamentalists seem to be taking over the evangelical movement. Just makes me want to turn away from all labels except for follower of Jesus.

    • rogereolson

      See my response to Tim Reisdorf. It might help clarify why it matters. Thanks for the vote of confidence. I am pretty conservative, but the evangelical “middle” has shifted dramatically to the right in recent years.

  • Rob

    This looks like a fun book so I am going to buy it. The disagreement about foundationalist epistemology and its relationship to evangelicalism caught my eye. So I am wondering, what does “foundationalist epistemology” mean in theological circles? Is it an idea with 18th century origins? I ask because there is an entire range of views that contemporary epistemologists would call “foundationalist”.

    • rogereolson

      I use it here in the broadest sense–epistemological certainty provided by evidence and logic.

      • Rob

        So basically Descartes?

        • rogereolson

          Well, yes, but also Locke. But I would also include the Scottish Common Sense tradition of realism as foundationalist.

  • bill crawford

    Roger,

    Looking forward to the book.

    Does the book deal with the questions: Doesn’t having a center imply there are also boundaries? Otherwise, isn’t the idea of a center meaningless? Also, if a magesterium is necessary to determine the boundaries, isn’t a magesterium necessary to determine the center?

    Do you consider someone like Michael Horton clser to Mohler or Stackhouse?

    • rogereolson

      Mike is something of a mystery to me. He’s more interested in being Reformed than in being evangelical. To Mike, “evangelical” signifies “Reformational” and “Reformational” necessarily includes monergism. No, a center does not require boundaries. Even contemporary mathematics recognizes “fuzzy sets” of numbers. Certainly astronomy recognizes centers without identifiable circumferences (e.g., the solar system). I struggle to understand why others don’t understand what I see so clearly: a sociological movement simply cannot have boundaries. The moment it has boundaries it’s not a movement but an organization.

      • bill crawford

        Sorry if I’m asking something you’ve answered before. Can you direct me to resouces related to the issue of center vs boundary? Is the imagery spatial or something else? If spatial, then it seems proximity to the center is what defines an evangelical – the farther away the less accurate the description. And it seems that at some point one has crossed a boundary (even as, in the solar system, one has passed the orbit of Uranus or the most distant asteroid in the system.)

        • rogereolson

          I have discussed this at great length in Reformed and Always Reforming: The Postconservative Approach to Evangelical Theology. There are spatial analogies, but my use of “centered” versus “bounded” sets is linked to sociology. A movement is by definition not so organized as to have membership. A “group” (I’m not sure evangelicalism should even be called that) that has no headquarters and no membership cannot have boundaries. It may (and evangelicalism does) have historical, sociological and theological markers, but especially the latter are historically essentially contested. I have often given these explanations here. Think, for example, of the charismatic movement. Does it have boundaries? I don’t know anyone who argues that it does. Everyone knows and agrees that it is a centered set (whether they use that language or not) without boundaries. There’s no way to say with definite assurance who is and who isn’t a charismatic. Charismatics share certain common concerns and commitments, but questions remain (and always will). For example, must one speak in tongues to be “charismatic?” That would exclude many people in the charismatic movement itself who have not yet spoken in tongues and perhaps never will. We can say with some measure of confidence who is NOT charismatic (in the movement sense)–e.g., a fundamentalist cessationist. But to say who exactly IS one is not easy.

        • Timothy

          I first came across the terminology of boundary and centred sets in an essay by Paul Hiebert in a book by him. The essay had the title something like “The Category Christian.” It is well worth a read.
          I come from English evangelicalism and so the Bebbington fourfold description has always commanded my respect when thinking about this. One aspect of this is the importance of conversion in evangelicalism. And by conversion, salvation by faith and not by works is usually meant. But this definition of conversion and of its place in evangelicalism means that evangelicalism cannot reasonably equate evangelical with Christian. To do so would imply that to be converted one had to subscribe to a network of ideas virtually impossible for most new Christians, not because the ideas are wrong but because it takes time to absorb them.
          This has an important implication. Evangelicals cannot honestly limit their acceptance of individuals as Christian brothers and sisters to those who are evangelical.

          • rogereolson

            Hiebert’s article (originally published in a missiology journal) was instrumental in my thinking about centered versus bounded sets.

  • Paul W

    Not intending to rattle anyone’s cage but I’m curious as to why the tpoic is of importance.

    I’m not really confident as to what defines an evangelical, why someone would want to be one, or why someone would want to excude others. From where I sit it seems that “evangelicalism” is a pretty slippery and ambiguous term.

    What accounts for fair amount of energy for, against, and within it? Do you think the book might shed some light on why people are so concerned with that label?

    • rogereolson

      I don’t think the book sheds much light on that issue. I have done that here before, however, and again (just now) in a brief response to Tim Reisdorf. See that response.

  • Ivan

    I have come to the place that labels like “evangelicals,” “fundamentalists,” “mainline,” “liberals,” “progressives,” etc., are something to be avoided, not touted. By the way, none of the above is mentioned anywhere in scripture. Gasp! The “evangelicals” are not mentioned in scripture? Can it be true? Oh, well, they’re mentioned in Christianity Today every issue. What more could be asked?

    • rogereolson

      Most of the jobs in religious organizations are in evangelical ones. One must be able to wear that badge to get a hearing from administrators. As a former administrator, I think you know what I mean. Administrators don’t have time to check all of everyone’s credentials so they look for labels and who thinks they are valid. Anyone who is widely considered not evangelical by evangelical opinion-makers will probably not even get an interview at the many evangelical schools, denominations, mission agencies, publishing houses, etc.

  • http://www.indefenseofthegospel.blogspot.com Lou Martuneac

    If I may: Bauder represents separatistic fundamentalism? The man Bauder who dismissed Al Mohler signing the Manhattan Declaration as an “occasional inconsistency, single episode.”

    Bauder representing authentic biblical separation (principle and especially practice) is not just highly debatable, but raises serious questions about the credibility of this volume.

    LM

    • rogereolson

      Imagine that–someone to the right of Bauder! Amazing.

      • http://www.indefenseofthegospel.blogspot.com Lou Martuneac

        Brother Roger:

        Its not matter of right, left or round the back. What has taken place is that Dr. Kevin Bauder (as well as Dr. Dave Doran) have set in motion a paradigm shift away from that kind of authentic biblical separation preached and especially practiced by Fundamentalists for decades. I would refer any reader to two books by Dr. Ernest Pickering if one would like to know what the kind of biblical separatism that balanced, charitable Fundamentalists have practiced and that which Bauder and Doran have chipped way at and are abandoning. The books are: 1) Biblical Separation: The Struggle for a Pure Church, and 2) The Tragedy of Compromise: The Origin and Impact of the New Evangelicalism.

        “Gospel driven” separatism or “Gospel centric” fellowship is the new mantra coming from men who once claimed to be “militant” separatists. The problem is that when they make the gospel the primary reason for fellowship or separatism the whole counsel of God is no longer the rule. The result is the door is opened, and it has been widely opened to tolerate, allow for, ignore and excuse all sorts of aberrant theology, ecumenical compromise, cultural relativism and worldliness.

        Dr. Bob Jones III in the Spring 2011 BJU chapel made these remarks, “We’ve been taking in some of the last messages about the error that can result from those whose credo is, ‘Well, it’s all about the gospel, as long as a man is preaching the gospel I can go to that church…and I don’t have to worry about all the rest of it…. If we take the attitude that it’s only about the preaching of the gospel and that makes everything else acceptable we’re going to embrace a lot of error.”

        Again, I’m sorry, but Dr. Kevin Bauder does not speak for and surely does not represent the best of historic, balanced separation preached and practiced by balanced, charitable Fundamentalists.

        Kind regards,

        LM

        • rogereolson

          “Balanced, charitable fundamentalists?” Hmmm. I haven’t encountered them yet and I’ve been around in conservative evangelical circles a long time. Let me tell you a story. When I taught at a college and seminary not far from the one where Dr. Bauder teaches, I often hosted a professor from that seminary in my classes–to talk about fundamentalism. When I offered to come over to Central to speak in any of his classes he looked at me with scorn (for the first time) and said in a tone dripping with scorn “We will not be inviting you.” Didn’t Pickering also write “The Great Conservative Baptist Compromise?” I think so. You encourage me to think that perhaps Dr. Bauder is closer to mainstream evangelicalism than I thought or that his chapter indicates (to me). The thing about this is–within the fundamentalist movement you can never be far enough “to the right.” I’m sure there are even some who think Jones is flirting with liberalism! If you haven’t read Dr. Bauder’s chapter yet, you should hold your fire until you do. It strongly champions “biblical separation.”

          • http://www.indefenseofthegospel.blogspot.com Lou Martuneac

            Roger:

            You wrote, “If you haven’t read Dr. Bauder’s chapter yet, you should hold your fire until you do. It strongly champions ‘biblical separation’.”

            Sorry, but I won’t be buying/reading this book. If Bauder champions authentic biblical separation in this book, then there is a huge disconnect between what he wrote for this book and what we have observed him advocating/doing in practice.

            LM

          • rogereolson

            If I were you, I’d watch my right flank. In your circles there’s always someone farther to the right (more conservative) looking for someone else to accuse of compromise. Good luck.

          • http://www.indefenseofthegospel.blogspot.com Lou Martuneac

            Well, changed my mind, just placed an order for the book.

            LM

      • http://www.indefenseofthegospel.blogspot.com Lou Martuneac

        Brother Roger:

        Its not matter of right, left or round the back. What has taken place is that Dr. Kevin Bauder (as well as Dr. Dave Doran) have set in motion a paradigm shift away from that kind of authentic biblical separation preached and especially practiced by Fundamentalists for decades. I would refer any reader to two books by Dr. Ernest Pickering if one would like to know what the kind of biblical separatism that balanced, charitable Fundamentalists have practiced and that which Bauder and Doran have chipped away at and are abandoning. The books are: 1) Biblical Separation: The Struggle for a Pure Church, and 2) The Tragedy of Compromise: The Origin and Impact of the New Evangelicalism.

        “Gospel driven” separatism or “Gospel centric” fellowship is the new mantra coming from men who once claimed to be “militant” separatists. The problem is that when they make the gospel the primary reason for fellowship or separatism the whole counsel of God is no longer the rule. The result is the door is opened, and it has been widely opened to tolerate, allow for, ignore and excuse all sorts of aberrant theology, ecumenical compromise, cultural relativism and worldliness.

        Dr. Bob Jones III in the Spring 2011 BJU chapel made these remarks, “We’ve been talking in some of the last messages about the error that can result from those whose credo is, ‘Well, it’s all about the gospel, as long as a man is preaching the gospel I can go to that church…and I don’t have to worry about all the rest of it…. If we take the attitude that it’s only about the preaching of the gospel and that makes everything else acceptable we’re going to embrace a lot of error.”

        Again, I’m sorry, but Dr. Kevin Bauder does not speak for and surely does not represent the best of historic, balanced separation preached and practiced by balanced, charitable Fundamentalists.

        Kind regards,

        LM
        *Replaces previous for grammar edits.

  • John Metz

    Roger,
    I came across a mention of the book last week and ordered it. Have not read it yet but look forward to getting it. Overall, I find the various “Views” series helpful.

  • K Gray

    A continental divide is a two-way exclusion.

    Seems like overall — not just in Baptist life — there are increasingly more places and groups of believers that would exclude Al Mohler and anything associated with him as fundamentalist or, as you put it, narrow and “doesn’t get it.” Would your seminary hire him? I’m sure there are many seminaries that would not. In my church, I can’t even mention his name.

    • rogereolson

      I consider him an evangelical; he doesn’t consider me one.

      • K Gray

        I’m curious, do you think your seminary would hire Dr. Mohler?

        • rogereolson

          That’s not the point. The point is I/we recognize a lot of people as evangelical who are not like me/us and may not even be suitable to teach in my/our seminary.

  • Leslie

    I’m eager to read this book, especially for your chapter, Dr. Olson. I’ve thought for a long time now that alot of evangelicals have become something that I find troubling. They merge our faith with politics, so that if you dare vote for someone other than a Republican, they freak out and call you the dreaded L word!

    I’m conservative, very conservative actually, but I find the whole attitude to be a little troubling. I think I may be a postconservative in the long run.

    • rogereolson

      I hope it’s not too long of a run! :)

  • http://www.indefenseofthegospel.blogspot.com Lou Martuneac

    Brother Roger:

    I will be purchasing your new book, Against Calvinism. Thanks for taking on stand on this important debate and divide. Lord willing, your polemic will slow and stem the tide of the resurgence of Calvinism.

    LM

    • Ed

      Lou,

      It’s good that you are here to represent “authentic biblical separation” by applauding attacks on Calvinism from someone who believes Open Theism is acceptable in Christianity. Unfortunately, you do represent far too many fundamentalists, those who believe in “expedient, political separation.” Thankfully, Bauder doesn’t take that same approach in the book.

      Ed

  • John Brian

    Is this the

    Against Calvinism book you are talking about?

    • rogereolson

      Only if it’s authored by Roger E. Olson. There’s another book by that title.

  • Timothy

    I am intrigued by the distinction between those evangelicals who emphasise boundaries and those who emphasise the centre. One who would presumably belong in the former group is Mark Dever. Another would be Justin Taylor. Yet Mark Dever was happy to interview Bruce Winter on the subject of Christian leadership and have him expound views quite different from Dever’s. And clearly Dever has a great deal of Christian respect, admiration and affection for Winter. Again, Justin Taylor has included posts from Arminians. Some at least of this group interpret the boundaries at least for some people very loosely, even if others draw the boundaries both more closely but also more rigidly, making no allowance for personal respect.

    • rogereolson

      I doubt Mark Dever would allow an open theist to be within the boundaries as he draws them. Or an annihilationist. Or someone who does not believe biblical “inerrancy” is a viable concept (because of its necessary appeal to non-existent original autographs). Sure, some of the evangelical Calvinist leaders are willing to admit SOME Arminians can be evangelical. I’ve met Dever and he’s a very kind and generous Calvinist. But he’s also committed to monergism as necessary to the gospel consistently understood and proclaimed.

  • http://www.faithbaptistavon.com Pastor Marc Monte

    Brother Roger: Just a point of correction. It was my pastor and hero, Dr. Richard V. Clearwaters, who wrote “The Great Conservative Baptst Compromise.” That is the very first Christian book I ever read after I got saved. I was in the 8th grade when I read it. He was right about matters then, and his book has proven to be prophetic.

    • rogereolson

      Thanks for that correction. But the title is so funny! “Conservative Baptist Compromise.” Is there a book with a title like “The Great Fundamentalist Compromise?” Fundamentalists are so obsessed with discovering “compromise” everywhere they can’t even get along with each other! (E.g., the fallings out between Bob Jones, Carl McIntire, John R. Rice, etc.)

  • Mike Mantooth

    Dr. Olson,

    Thanks for all of your responses and your desire to help us all learn.

    Mike