The Way We Were

The Way We Were

I realize nostalgia is not for everyone; I’ve always been a nostalgic person. I’m one of those people who walks up to your front door and says “I grew up in this house. Would you mind if I came in and looked around? I want to refresh my memory because I think about it a lot and some of the rooms are getting quite fuzzy in my memory.” You feel like slamming the door in my face, right? So I don’t do that. But I am tempted to it when I’m in a town where we lived when I was a child or teenager.

I’ve explained here several times why I can’t give up calling myself an evangelical. I won’t go back over that again except to say it’s part of my identity.

One instrument of forming that identity was a magazine called Eternity. I’ve mentioned it here before, too. I don’t remember exactly when I first began reading it, but it was sometime around 1973. Then I read it religiously until it stopped publishing sometime, I think, in the 1980s.

Eternity played a huge role in my theological development out of extremely sectarian Pentecostalism and fundamentalism into the larger, broader evangelical world. It was articles and book reviews and even advertisements in Eternity that intrigued me and caused me to look beyond my limited horizons and even beyond “normal” evangelical horizons. Eternity published articles by non-evangelicals such as Helmut Thielicke and reviews of books by non-evangelicals such as Hans Kueng. (I picked those names just because I saw an article by the former and a review of a book by the latter in a bound volume of Eternity from 1973 that I own.)

I own three bound volumes of Eternity—1973, 1974 and 1975, volumes 24, 25 and 26. Which tells me it began publication in about 1949. It evolved out of an earlier magazine called Revelation which was founded by Donald Grey Barnhouse in 1931. Eternity was published by The Evangelical Foundation headquartered in Philadelphia and somehow affiliated with Tenth Presbyterian Church which Barnhouse pastored for many years. Barnhouse was a well-known and influential fundamentalist-turned-neo-evangelical Bible teacher who had a radio program and wrote numerous books and commentaries. (He was somewhat unusual in being both Reformed and dispensational.) His successor as pastor and Bible teacher (on the radio program) was James Montgomery Boice (1938-2000)—a pastor and theologian who studied with Karl Barth in Basel. Boice was my homiletics professor in seminary; I still have three written sermons I wrote for him. He seemed to like them. (Boice took a sabbatical from his pulpit and the radio program in 1976 to teach a “January term” at North American Baptist Seminary. It was there that I studied under him.)

Boice eventually became publisher of Eternity and then suspended it. For me that was a black day (or month). I was sad to see it go as it had served as one of my main avenues of socialization into evangelicalism. I do not know this for sure, I am speculating, but I suspect the Evangelical Foundation somehow or other turned into the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and that, in some sense, Modern Reformation is Eternity’s successor publication. I know that Boice was an early leader in the Alliance and I’ve always wondered where the money for Modern Reformation came from. Perhaps from The Evangelical Foundation? I’d be glad to know. I can’t find anything about the latter on the internet.

So what do I mean by Eternity representing “the way we were?” Eternity was by all accounts a mainstream evangelical publication; it leaned neither to the “right” nor the “left” although it published articles by evangelicals who “leaned.” Most of its regular contributors and editors, however, were middle-of-the-road evangelicals. If it had any agenda or editorial mission it was to serve as an instrument for expression of mainstream evangelical views.

As I’ve said many times before here, something happened within American evangelicalism around 1978. That was the year I graduated from seminary. That was also the year Harold Lindsell’s truly awful book The Battle for the Bible, about inerrancy, was published. I saw its effects close up. Suddenly, my mainstream, middle-of-the-road evangelical seminary was forced to adopt an inerrancy statement and professors who had been hired without any such expectation were forced to sign it or leave. I witnessed professors who had taught against inerrancy in classes sign the statement to keep their jobs. One refused and left. This happened all over the country.

Within just a couple of years the whole atmosphere of evangelicalism changed. Suddenly fundamentalism was rearing its ugly head within the ranks of mainstream “neo-evangelicalism” and in the Southern Baptist Convention. I went directly from North American Baptist Seminary to Rice University to study with Southern Baptist theologian John Newport who had taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and then, after I arrived, left Rice to go back to SWBTS as its provost.

The year was 1979. I sat in seminars with Newport as he reported to us blow-by-blow the “fundamentalist take over” of the Southern Baptist Convention. The Convention’s annual convention was meeting in Houston just a couple miles from the room where we met with Newport for seminars. He was attending the convention and pastors conference. He was dismayed by what he was hearing—that allegedly there were “liberals” teaching in the SBC seminaries! He had been one of them (according to some of his critics) because he wrote a book (co-authored with William Cannon) entitled Why Christians Fight over the Bible in which he denied strict inerrancy. Anyone who knew John, however, knew he was anything but “liberal.” If there ever was a God-fearing, Jesus-loving, Bible-believing Christian scholar, philosopher and theologian, it was John Newport.

Back to Eternity.

When I look back at those three bound volumes of Eternity what strikes me is the irenic approach the editors and authors took to issues. And how progressive and courageous many of the articles were—in confronting fundamentalism. For example, the January 1973 issue contains and article by a professor at Calvin College and his wife entitled “Was Paul a Woman-Hater?” The carefully crafted and biblically defended answer is “no” and the authors go so far as to argue that Junia was a female apostle. The implications are clear: they (the authors) believed in equality of women with men in ministry. The article purported to be a critique of feminists’ dismissals of Paul as a woman-hater, but, in fact, it was also a critique of conservative evangelicals’ dismissal of women as unworthy to be ministers.

Also in the January, 1973 issue of Eternity was a very well-written and insightful review of several movies (e.g., Straw Dogs starring Dustin Hoffman) entitled “Does Violence Have a Place?” by Karen R. DeVos. Her answer is yes—but not in the way Hollywood presents it. She complains that too many movies glorify violence as an initiation into true manhood.

The February, 1973 issue contains an article by Lewis K. Glanville entitled “How to Succeed as a Middle-Class Christian.” The title, like many Eternity article titles, is ironic. The thrust of the article is anti-middle class values and pro-social justice.

The same issue contains a book review of two books by Rudolf Bultmann by Nancy B. Barcus. While she is mainly negative toward Bultmann’s demythologizing hermeneutic, she points out positive contributions as well. Like most Eternity book reviews, it looks for the light even in unexpected places and advocates that evangelicals read scholars like Bultmann discerningly. (In contrast to fundamentalism that would usually forbid reading the likes of Bultmann!)

The March, 1973 issue contains a review of David Moberg’s The Great Reversal by Ronald Enroth. Enroth strongly commends the book for telling the story of evangelicalism’s abdication of social responsibility between the early 19th and early 20th centuries.

Many articles in Eternity during the 1970s promoted evangelical social action that today would be labeled “liberal.”

The April issue contains a ringing call for irenic evangelical relationships in spite of serious disagreements over secondary doctrinal matters by Vernon Grounds, president of Denver Conservative Baptist Seminary (now Denver Seminary). The article’s title is “How to Keep the Peace.” Grounds concluded “As Christians concerned about keeping a genuine and permanent peace among ourselves, we must labor together according to these principles. There is no reason in the world why our charity, harmony and unity should not compel the reluctant tribute even of unbelievers , ‘Behold, how these evangelicals love one another’.” (p. 38)

How terribly that advice was ignored in the coming decades as evangelicals began to devour each other over different views about the Bible, politics, women, predestination, God’s foreknowledge, the salvation of the unevangelized, postmodernity, and creationism.

The May, 1973 issue contains an article on prayer by Helmut Thielicke—a leading neo-orthodox pastor and theologian of Germany. Chances are he wouldn’t get published by any mainstream evangelical publication two decades later because of his view of Scripture.

The same issue contains an article by David Hubbard, president of Fuller Seminary, entitled “Should Evolution Be Taught as Fact or Theory.” Hubbard served on the California Board of Education’s committee responsible for textbook selection for public schools in that state. His treatment of this thorny issue is a model of common sense balancing with a cautious yes to evolution and resounding no to naturalism.

The issue also contains an article by Lewis Penhall Bird entitled “Can a Christian Ever Consider Abortion?” This and other articles on abortion in Eternity routinely referred to fetuses as “potential human life” (as opposed to full human persons). The article is definitely anti-abortion on demand but recommends compassion toward women who feel they have no other option.

Also in that issue was an article by D. Garth Jones entitled “Does ‘The Genesis Flood’ Solve All Our Problems?” Like many Eternity articles it is anti-young earth creationism.

That’s enough to illustrate “the way we were.” Mainstream, middle-of-the-road evangelicalism was, in the 1970s, irenic, open-minded, culturally-sensitive and inclusive. At least compared to today’s evangelicalism.

Eternity was a popular, not scholarly, magazine, but most of the articles were by scholars. Many of them were by Donald Bloesch, Bernard Ramm, Vernon Grounds and others who later came to be considered dangerously liberal by neo-fundamentalists who somehow managed to manipulate evangelical (and Southern Baptist) opinion to become paranoid about alleged creeping neo-orthodoxy and liberalism among the ranks of the biblical scholars and theologians.

What’s the evidence of that change? Well, of course, it will be called “anecdotal” and “impressionistic” by my critics, but I will simply claim insider experience and knowledge and let you, my readers, decide whom to believe.

During the 1990s I served as editor of a leading evangelical journal called Christian Scholar’s Review. For five years I listened to complaints by our editorial board (representatives of fifty mostly evangelical colleges and universities) about attempts to get colleagues to submit manuscripts for our consideration for publication. Very common was the answer “I’m afraid to” even among very evangelical scholars at conservative evangelical institutions. The opinions and results of research they wanted to write about were not radical or extreme; they were very much like those reported in more popular form in Eternity earlier. Suddenly they were grounds for investigation and possible firing.

A professor of theology at a leading evangelical institution was fired because his wife wrote a book promoting egalitarianism. (In response Eternity published an excellent article entitled “Why Do the Absolute Absolutists Always Win?”)

A leading evangelical professional society moved toward expelling a well-known and highly regarded evangelical scholar over his opinion about the infancy narratives in Matthew’s gospel. (The scholar resigned from the society before his expulsion came to a vote.)

Suddenly, increasingly throughout the 1980s and 1990s, evangelical voices were raised in anger and hostility against fellow evangelicals. A spate of publications decried the alleged defection of evangelical scholars from the faith “once for all delivered”—by Charles Hodge. Of course, that wasn’t what was said, but it was the subtext of many of those books. “The Stout and Persistent Theology of Charles Hodge” (article title by David Wells) was being turned into the norm for all evangelicals—something unheard of in the 1950s through the 1970s.

I taught in two evangelical institutions of higher education from 1982 to 1999. At the first one, in 1983, under pressure from conservative constituents, the entire theology faculty was asked to fill out a doctrinal questionnaire that contained questions such as “Do you agree with B. B. Warfield’s doctrine of the inspiration of scripture?” We took them uncompleted to the administration—all together—and laid them on the provost’s desk in protest. Fortunately, we never heard about it (at least while I was there). Suddenly, the president began talking about “inerrancy” from the chapel pulpit whereas he had never mentioned it before and no faculty member had ever been queried about it before.

Gradually, throughout the later 1980s and throughout the 1990s, the mainstream, middle-of-the-road evangelical college where I taught for 15 years came under tremendous pressure from angry, inquisitorial pastors and lay people. One Bible professor who suffered much was a conservative Old Testament teacher who dared to teach amillennialism (!). Dispensational premillennialists in the denomination wanted him fired even though the denomination had never had a doctrinal position on millennial views. Increasingly throughout the 1990s the college’s and denomination’s irenic evangelicalism was tested again and again and began to melt away as neo-fundamentalist pastors, inspired by leading neo-fundamentalist biblical scholars and theologians, began to bombard the college’s administration with complaints about alleged faculty defections from “the received evangelical tradition.”

Eternity is the way we were. It’s not the way we are. But what I want to do with this blog, at least occasionally, is point back to the way we were and urge contemporary evangelicals to return to that irenic spirit and broad-mindedness about secondary matters. My hope, faint as it is, is to convince evangelicals to turn a deaf ear to the loud, angry voices of the neo-fundamentalists who have crept in and stirred up completely unjustified fears of heresy among the laity and pastors.

Let me close with just one example of the kind of thing I think we need to ignore or perhaps call out as unjustified. A leading conservative evangelical scholar and professor wrote “I cannot escape the dreadful feeling that modern evangelicalism in the West more successfully effects the gagging of God…than all the postmodernists together.” Really. This is just one example of what I regard as the over-the-top, breast-beating, “sky-is-falling” evangelical warning that wouldn’t have been given a hearing in Eternity in the 1970s. And yet it is all too common today.

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  • John Inglis

    The moral majority movement was a disaster for evangelicalism, not only because it diverted attention and resources, but more importantly because it gave prominence and a strong voice for the fundamentalist schools, teachers and leaders. This rise of the neo-fundamentalists has seemed to eclipse the neo evangelicalism. However, the neo-fundamentalist effort is doomed (if evangelicals don’t give up) because neo-fundamentalists are very divisive–and proud of it–and, moreover, they believe that their own viewpoint exists in an unsullied cultureless vacuum that is not affected by the culture(s) around them and that they are therefore inerrant interpreters of Scripture, whereas everyone else is skewed and biased and stained by the ungodly cultures of the world.

    One thing, though, that seems necessary for evangelicalism to become again the vanguard, is to offer our North American culture something different than the culture itself. In its materialism and individualism and competition-ism it has become instead a mirror of mainstream culture. That is in part, I think, why emergents, young Calvinists, and neo-fundamentalists have increased in popularity: people are seeking for something different from their culture because they intuitively / spiritually sense that God is different from their existing life. In so far as evangelicalism is not different, it is not seen as a viable path to God.


  • I guess we can hope. Prayer wouldn’t hurt.
    With Christianity in decline in the West, I wonder if God isn’t taking us out. I don’t know if the rising Christianity of Asia and Southern Hemisphere is more irenic or not. Wouldn’t it be interesting if God is supplanting the Western Church with the Easter/Southern Hemispheric Church?


  • Dan Johnson Sr.

    Reading your comments on Eternity was a good way to start the week. An elderly woman introduced me to the magazine in 1951 and I read it eagerly through the years and lamented its demise. As strange as this may sound, Eternity magazine and the writings of Donald Grey Barnhouse were a strong influence in the life and ministry of this Pentecostal raised in North Dakota.

  • Ray Prigodich

    After graduating from Denver Seminary in the late 1960s, I polished up a paper I had written for a world missions course, submitted it to Eternity, and was delighted when they chose to publish it.

    Eternity magazine had played a major role in moving me from Bob Jones-style fundamentalism to mainstream evangelicalism. In the early ’60s I devoured article after article and experienced a sea change in my understanding of scripture, theology, and ecclesiology.

    It’s ironic that when Eternity ceased publication, subscribers began instead to receive copies of World magazine, which even 25 years ago was everything Eternity was not, pushing a stridently right-wing political and social agenda. Needless to say, I chose not to continue receiving World once my subscription expired.

    • rogereolson

      I did not know that. I wonder if The Evangelical Foundation sold its subscription list to World?

      • Ray Prigodich

        Eternity made arrangements with World for all Eternity subscribers to begin receiving World until their Eternity subscriptions expired.

        • rogereolson

          That’s truly interesting. I did not know that. Do you happen to know (or can you find out) what became of The Evangelical Foundation and its money? Did Boice use it (or some of it) to help launch Modern Reformation? As I recall MR began publishing about the same time Eternity ceased publishing.

          • Ray Prigodich

            There doesn’t seem to be a direct link between The Evangelical Foundation and Modern Reformation. According to the Modern Reformation website: “R.C. Sproul, president, Ligonier Ministries) began an organization called Christians United for Reformation (CURE). CURE’s purpose was to remind American evangelicals of their biblical roots and the rich faith and practice recovered during the Protestant Reformation that had been largely abandoned in the mad dash to relevance. CURE didn’t represent just one denomination, but tried to include as many different Reformation voices in the conversation as possible. More than a ministry of one man or congregation, CURE drew on the wisdom of many to identify and correct the problems that plagued evangelical and Reformational churches, alike. One of the first efforts to broaden their influence came in 1990 with the launch of the weekly radio broadcast, White Horse Inn, with hosts Michael Horton, Kim Riddlebarger, Rod Rosenbladt, and Ken Jones. As CURE grew in influence, the organization needed a magazine to explicate timeless Christian doctrines in a timely publication. Borrowing the name of the newsletter, Modern Reformation debuted in magazine format in 1992.”
            It seems reasonable to assume that any cash reserves The Evangelical Foundation still had following the cessation of publication of Eternity in 1988 eventually ended up in the coffers of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. According to that organization’s website: “The Alliance’s history stretches back a half century. The Alliance began as Evangelical Ministries in 1949, which broadcasted Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse via The Bible Study Hour, and also published Eternity magazine. In 1969, Dr. James Boice left his work at Christianity Today and became the preacher for The Bible Study Hour.
            “After that time Evangelical Ministries [the new name for The Evangelical Foundation] played a strategic role in the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy and in the establishment of the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology. These efforts had a massive impact upon evangelicalism in North America and around the world.
            “Evangelical Ministries began a new era in 1994, when Dr. James Boice invited a number of key Christian leaders to meet in Philadelphia. Concerned that North American Christianity had yielded to the spirit of the age, especially in terms of Christianity’s consumerism, pragmatism, politicization, and disregard for theological clarity, these leaders lamented that many churches had become very unbiblical—including some churches that loudly affirmed their belief in biblical authority.
            “Consequently, the Alliance was formed to constructively address these concerns within the wider Christian community. Thus, Evangelical Ministries, Inc. reconstituted in 1996 to create the Alliance remaining a Section 501(c) (3) nonprofit corporation under the Internal Revenue Code and under the laws of the state of Delaware.

          • rogereolson

            There you go. You’ve solved the mystery of what happened to the funds that supported Eternity. My only complaint is that the ethos of Eternity seemed very different to me that the ethos of its successor ministries and publications. Eternity included a broad spectrum of evangelical views on issues; it seems to me both CURE and the ACE have been mostly dedicated to promoting monergism if not five point Calvinism. The first issue of Modern Reformation was entirely dedicated to blasting Arminianism with what I judged to be misrepresentations of it as inherently semi-Pelagian. That issue was what started my now twenty years long dialogue with Mike Horton.

          • Ray Prigodich

            Whoops. Apparently the two URLs I copied somehow got eliminated when I submitted my comments. Let’s see if they work this time:



      • Dan

        I was a new believer in the mid-80s, and took an interest in Eternity when I saw it. I believe that for a short time I must have actually subscribed to it, because I recall also receiving copies of World, which seemed far different in tone. In retrospect I do agree that evangelicalism at the time was too influenced by politics, and it showed through in World as it did with Focus on the Family’s Citizen magazine. I was too new to the faith to comprehend the orientations of Eternity writers, and it was gone before I could appreciate it as fully as some of your readers have. But that political bent made Christianity seem different in reality than my pre-conversion readings, which were focused more on biblical and philosophical apologetics… basically the real premises of the Christian faith.

        This bio on Dr. Boice on describes the formation of the Alliance in 1996. Given that Modern Reformation began publication in 1992 under Michael Horton’s direction, I would gather that the initial funding for it came from Christians United for Reformation (CURE), the organization led by Dr. Horton. The Alliance’s name began appearing on the periodical beginning in 1997. To my own understanding, the Alliance allowed Dr. Horton to reassume publication of MR a few years later.

        • rogereolson

          Thank you for that history lesson. It confirms some of what I have suspected. Of course, we both only suspect that about the initial funding of MR. I remember that when Eternity ceased publication I made some inquiries (as I was able then given my limited access to people involved) and heard “through the grapevine” that Boice became disillusioned with Eternity and basically killed it. But I never heard a word about what happened to The Evangelical Foundation. That it evolved into CURE makes sense. I, too, suspect at least some of its funds helped start MR. I’m certainly not objecting to any of this except to say that, from my perspective, Eternity was much broader and inclusive of a wider range of evangelical viewpoints than its successors (if that’s what they were).

      • Dan

        Possible – I believe the Evangelical Foundation was later known as Evangelical Ministries (thought I had commented earlier but I don’t see it, so apologies if this is a near duplicate). I do recall Eternity from my early years as a believer in the 80s, but it was gone and replaced with World not long after I subscribed. I’m with most of the other readers on this; it looked to be thoughtfully produced, and focused more on matters of the faith than World. I recall not liking World at all, and let it run out. I noticed the same political bent with World that other readers did; same thing with Focus on the Family’s Citizen.

        I did look into Modern Reformation, as I’m a subscriber who already knew something of its background. It goes back to Christians United for Reformation (CURE, under Michael Horton’s direction) and began publication by CURE in 1992. A Boice bio on–which looks to be borrowed from the Alliance website–indicates that the publishing/media ministries of Evangelical Ministries (Boice) and CURE (Horton) were assumed by the Alliance after it was formed in 1996. I read elsewhere that a few years later, the Alliance allowed Horton to reassume publication of MR back in California, and it is now in its 21st year of publication. In summary, given MR’s existence prior to publication by the Alliance, it does not sound likely that it was funded with Evangelical Ministries money, at least prior to the “merger” of sorts under which the Alliance began publishing MR.

        • rogereolson

          Very interesting. I may e-mail Mike and ask him about this just out of curiosity. As they say “follow the money.” Well, in this case, it’s only to satisfy my own curiosity. I knew Boice and I know Horton; they were and are men of great integrity whom I admire even as I respectfully disagree(d) with them about monergism.

          • Dan

            Figuring you knew Dr. Horton rather well I was going to suggest doing just that! He can likely give you first-hand responses on the whole process of CURE and EF/EM merging into the Alliance.

            I don’t/didn’t know either one of them but I know a fair amount of both men’s work. Five years ago, I sought out Dr. Boice’s teaching on Romans having remembered him preaching Romans on the radio in the 90s. It was a case of having to look outside my own church for quality teaching as we went nearly three years without a true preaching pastor. I just began Romans 12 yesterday. It’s been life-changing!

            All that said, whatever you may find out, I’d love to see you post back here if you are so inclined, and whether the account you hear may be same or different than my understanding. Thank you!

  • David Rogers

    I had the privilege of going on a Summer Oxford study tour to England with Dr. Newport and his wife and taking a briefl seminar with him. He was indeed one of the finest scholars of Southern Baptist heritage. I count him and Dr. James Leo Garrett as preeminent examples of what Southern Baptist scholarship should be.

  • This reminds me of Peter Enns’ latest post, Thoughtful Evangelical scholars are under serious strain. My spiritual heritage is InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, one of the few Evangelical organizations that is managing to put together a consensual Evangelicalism. It is still doing so. The InterVarsity Press catalog does a lot to keep me up to date on critical issues and helps me guard against the sectarianism that comes so naturally. I have found again and again that Aristotle’s Golden Mean is the hardest road to walk but is so often the serious way of wisdom.

  • earl

    When I was in college back in the late 60s there was a longshoreman named Eric Hoffer who had little formal education, He wrote a book THE TRUE BELIEVER which reminds me of all the people who use labels and follow flags to cover their deficiencies in a head on public debate over some issue..They want to get everyone on their side of an issue so they run up a flag to see who will follow them. However the Bible says fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom> This to me indicated our proper place on any issue is face down at the feet of Jesus begging for Him to enlighten us because of our ignorance.

  • J.L. Schafer

    I’d love to read some of those articles. Especially the one titled “Why do the absolute absolutists always win?” But the content isn’t readily available. How do you recommend I find it? And how could I share it with others? (Is it still copyright protected?)

    • rogereolson

      It was by one of my favorite Christian writers–Joe Bayly (d. 1986). He authored The Gospel Blimp and other great stories that poked fun at evangelicals. He also wrote The View from the Hearse about his son’s death at age 18. It was a model of evangelical reflection about a wrenching subject. I devoured everything Joe wrote and still have many of his articles in my files. His short story I Saw Gooley Fly (in a book of stories with that title, as I recall) was amazing. I wish we had a Joe Bayly now. I didn’t agree with everything he wrote in Eternity. (He had a regular opinion column.) But he was always insightful and incisive and irenic. (Except maybe when he went after Bill Gothard!) I don’t know if opinion columns from Eternity are in public domain or not. You might check with a Christian college, seminary or university near you and see if they have bound volumes of Eternity and look through them. I think each volume has an index.

      • J.L. Schafer

        Thanks. I realized that of the perks of working in Washington DC is that I can visit the Library of Congress. I looked it up in their online catalog and found it there in microform. (By the way — if you ever need me to get you any difficult-to-find material from LOC, just let me know.)

        • rogereolson

          One of my regrets is that, when my daughter and son-in-law lived in DC, I never entered the LOC. They lived just a few blocks from it and I walked by it numerous times and admired the building, etc. But I thought once I walked through those doors, who knows when my wife and daughter would ever see me again? 🙂 I had to remind myself we were there to visit family, not for me to indulge my appetite for books. You’re fortunate to live there and have access and opportunity to look up virtually anything that has been published. They tell me that somewhere, in some facility or other, every book ever published (going back to some date) is in the LOC collection.

      • Darcyjo

        I went to search the database at my school’s library (I’m currently at Duke), and found it at North Carolina State University in electronic format. I don’t know if others can access it that way, but those who are at universities right now might be able to do so.

        • rogereolson

          For those who have forgotten the name of the publication in question, it is Eternity.

  • I discovered Eternity magazine in the mid 1970s when a friend sent me a subscription. You are right, it was a superb magazine, and I gained much from it myself. I left the Southern Baptists after having gone through seminary and serving for two years with the Foreign Mission Board (now called the international Mission Board). The internal conflict and aggression from the fundamentalist became too much. I tell people sometimes that I thought I would go into ministry until I saw that I was hanging with too rough a crowd.

    I went to what I thought was a saner more historical expression of faith in the liturgical tradition, first with the Episcopal Church, then with the Catholics. I love much of what I’ve found there, but now it seems that every denomination is broiling with conservative reactionaries who are operating more out of fear than faith. It is also happening in our politics – too much fear and knee-jerk reaction, without even a thought for civil discourse.

    So I can see why you are nostalgic for saner, more civil times. Just keep on doing what you are doing, Roger. You are setting the example for civil discourse. I have quoted you to other people, “Before I can say I disagree, I must first say, I understand.”

  • Mark

    What happened between the 1970’s and now? Did America become more secular, and conservative newer evangelicals and fundamentalists more militant against secularism (in past know as modernism)? I believe that the stridency of the culture wars has negatively impacted the Christian witness. And as far as revised history: the founders of the US were a diverse lot and some were not Orthodox Christians (some were Unitarians or deists and some may have even been athiests); and although the Constitution was a well thought out document, it isn’t part of the Scripture Cannon, as some have implied. And then what of the influence of Dominionism, and restricted views of Biblical inspiration whose goal is narrowing who is considered in good Grace of God? What a mess it all is now versus the 1970’s. And the long doctrinal fights and internecine culture wars both within and without Evangelicalism are turning people away from Christianity and throwing cold water on the Christian witness. I am sorry, I am pretty pessimistic, and at times I sympathize with those who believe in secondary separation from those whose doctrines they find heretical. All this conflict is dividing people and remember a house divided can not stand by itself. What is essential and nonessential is all I ask?

  • Dr. Olson, this posting was very helpful. It gave me more insight into your way of thought, and some historical information about days gone by. Since it has a lot to say about the subject of Biblical inerrancy, I am interested in knowing if you have done a review of I. Howard Marshall’s book called “Biblical Inspiration.” If so, can you provide a link to it? I first read it several months ago, and have lately been perusing it once again. Speaking of books: I just ordered two more of yours. The names don’t come to mind right now, but one is a handbook on theology, and the other is about folk religion versus faith with substance.

    • rogereolson

      Those would be The Westminster Handbook to Evangelical Theology and Questions to All Your Answers: The Journey from Folk Religion to Examined Faith. I have read Marshall’s book on inspiration where he defends “dynamic” (as opposed to “verbal”) inspiration. I agree with him about just about everything. Except he told me he’s not an Arminian; I think he is. 🙂

  • Bob Brown

    When I first encountered Eternity as a young ministerial student in the mid-70’s I didn’t like it because it threatened the fundamentals I was taught. Only in the Seminary in the early 80’s was I encouraged to read more widely by my professors like Fritz Guy and Richard Rice. The Spirit led me to leave aside the theological swaddling clothes and not be afraid to be open. That only happened after God firmly rooted me in Christ, His Cross, His Spirit and His return (thanks to John Stott). I was taught infallibility and plenary inspiration by Dr. Dederan over against inerrancy. I found I liked Ramm and Thielicke and then Pinnock as I detected in them a desire to be faithful to the Word in the search for Truth. I recently started rereading Ramm’s “After Fundamentalism” after reading one of your blog posts Roger. Thank you for that. It is like a new book to me and I find myself embracing Barth like I never did before.

    With the advent of the internet do we need magazines like Eternity? I have found a wealth of thought on the internet and find myself constantly ordering new books. I’m thankful to now finally find a church (ABC) where I’m allowed to express the truths God is revealing to me without fear of being fired. God help us to continue to love the truth and His Word as we stay rooted in Christ’s Divinity, His Cross as the only way of reconciliation with God, our need of the Holy Spirit to teach us and His return as the only hope of this world. Dr. Desmond Ford always taught us, “In essentials unity, non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” Thanks for taking us back…

  • Ivan A. Rogers

    Roger wrote: “During the 1990s I served as editor of a leading evangelical journal called Christian Scholar’s Review. For five years I listened to complaints by our editorial board (representatives of fifty mostly evangelical colleges and universities) about attempts to get colleagues to submit manuscripts for our consideration for publication. Very common was the answer “I’m afraid to” even among very evangelical scholars at conservative evangelical institutions.”

    I wish to affirm that Roger Olson practices what he preaches in this blog article, “THE WAY WE WERE.” I recently wrote a book in which I made a case for the ultimate salvation of all humanity. I then asked Dr. Olson if he would do me the honor of endorsing the book. Actually, given his celebrity in the evangelical world of recognized scholars, I would not have been surprised if he had declined my request. But here follows his gracious response:

    “DROPPING HELL AND EMBRACING GRACE is a thought-provoking book
    by a church pastor who is also a retired executive officer of an evangelical
    denomination. While I do not agree with its central tenet — that eventually all
    will be saved (universalism) — I do think Rogers’ arguments are worth
    considering. The book will make many people angry and many others happy,
    but most importantly it will make people think about why they believe what
    they do.”

    (Dropping Hell and Embracing Grace is available from, also on Kindle).

  • Patrick

    Let everyone see the bright side of this. Always there is angst and disagreement and let’s be honest, less than virtue love and patience as we disagree too often.
    However, as a former fundamentalist myself, what this increasing reaction of their leadership tells me is that God is answering our prayers about Him accurizing our hermeneutic/ understanding and correcting His Church so we can all be part of the advancement of His kingdom among the lost .

    Pray for these folks, they might get onboard themselves.

  • Craig Wright

    I also read Eternity magazine, enjoying Joe Bayly, and when it ended I was sent World magazine. It had an obviously right wing agenda, so I declined that subscription. I try to keep up with the world of evangelical Christianity by reading Christianity Today, but I find that often after reading an article it is so bland or obscure that I don’t get the point. I have to tell you that reading your blog is what keeps me up to date and stimulated. I have read several of your books, and I also get suggestions of books from you, Scot McKnight, and Peter Enns. Thanks a lot.

    • rogereolson

      That’s gratifying to hear. Watch for an article by me in CT in, I think, October.

  • Dr. Olson, et al:

    Modern Reformation began its life as a small newsletter put together by Mike Horton and friends during his days as a Biola undergrad in 1986. It was the print vehicle for Christian United for Reformation (CURE), which Mike started–not R.C.–as an effort to unite folks from across the Reformation spectrum on the solas of the Reformation.

    MR had several significant backers in its early days as a print publication, but we didn’t begin sharing resources with the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals until CURE merged with ACE in 1998. MR and its sister radio program, White Horse Inn, moved back to the West Coast in 2004 under the auspices of Westminster Seminary California. We became our own 501c3 in 2010 with an independent board of directors.

    Hope this brief history lesson helps. Please feel free to email me if you have any questions.

    Eric Landry
    Executive Director

    • rogereolson

      That’s helpful. Thank you, Eric.

  • Roger, a great post and a true reminder of important things. I have often longed for this evangelicalism and I wonder if you don’t find it in Bopoks and Culture? Did you see Joel Carpeneter’s fine piece there on the roots of Books and Culture? I also fee that one thing that God has used from this period of “exile” for Eternity-type folks is a deeper connection to like-minded folk outside of evangelicalism. That has certainly been true for me in ways that would not have happened if I had felt more comfortable in evangelicalism.

    • rogereolson

      I love Books & Culture. I just wish the same names didn’t appear so often (as reviewers and authors). With many exceptions, they tend to be Reformed. (I have written for B&C in the past, but in spite of my open offer to write anytime and in spite of the editor’s expressions of appreciation for what I write, I rarely get asked. It’s been a long time.) Not to end on a negative note–I think B&C has become one of the THE quality, unifying elements of contemporary evangelicalism.

  • David

    I miss my Eternity subscription. I remember a side-by-side print debate between John R. W. Stott and Charles Ryrie. The question deputed: “Must Christ be Lord to be Savior?” Stott argued, of course. Ryrie argued No. That was one of my first issues of Eternity and got hooked.

    • rogereolson

      Eternity was so good at that kind of thing–providing a forum for evangelicals to explain their views to each other without heavy handed editorial oversight. I miss it as well. I don’t think I have mentioned that Eternity was the location of my very first published work–a book review. The book review editor worked with me on it and I owe him a debt of gratitude. He was patient and explained why my first attempt wasn’t satisfactory. I revised it following his suggestions and they published it. I think it was a review of a book on liberation theology. Must have been around 1976.