A “Favorite” Pet Peeve: “Asking Oprah (or Dear Abby)…”

A “Favorite” Pet Peeve: “Asking Oprah (or Dear Abby)…” May 3, 2012

In a recent column a Christian woman asked “Dear Abby” (Pauline Phillips) about God and homosexuality. Her son came out to her and she was afraid to ask her pastor about God’s attitude toward gay people because she was afraid of what he would say. So she wrote to “Abby” asking her how God views homosexuality. Abby’s response was predictable–that science had shown the Bible to be unreliable on this subject and that entrance to heaven depends on a person’s character only.

This illustrates a pattern I see among Americans including many American Christians. The Christian band “Casting Crowns” has a phrase in one song urging Christians to “stop asking Oprah what to do.” Amen to that! And I add (for Christians, at least) “stop asking Dear Abby or any other advice columnist or TV talk show host (etc.) what to do!”

Why do people, including some Christians, think that a person can give competent theological advice just because he or she writes a nationally syndicated column or hosts a television talk show? That simply baffles me. It baffles me so much it leaves me bewildered.

A few years ago someone wrote to ask a nationally syndicated columnist what makes a life worth living. Her answer was (paraphrasing) that a life is worth living so long as it produces more than it consumes. Didn’t anybody else notice that that was the very belief that led to the Nazi program of killing thousands of people in German hospitals during the 1930s just because they were deemed incapable of contributing to society?

Also, did nobody else notice that her (the columnist’s) answer is right if there is no God? And that only someone who does not believe in God could say such a thing?

I have been a Christian theologian for almost 30 years. I think I have a reputation for making theology relatively simple to understand. And yet, throughout those years of teaching in church-related institutions and churches I have rarely been asked a theological question by anyone except students in my classes (or former students).

And I know that’s not only my experience. Most theologians I have talked to relate the same experience of rarely being asked for theological advice or insight or even guidance (to finding answers).

Once a church I belonged to appointed an ad hoc committee to consider a major change in membership requirements. I volunteered to serve on the committee but was excluded (twice). When I asked several people associated with the process why no theologian was on the committee I was informed it wasn’t a theological issue. Huh?

Now, maybe in my case it’s just me. That is, maybe I’m just not the kind of person lay people or pastors feel comfortable approaching for advice. I don’t think so, but it’s possible. But this isn’t just about me. I notice that many Christians (to say nothing of non-Christians!) ask theological questions of people who have no theological training at all.

I would venture to say that America’s leading theologians are people like Joel Osteen (I’m not aware of any formal theological training on his part), Oprah Winfrey, and Dear Abby. “Christian” bookstores’ shelves are full of books on theological subjects by people with no formal biblical or theological training. I can’t begin to tell you how many “testimonies” I have heard from people spouting theological ideas based on “This is what I heard God saying to me.”

American Christianity is sunk in a swamp of subjectivism and individualism–theological and religious populism–where everyone’s opinion is as good as everyone else’s and better if they are nationally read columnists or talk show hosts (or musicians or whatever).

Is there a solution to this? Well, obviously, the desired solution would be for columnists, talk show hosts and others to defer to theologians. But I doubt they know any. A better solution would be for pastors and other church leaders to place more value on their theologians–the ones in their own congregations and/or educational institutions.

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  • John D

    American Christianity is sunk in a swamp of subjectivism and individualism–theological and religious populism–where everyone’s opinion is as good as everyone else’s and better if they are nationally read columnists or talk show hosts (or musicians or whatever).

    Hear! Hear! And in my experience, college students—not surprisingly—are the most impressionable/guilty in this respect.

    • Steve Dal

      John D
      I wonder if the present and coming economic swamp that your country is going to experience will weed out the problems of subjectivism and individualism. In my country (Australia) we definitely need (and I say this cautiously) to have all our goodies taken from us. Even the so-called Christian church is so mired in materialism and the conversationso anemic in real Christian terms, it is sickening. Everyone is ‘doing coffee’. Can’t help but believe that all this individualism is the product of a spoilt geneeration fixated on personal issues. What do you think?

      • rogereolson

        Yes, our Western churches are largely culturally accommodated to materialism, consumerism and individualism. And when a church isn’t, it gets called a cult.

  • James Petticrew

    If I have any admiration for the reformed crowd it’s in this area, I think they are better at involving
    theological reflection in their decision making processes. I don’t think those of us in the Wesleyan camp (can’t speak for wider Arminianism) are as good at that. In one church I pastored there was no resistance to bringing in a leadership consultant to help us think on our structures, values etc Yet when we had to make a decision about what age to allow children to paticipate in the Lords Supper there was a reluctance among some when I said we should invite the lecturer in theology from our denominational theological college to come and share his view and recommendations.

    I once heard James Packer saying the role of the theologian was to be the sewerage works of the church and filter out the harmful and hurtful teaching that gets passed through. I can crtainly see the need for that and in the UK we don’t get bomarded by the amount of “christian” tv you do. However I do think that some theologians have at least played a part in their alienation from the church because many of them have been unable to speak to the church rather than the academy. Steve Seamands from Asbury came to speak at the church I pastored on the atonement. It was an incredible series of services and Steve got over some significant theology, he reflected Moltmann and the Christus Victor themes in his teaching and people understood and responded. The interesting thing was that several people refused to believe he was a theologian because “we can understand what he means” At one level that revealed terrible prejudice but on another level it did accurately reflect their past experience of theologians who had come to preach and didn’t seem to understand that the church is not the same setting as a gradute seminar in theology.

    So I think congregations do need to value theologians and include them in their ministry and in the decison making of the church but that also means theologians learning how to communicate in the setting of a congregation.

  • I am sure you are going to get a large number and a wide range of comments on this one. I think what you are talking about has something to do with a sort of western “zeitgeist” involving popularly accepted answers to these questions: What counts as “knowledge”; and, who is authorized to dispense knowledge? Dallas Willard talks about this briefly in his most recent book ‘Knowing Christ Today’ (referencing other historians such as George Marsden who have traced this with regard to the place of major research universities in modern society). The basic idea is that there is a widely accepted bifurcation between “faith” and “knowledge,” amongst both Christians and non-Christians. This is accompanied by an assumed and uncritical definition of both those words that little resembles either NT usage of words associated with “faith” or philosophical discussions of epistemology.

    Churches and “religious figures” (which is how I think most people would classify theologians), then, deal with “faith,” which is something different than “knowledge,” which is assumed to deal with “facts” while the former deals with “beliefs,” “values,” or “opinions.” I am here simplifying hugely complex philosophical, sociological, and historical developments, but I think anyone who is aware of the various levels of popular discourse about religion would agree that this is the case for many people. (Read CNN’s Belief Blog, and especially the reader comments, to see this at work.)

    Often the conversations had by various theologians are simply different than this one (this being a sort of history-of-ideas or philosophical-cultural dialogue) but I think it is important for theologians to enter this dialogue and to be cognizant of the cultural landscape when it comes to the vocabulary of faith and knowledge. There are of course great examples of people being self-conscious about this (I think of Hauerwas for one), but I think there is always more work that could be done. And I do think it begins in the churches, which is where Willard ends ‘Knowing Christ Today’: he calls pastors to self-consciously think of themselves as teachers of a certain kind of knowledge rather than as operating in a separate sphere of “belief” or “faith.” I think exegetes also ought to write more (on a popular level) about, e.g, what the NT authors meant by the way they use “faith” and cognate terminology. It generally bears little resemblance to the way those terms are used in modern discourse; phrases like “blind faith” and “leap of faith” would, I think, have been somewhat unintelligible to Paul or even the author of Hebrews (the famous 11:1 “definition” notwithstanding).

  • Dean

    I think it’s obvious why this is the case, Americans consider themselves very religious people (at least that’s what the polls consistently say), but that religion clearly isn’t Christianity. It’s moralistic therapeutic deism, and MTD has no theology, it’s a sociological phenomenon. But even the vast majority of church going Christians out there have no interest in theology at all, I can personally attest that because about a year ago, that was pretty much me. I have been a Christian my “entire” life, and I had very little understanding of the Arminian/Calvinist debate (I had never even heard of Arminius), never heard of Pelagius either for that matter (although I had heard of Calvin), didn’t realize there were other theories of the atonement besides penal substitution, had never heard of Christian inclusivism, had a very dim understanding of the bodily resurrection, did not know what preterism was, assumed the “Rapture” was a settled biblical concept, and just two weeks ago, two weeks, I read a book about open theism and it just about made my brain explode.

    But I guess the sad part about this journey is that the only person in my life right now who can even understand the words that are coming out of my mouth (as Chris Tucker would say) is my sister who is a graduate of Fuller theological seminary and who has given me most of the books I’ve read on these subjects. I guess my question for Dr. Olson is how important is theology for the average Christian? Does any of this really matter? Christians have been out and about building the kingdom for 2000 years, and for most of that time, the vast majority of them were illiterate. Not everyone can go to a theological seminary and certainly not everyone should. Are all these theological debates really of any value at the end of the day? I’ve found that most Christians just don’t care, and I guess I’m not really sure they’d be any better off if they did. As fascinating as it has been for me, at the end of the day it is a confusing morass with seemingly no satisfactory resolution for much of these issues, which explains the surrealism that descends upon me when I read that Arminius lived in the 16th century and that book on open theism I read was written in 8 years ago, it really does detract from some of the novelty of it all for me. I guess I’m at a place right now where I feel like it’s a rabbit hole and I’m wondering why I thought it was a good idea to jump in in the first place.

    • rogereolson

      I recommend you read Who Needs Theology? by Stanley J. Grenz and yours truly. We address those questions there. Of course, it’s not an either-or between highly academic theology or folk religion devoid of any theology. How much theology a person needs to be a good disciple of Jesus Christ depends on his or her age, maturity level, role in church leadership, exposure to heretical or non-Christian beliefs, etc., etc. But, at risk of sounding pedantic, let me suggest that it might be helpful for you to study the kingdom of God from, for example, George Eldon Ladd, a highly respected evangelical New Testament scholar and theologian. He is right that we do not “build” the kingdom of God. There is no such language in the NT. That’s folk religion, not correct theology (of the Kingdom of God).

      • J.E. Edwards

        Just listened to a couple of podcasts of your addressing Arminian theology and how it’s caricatured. It was interesting to hear y0u read from Arminius on depravity and prevenient grace, and how the current folk religion does cloud up things in regards to Arminian and Calvinistic theology. Most people would think Arminius is a Calvinist based upon his understanding of depravity. However, prevenient grace still seems confusing to me, do you recommend any articles, sermons or books on the subject of prevenient grace?

        • rogereolson

          I discuss it at length in Against Calvinism as well as in Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities.

  • Bev Mitchell

    All humans (not just kings)  have itchy ears, that’s why the best ear scratchers get all the calls. Many  people don’t want answers, they want confirmation. My wife, an elementary school teacher, tells the story of a parent who needed lots of help in parenting. She was in the process of looking for a good parenting course, because the leaders of her previous six courses “didn’t know what they were talking about.”

  • Daniel W

    First off, I would like to say I completely agree on your assessment of the state of things today. Perhaps Evangelicals tend to steer clear of theologians because of the strong idea that the message of the Bible is clear and accessible to everyone. Therefore, as you said, everyone’s opinion is as good as anyone else’s. Unless, of course, the person giving the opinion is a talk show host or popular book author who says things that “really resonate” with me.

    On another note, I don’t think I have seen you discuss your views on homosexuality on this blog. Perhaps I missed it or you discussed it before I became a consistent reader. What do you think about evidence that suggests homosexuality is not a choice? Please don’t view this as an attack or attempt to pressure you. I am just interested in your thoughts.

    • rogereolson

      I don’t think it is theologically relevant. And I have a lot of trouble understanding why anyone thinks it is. We hear it all the time–that science has allegedly proven that sexual orientation is rooted in biology (genetics). So what? So are many inclinations we don’t approve (when people act on them). There is little doubt, for example, that males are biologically inclined towards sexual promiscuity. Nobody uses that as an argument that society should approve of male humans acting on that (except male humans who want to act on that). I am not here pontificating about what God thinks about gays or how he treats them, etc. I’m simply saying that the issue can’t be settled by science. According to traditional Christainity (and, more importantly, the Bible), we are all born with sinful inclinations. It’s the doctrine of original sin. Yet that has never meant that sin is okay. People who make these arguments (from science to theology) apparently know or understand little of Christian theology.

      • Daniel W

        I have thought about those issues before: about how most, if not all, sin has a biological basis. However, I feel science must somehow effect our theology, because science can reveal truth. Couldn’t an argument similar to the one you present be used to promote Young Earth Creationism or oppose egalitarianism?

        On another note, I am graduate student studying Judaism and Christianity in antiquity at a public university. I am interested in modern theology, but I have only come across it in passing. For example, I would briefly encounter Bultmann’s theology when reading his commentary on the gospel of John. Could you recommend any books that are a good introduction and overview of modern theologians?

        • Daniel W

          I guess my example of people using your line of argument to promote Young Earth Creationism is not a good analogy. However, I do think your line of argument could be used to promote egalitarianism.

          • Daniel W

            *oppose egalitarianism

        • rogereolson

          Let’s see… Seriously folks, I didn’t plant this question! Yes, I can: 20th Century Theology: God and the World in a Transitional Age by Stanley J. Grenz. Oh, there was another author…um, who was it? 🙂

          • Daniel W

            I should have known you would have written on the subject! I’ll have to pick it up before I’m back to the grindstone in the fall.

            Would you mind discussing my other question? Do you argue egalitarianism solely on a biblical basis? If you are an egalitarian, then you must prioritize the passages in the NT that promote female leadership by heavily contextualizing those passages that order wives to be submissive to their husbands or forbid women to have authority over a man. I assume you would have decided to prioritize the passages that promote female leadership because, through your observations and through logic, you decided that ordering women to be submissive to men is actually oppressive and not completely loving. Therefore, since Jesus preached love and the uplifting of the downtrodden, you have decided that the passages ordering women to always be submissive to men must be born of a very specific context, whereas the passages promoting female leadership should be applied more generally. Otherwise, if the instructions about women’s submissive roles were universal, they would go against the teachings of Jesus in some way. Am I incorrect about your line of logic?

            If egalitarians reason about the roles of women using observation and logic, why shouldn’t we also reason about homosexuality in a similar way? Just as egalitarians observe that forcing women to be submissive is harmfully oppressive, and allowing women to lead is not harmful to the church, so people who accept homosexuality observe that forcing homosexuals to be celibate or marry someone of the opposite sex is harmfully oppressive, and that homosexuality in itself does not harm individuals like adultery does. Would you reject this analogy because homosexuality is never portrayed positively in scripture? Against such an objection, someone might point out that scripture condemns historically situated forms of homosexuality that are not generally practiced among monogamous homosexual couples.

            I’m really not trying to bash your views or provoke you. Consider me a Christian coming to a theologian for advice. This is one of the pressing issues of our time.

          • rogereolson

            An excellent book answering this question (from an evangelical perspective) is William Webb’s Slaves, Women and Homosexuals (endorsed by Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary so definitely NOT liberal). Webb explains very clearly and convincingly the heremeneutic of “redemptive trajectory”–that we should follow out the ethical trajectories of Scripture just as Christians did with regard to slavery.

          • Andy

            I very much appreciate the book references and recommendations on this site – both from you and your commenters. Amazon.com also appreciates my frequent reaction to them: a purchase!

            Thanks, all.

  • jesse

    I understand where this lady is coming from. I am scared to ask my pastor theological questions. On the other hand, I would never ask Oprah or Abbey the kinds of questions I have. Roger, maybe you could give some advice on how to approach a pastor (or any person for that matter) with a serious theological question if you are concerned about the outcome of the conversation that might follow from it. Certain theological issues can be rather divisive.

    • rogereolson

      I would say that if you are in a church with a pastor you can’t talk to safely about theology you should change churches. Find one where you can. To me that is a watershed issue in deciding whether a church and pastor are suitable or not. A pastor who cannot be trusted to handle theological questions competently and sensitively should not be in the ministry. If you can’t talk to a pastor about a theological issue, then look for answers in books by reliable evangelical publishers. I can’t recommend highly enough InterVarsity Press. IVP publishes many books of theology written for lay people. Look through their catalog for what you need.

  • Sean

    Try being a Pentecostal theologian–half the Christians hate me for being Pentecostal; those that don’t hate me for being a theologian. To avoid persecution, I mostly hang out with mainliners, among whom I at least have the advantage of being slightly exotic.

    Seriously though, I’ve had many occasions when, upon answering the question, “What do you do?” with “Teach systematic theology,” the asker of the question feels free to immediately begin criticizing me and telling me how that is such a bad thing. I haven’t seen Christians do that with other vocations like pastors or social workers.

    “Theology” and “doctrine” have been made dirty words in many church circles (and not just in America), and I don’t know how we can redeem them. Most Christians don’t even know what they mean. I’m certain the working definition of theology for one very good friend in ministry who really should know better, is “The Bible with all the interesting parts left out.” One of his favorite discussion topics is a very central theological question, but you can’t call it that, and he can’t acknowledge that my course of earning three theological degrees and teaching systematics for a decade might give me give me a leg up on the subject.

    When called upon to guest preach at a new place, I’ll often “sermonize” a basic theology lesson on, say, the attributes of God or an aspect of Christology. I’m commonly greeted afterwards with two responses. The encouraging: “Brother, I loved your message! I understood every bit of it.” And also the terrifying: “I’ve never heard anything like that before!”

    • rogereolson

      Don’t think these experiences are just because you’re Pentecostal. I’ve been both–Pentecostal and Baptist and overall and in general the reactions to “theology” and “theologian” are the same in both.

  • Greg Farra

    Amen, brother! It also doesn’t help when we talk about how bad our own publishing houses are and then get material from popular writers that contradict our doctrines. I wouldn’t expect a Calvinist to get stuff from Nazarene Publishing House. But I’ve seen material from Calvinistic authors used in Arminian churches.

  • David

    Excellent post as usual. A related pet peeve of mine is pastors, evangelists, and other people in ministerial roles without theological training. They gain their positions because they can give pep-talks based on pop psychology, but they lack the in-depth knowledge needed to teach the faith to people.

  • Dr. Olson (and readers),
    I read this post earlier this morning (Irish) time, and being a biblical scholar myself, this really resonated with me. I guess I should realize that since Jesus was not well received even in his own town (Luke 4) and since a “servant is not above his master” (John 15) I shouldn’t be too upset (not saying that’s what you’re doing Dr. Olson) when people don’t seek out my thoughts on biblical matters. I mean, people don’t ask me advice on plumbing or electrical matters. I don’t ever recall someone asking me to cut into their head and do brain surgery. But it seems as if they’d ask anyone else first to cut open their spiritual hearts to do soul surgery. I guess if I want to spin it positively, I could say that I’m grateful that people aren’t following my cult of personality and I am not delivering messages of “the happy Gospel” that is so popular and prevalent. In that, (and not that you are seeking or needing my encouragement) I would offer my encouragement to say: “Keep it up.”

    That said, after having read your post, and before posting this comment, I had a leader from a local ministry come to me and ask several questions of a personal matter related to biblical doctrine. I had a hard time not smiling.

    All the best,

  • Matt

    One of the bizarre features of North American evangelicalism is the distrust with which pastors and lay people treat theologians and biblical scholars. The same people would never ask an accountant for serious medical advice or ask an electrical engineer for tax advice. But biblical experts are not really experts in the minds of many Christians. There are lots of reasons, but I think two of the biggies are: 1.) to them, academic Christians always = liberal Christians; and 2.) pride and/or fear (the bigger factor, imho). To be fair, some may have had bad experiences with #1. But many evangelicals think that if they have read a few books or commentaries from the local Christian bookstore that these things, in conjunction with the Holy Spirit, means they have interpretive matters all wrapped up. I once had someone ask me why I was pursuing a PhD in biblical studies, and the question they asked me outright was, “what more is there to know?” I also think pastors in particular feel intimidated by advanced theological/biblical studies. I get some very strange (almost cold) receptions from my pastor and the good people at my church, and I do NOT flaunt my education; my personal policy is not to talk about school unless someone asks me a specific question, and even then I change the subject quickly.

    • rogereolson

      I’ve almost gotten used to it. 🙂

    • jesse

      I’ve been reading recently a book called How To Think About Weird Things. Here’s an appropriate quote: “we should give experts their due. We should not defer to the experts because they are always right. But they are more likely to be right than we are. Another reason is that they are usually better judges of that information than we are”. I do wish more Christians would seek out the experts (theologians and biblical scholars) and learn from them. Discernment is still important but there are just so many good scholars and theologians put there to learn from. They just aren’t as popular as so many other non-experts who write books.

    • Andy

      I would add a third reason to your reason #1 (fear of liberalism) and reason #2 (pride/fear). A third reason might be fear of receiving a slanted line of reasoning (Calvinistic, for example). Would you ask John MacArthur about the love of God and what our loving response should be in some situation? Would you ask John Piper about a recent tragedy? [I guess I’m missing a distinction between these “popular” speakers and “theologians” is missing in my comment] So as for me (with the help of this site) I have found theologians I trust. Mostly in books. And I am fortunate to have a pastor of whom I can safely ask questions.

  • Oprah and Abby are women that women feel comfortable around. You sound mad and mean, and that kind of grumpiness certainly doesn’t make me feel like asking you questions. That said, this makes me think of the recent article at Ruthless Monk asking for the voices of academic women (http://www.theruthlessmonk.com/where-is-the-voice-of-the-evangelical-academic-woman/#comment-674) and today at Her.menteutics (http://blog.christianitytoday.com/women/2012/05/where_are_all_the_women_apolog_1.html) asking for the voices of female apologists. And to all of it I would contend that women especially want to hear from women on these issues. Ironically, and sadly the evangelical church tells women otherwise. The evangelical church isn’t raising girls to believe they can think, evaluate and propose new ideas, that they should and can go to seminary or study theology. They are being coddled into thinking that men do the “real” thinking, preaching, studying and it may not be outright, rather insidious and subtle but the message is clear that we can’t and shouldn’t study theology. I know this isn’t your intend with your questions, but as a woman this is how it me. How are you encouraging the thinking, intelligent women around you??? It is no wonder that when they become women they leave “the evangelical church.” There is a deep grief, a shattered spirit and a wounded heart (and unchallenged brain) and a lack of confidence in one’s being made in “the imago dei”, that comes from being a thinking, theological even philosophical woman in the evangelical church today.

    You asked.

    • rogereolson

      Other than the fact that I sound “mean” and “grumpy” you know nothing about me. I have been encouraging women to become ministers and theologians for decades. I know of several female biblical scholars, theologians and pastors who were my students and I trust I played a role in their becoming what they are. If I may say so (on my own blog) you sound bitter. Perhaps you need to find a different ecclesial context in which to worship, learn, teach and minister. What you are calling “evangelicalism” is probably what I would call “fundamentalism.” Besides, none of that is excuse for Christian women asking Oprah or Abby what to do when it comes to theology and ethics. That would just confirm the worst stereotypes.

      • Daniel W

        Going off what Melody said, I thought you might be interested (or amused?) to read this brief mention of you by Leslie Keeney over at “The Ruthless Monk” blog. This is from the blog post that Melody mentioned above:

        “Now I freely admit that I have never commented on The Gospel Coalition website. For some reason that particular site seems to attract a huge percentage of argumentative bullies who show up just for the fight. And although I do comment on Roger Olson’s blog, he can be a little terse sometimes too. But there are other top theology blogs on which both the hosts and the commenters are generally polite and helpful. So why are women not commenting even in these relatively “safe” spaces?”


        I figure people want to know when other people are talking about them.

        • rogereolson

          Is being “a little terse sometimes” a bad thing?

  • icthusiast

    A couple of comments:

    Firstly, at least in my country (New Zealand), theologians get a bad name with many people simply because the popular media will almost always seek out the most liberal or fanciful interpreter (not meaning to imply that those two necessarily go together) to give maximum air time. It happens every Easter, for example. The media trots out someone new who has published, just in time for Easter, another book explaining away the bodily resurrection of Jesus. I’m sure many people gain the impression that is what theologians are like. In other words we also need to educate people to understand that there are theologians and there are theologians. I recommend this blog every chance I get!

    Secondly, when ‘theology’ is being used as a label of contempt I try to get people to see that ‘theology’ literally means ‘thinking and talking about God’. That means whether or not people appropriate the label ‘theologian’ they are doing theology whenever they think or talk about God. I then encourage them to be sure they are doing the job well, because there’s such a thing as ‘doing theology well’ and ‘doing theology poorly’. I recommend your books every chance I get!

    Thanks for all the time, energy and commitment you put in to fulfilling your vocation.

    All the best

    • rogereolson

      You’re welcome and thank you! Are my books available in N.Z.? I honestly have no idea about where my books are available outside the U.S. I sometimes get a copy of a non-English translation, but where my books are actually available for purchase (other than through amazon.com or something similar) is a mystery to me.

      • icthusiast

        Certainly your books are available and used in NZ. The Mosaic of Christian Belief is used as the text for an Introduction to Theology course I taught in my previous role – training Salvation Army Officers. Our small tertiary institution was affiliated to a larger non-denominational college which prescibed it as the text. They had previously used a Reformed text, so I was very happy when they switched – notwithstanding our email conversation about The Salvation Army and sacraments! 🙂

        Whether or not your books are available at retail outlets is irrelevant in today’s world. Books are just as easily, if not more easily, available on line.

        • rogereolson

          Yes, that’s true. But I still like to know that my books appear in bookstores as that’s how many people run across them–browsing the shelves. When I go into Christian bookstores all over the U.S. I see numerous books promoting Calvinism, so I’d like my books to be there alongside them. 🙂

          • icthusiast

            Fair enough. You are quite right. The last time I stood in a Christian bookstore – in Australia as a matter of fact – the offerings were predominantly the Calvinist and one, in particular, which caugt my eye contained what I thought was an appalling caricature of Arminianism! 🙁

          • rogereolson

            All too common! Now you know why I wrote Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities and why I went out of my way NOT to caricature Calvinism in Against Calvinism. But I fear that simplistic and caricaturing treatments of theological views are more attractive to people who shop in Christian bookstores than serious ones.

  • Mark

    One issue among many may be that what often passes for theological discourse in churches (in my experience at least) is done in an ungenerous and uninformed way. Strong personalities dominate discussion. Strong opinions clash (and often the strong opinions are held by strong personalities). People take things personally, and that puts the rest of them off. Then you get the stormers who are determined ‘just to do what the bible says’ and ‘don’t want any truck with this speculative, impractical theology’.

    They haven’t been introduced to the kind of fair and irenic theological discourse we get from the best theologians and writers. I think of your style, Roger, which even when defending or attacking a position, is always generous to the opponent (if not their position). Or Kevin Vanhoozer, who is positively lyrical in his writings and lectures.

  • ME

    I’d love the opportunity to ask theologians questions. Here are a few-

    1. Why do you think the knowledge of God is obscured in this world? I have my own theory but I’m pretty sure it isn’t based in scripture.

    2. We are composed of flesh and spirit (I think.) Our spirit did not exist before we were born, correct?

    3. Why do you think God created us creatures to be born, live a short time, and die? I have a theory on this and again doubt it’s exactly based in scripture.

    4. I know this is childish, but, in the new creation, do you think I would be able to meet Francis of Assisi?

    • rogereolson

      To 1. Paul answers that in Romans 1. To 2. I believe in what theologians call “holistic dualism” or “dualistic holism”–that we are, indeed, composed of flesh and spirit but that they belong together, not separated. We did not exist (except in the mind of God) before our physical births. Theologians have long divided over “traducianism” and “creationism” with regard to the origin of souls. I believe traducianism is the most likely explanation–that we inherit our souls from our parents just as we inherit our bodies from our parents. To 3. Bodily death is a result of the fall; God did not intend for us to die. To 4. I hope so and don’t see any reason why not.