My (Roger Olson’s) follow up to Austin Fischer’s guest post

My (Roger Olson’s) follow up to Austin Fischer’s guest post June 22, 2012

I do agree with much of what Austin wrote. In fact, I agree with the substance of it. I think a lot of critics of his post entirely missed his concluding remarks (criticisms) about “moderate” preaching–that it is sometimes too weak and lacking confidence in its own gospel message.

I have a one frame cartoon from (I think) Leadership magazine (years ago) showing a bespectacled minister sitting at his church office desk. Behind him is an attendance chart showing Sunday attendance at his church declining steeply. Across from his desk sits someone (a deacon?) saying “Well, pastor, maybe it would help if you didn’t end every sermon with ‘But then, what do I  know’?”

But another one shows a church custodian cleaning up around the pulpit on a Monday and seeing a post-it note in the pastor’s handwriting on the pulpit saying “Weak point, pound pulpit here.”

Austin rightly called for the current crop of “neo-Calvinist” preachers to preach with less certainty and authority (because what they are preaching is often opinion) and moderates to preach with more assurance and confidence (of the gospel).

I will stop speaking for Austin (and ask him to correct me if I got him wrong) and add my own commentary on the subject.

Yes, as some commenters here have rightly pointed out, Arminian preachers can also preach with over-reaching certainty that leaves no room for disagreement or doubt (that is, calling into question a person’s spirituality if not salvation for disagreeing or doubting). That’s just not currently as much of a problem with college students (especially) who are flocking to student conferences attended by upwards of twenty-to-thirty thousand students who hear neo-Calvinist (or whatever they should be called) preachers proclaim Calvinism as if it were the gospel itself and saying things like “If you received Jesus Christ for any other reason than the glory of God you might not be saved” and “Godordained sin” and “Christ died for God and not for you” and “If a dirty bomb fell on a city it would be from God,” etc., etc. (These are statements students returning from these conference and ones like them have reported hearing.)

These statements and things like them are preached in some contexts by Calvinist preachers as if they were gospel truth and not theological opinion. They are preached as if they were quotations straight out of the Bible on a par with “For God so loved the world…” (a biblical statement not often quoted by these preachers without defeating qualifications).

The problem I point out is some preachers’ lack of signals to help listeners distinguish between gospel and theological opinion that they should go home and check out with Scripture, tradition, reason and experience–in other words that they should exercise discernment about.

Paul says in 1 Cor. 14 that the elders (spiritual leaders) of a  congregation should discern the truth of prophecies. My question is how can that happen when people over 26 are not allowed to attend some of these conferences? Is that possibly WHY people over 26 aren’t allowed to register and attend some of these conferences? It does make me suspicious.

I have heard GOOD preachers who proclaimed the gospel with confidence and assurance but stopped to mention that something they also added to a sermon was their own opinion that might help listeners understand. EVEN PAUL did this in his letters. “Not the Holy Spirit but I say….”

One way I discern fundamentalism at work is when I hear (or read) a preacher proclaiming what I recognize as theological opinion or even denominational doctrine as gospel truth–implying by tone of voice, if not direct words, that anyone who disagrees might not be saved or might be on the slippery path to hell JUST FOR DISAGREEING OR DOUBTING.

Yes, this happens in all types of religious settings–even liberal ones (although it wouldn’t be on the path to hell but to being dismissed as simply ignorant or prejudiced). I can remember many times when I was Pentecostal hearing preachers loudly proclaiming, in pulpit-pounding fashion, an opinion that couldn’t be supported from any clear passage of Scripture and that wasn’t part of the gospel. As I got older and challenged them (afterwards, of course, one-on-one), asking for biblical proof of what they were proclaiming with such certainty, I was shamed for it.

So the problem isn’t unique to one movement.

HOWEVER, as Austin rightly points out, numerous, thousands of Christian young men and women (but especially young men) are being sucked into high Calvinism by preaching that borders on demagoguery (especially when it implies that Christians who think otherwise are “still in darkness” or not yet fully converted). This is much more of a problem on college campuses and in churches that attract college students than non-Calvinist preaching that falls into the same error and than “moderate” preaching that occasionally revels in doubt even about the gospel itself. (I actually haven’t heard that in any moderate churches, but I won’t question that it sometimes happens. It’s common in out-and-out liberal churches.)

So what’s the solution? I agree with Austin: “Less and more.” Less confusing the gospel with human theological opinion in proclamation in some contexts and more confidence in the gospel itself in others.


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