Sunday, May 13, 2012

Roger Olson, "How to Believe without Being Fundamentalist"


Because of the prevalence of fundamentalism (and what I have here called “neo-fundamentalism”) in American religious life, many moderate Christian pastors struggle with how to preach and teach Christian truth, doctrine, without being absolutistic, narrow, presumptuous and exclusive. I receive questions like that all the time and it seems to be a question hanging “in the air,” so to speak, in many, if not most, moderate Christian churches and educational institutions.
I have been critically reviewing chapters in The Gospel as Center. I often have the impression that these authors, all members of something called The Gospel Coalition, have a fundamentalist mentality. That is, they approach and exposit doctrine from within a fundamentalist ethos. In varying degrees they treat truth as black and white (absolutistic). Beliefs are either “gospel truth” or heresy. (There are, of course, exceptions to this. One came up in the chapter I most recently reviewed. It had to do with tolerance of both cessationism and continuationism. However, the author condemned belief in the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a second definite work of grace as “horribly mistaken.” That kind of language is, to me, fundamentalist. It was the kind of rhetoric used by fundamentalist forces that tried to keep Pentecostals out of the National Association of Evangelicals when it was formed in 1942.)
One way I describe fundamentalism (as an ethos) is its tendency to shift most beliefs from the “opinion” and “doctrine” categories into the “dogma” category. (I’ve explained these three categories and their inevitability and importance in detail in several of my books.) That is to say, beliefs most Christians view as important but not essential get re-placed in the category of essentials of the faith (“fundamentals”).  One example of that in the current neo-fundamentalist phenomenon is monergism.
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