Roger Olson on Divisions Among Evangelicals

In a recent post of Scot McKnight’s blog I have found out about a recent post on Professor Roger Olson’s blog (which I highly recommend) that really stroke cord with my own experience with what he calls the ‘neo-fundamentalists’.

I paste below just a few relevant quotes (the bold emphases are mine). I will only add here matters of principle, leaving you you the ‘pleasure’ of reading the horror stories in Olson’s post.

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Professor Roger E. Olson, Baylor University

In a recent post here I mentioned the division among evangelicals between those I call neo-fundamentalists and those I call postconservative evangelicals.  I do not claim that all evangelicals must fall into one of these two camps.  Rather, many of the leading evangelical theologians and biblical scholars fall into one of them.

According to Marsden, Noll, Carpenter, Balmer and other leading historians of the evangelical movement in the 1940s and 1950s self-identified fundamentalists such as Carl McIntire and self-identified new evangelicals (the term Marsden uses for them) such as Harold John Ockenga and Carl F. H. Henry did not so much disagree about doctrines as about attitudes and behavior.

One major disagreement that led to division was over the “essentials category.” Ockenga and Henry MAY have agreed with the fundamentalists about matters such as premillennialism (I’m not sure they did, but that’s not the issue), but they disagreed with them about how important it is.

In short, the fundamentalists were, from a new evangelical perspective, too narrow minded, mean-spirited, anti-intellectual (in terms of adapting to the “material facts” of science, for example), divisive and separatistic.  Division within the evangelical house had to happen.  The new evangelicals claimed the fundamentalists caused the division when they refused to join the NAE and by their caustic behavior toward fellow evangelicals.

This is the problem–evangelicals behaving like fundamentalists (as the new evangelicals regarded fundamentalists in the 1940s and 1950s and after that).  I do NOT say all self-identified fundamentalists are unethical. Rather, I am saying that using unfair tactics (misrepresentations, character assasination, heresy-hunting using questionable means) was, from the new evangelicals’ perspective, a flaw in much of the fundamentalist movement and the new evangelical movement needed to be purged of that bad behavior.

My argument is that something similar is happening now.  A group of conservative evangelicals are behaving in the same ways as the fundamentalists of the 1940s and 1950s.

From my perspective, SOME conservative evangelical theologians, denominational leaders, biblical scholars, etc., have DE FACTO already declared, by their behavior, the division between them and postconservative, progressive evangelicals who, generally speaking, believe in the same basic doctrines they believe in.

There comes a point when one has to give up and say “Okay, have it your way.  We’re not part of the same movement anymore.”  I am saying that.  They may go their way and I and mine will go our way. We both use the label “evangelical,” but it is too general to cover all of us without qualification.  To me, they are behaving like fundamentalists, so that’s what I’ll call them with “neo-” in front to distinguish them from Carl McIntire and the older, separatistic fundamentalist movement (that still exists but does not participate in evangelical endeavors).

In many ways, it is the old fundamentalist/new evangelical split repeating itself.  I have come to think it is permanent and there is no point in trying forever to reunite the two sides.  It’s exhausting and one simply puts oneself at risk because some of the neo-fundamentalists, so long as they are given recognition as evangelicals, can do great damage to you.

The neo-fundamentalists are recognizable among the conservatives by their aggressive behavior toward fellow evangelicals, their willingness sometimes to use underhanded means to “win,” their inclusion of non-essentials of doctrine among the essentials of Christian orthodoxy and their obsession with “evangelical boundaries” with the clear intention of excluding people from evangelicalism who grew up in it, have always been part of it, are influential within it, but whom they consider doctrinally unsound using extremely narrow definitions of doctrinal soundness.

* * *

This is the essence of Roger Olson’s sad post. Please read HERE his entire post.

And here is the comment that I have left on his blog post:

Dear Professor Olson,
I have read with great interest but also deep sadness your post here. It is because of this kind of experiences, but also because I have changed theologically during my PhD studies on Orthodox ecclesiology, becoming more liturgical and sacramental, that I have left for good the Baptist fold here in Romania, joining the Anglican communion.
O whole series of personal horror stories, as well as the hate messages I get constantly on my blog made me believe, as you do, that the is no hope for the healing of the rift between neo-fundamentalists (mostly neo-reformed, but not only) and the postconservatives, which I consider myself being one.
It is a sad conclusion, but I think this sort of realism could protect us from even more harm, and a lot of wasted energies.
Please receive my sincere appreciation,
Danut Manastireanu, Romania

* * *

For those who do not know Professor Olson, here is a short biography, as we can find it on his blog.

I am a Christian theologian of the evangelical Baptist persuasion.  I am also a proud Arminian!  And I’m influenced by Pietism.  Minnesota is my home state and I have lived in Iowa, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Germany and now Texas.  My current professional status since 1999 is Professor of Theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University.  Before joining the Baylor community I taught at Bethel College (now Bethel University) in St. Paul, Minnesota.  My alma mater is Rice University (Ph.D. in Religious Studies).  I graduated from North American Baptist Seminary (now Sioux Falls Seminary).  During the mid-1990s I served as editor of Christian Scholar’s Review and have been a contributing editor of Christianity Today for several years.  My articles have appeared in those publications as well as in Christian Century, Theology Today, Dialog, Scottish Journal of Theology and many other religious and theological periodicals.  Among my published works are: 20th Century Theology (co-authored with the late Stanley J. Grenz), The Story of Christian Theology (winner of the Gold Medallion Award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association), The Westminster Handbook to Evangelical Theology, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities and Reformed and Always Reforming: The Postconservative Approach to Evangelical Theology.  My book Against Calvinism: Rescuing God’s Reputation from Radical Reformed Theology will be published by Zondervan in 2011.  My home is in Waco, Texas where my wife and I are members of Calvary Baptist Church, a congregation of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.  I’m the proud dad of two daughters and equally proud grandfather of a beautiful granddaughter.  I enjoy traveling, reading (theology, philosophy and historical novels) and working out (I try my best to keep my getting-older body in shape!).

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

19 thoughts on “Roger Olson on Divisions Among Evangelicals”

  1. La sfarsitul vietii sale se pare ca Melanchthon s-a indreptat spre un soi de sinergism: omul nu este liber doar sa spuna un ‘nu’ lui Dumnezeu, ci intr-o anumita masura si poate accepta in sens activ harul divin. Dar oricare ar fi pozitia lui Melanchthon de mai tarziu, ramane valabil ca a crezut tot timpul in harul acordat tuturor, si a acceptat doar alegerea spre mantuire, nu si cea spre damnare. Nu stiu unde se situeaza Wurmbrand apropo de predestinare, dar daca cu adevarat a fost adeptul acesteia, imi imaginez ca doar in sensul de mai sus…Dar nu pot baga mana in foc… Daca gresesc, imi cer iertare in avans…


  2. Wurmbrand a fost pastor lutheran. Ori lutheranii, dupa Melanchthon, cred in predestinare, dar nu in dubla predestinare; alegere in ce priveste mantuirea, dar libertatea de a spune nu in ce priveste respingerea mantuirii (daca cineva va ajunge in iad, asta se va intampla numai din cauza lui; daca va ajunge in rai, asta se va intampla doar prin harul lui Dumnezeu).


  3. Si credea in egala masura iun liberul arbitru, ca doar Scriptura le afirma pe amindoua, fara a incerca sa le impace, cum fac cei obsedati de logica liniara rationalista.


  4. Vali:
    Sunt de-acord. Dar RW era predestinarian; nu stiu in citi stilli credea, dar p. era.


  5. Doru,
    Trebuie sa recunosti totusi ca intre eternal security si dubla predestinare este o diferenta. E adevarat, dubla predestinare implica eternal security. Dar reversul nu e valabil. Poti sa crezi in eternal security si sa fii adeptul unui anumit gen de metodism fara nici o contradictie.


  6. Domnule Radu,
    Cred ca este destul de evident ca nici eu nu sunt pentru unitate de dragul unitatii. Doar nu degeaba ‘combat’ eu aici.
    Dar cind dezbaterea este inlocuita cu demonizarea tuturor celor care nu gindesc ca noi, asta nu mai este dialog, civilizat, ci jungla fundamentalista. Ei bine, pe mine salbatici aasta ma lasa rece. Asta cind nu mi se intarita duhul de atita extremism.
    Si inca ceva. Vi se pare cumva ca incerc eu sa fiu popular? Daca ma uit bine, ma tem ca chiar dimpotriva. Doar doar s-o trezi cineva ‘din somnul cel de moarte’. Dar ma tem ca tot degeaba.


  7. V-am dat un raspuns mai reusit. Din greseala l-am sters. N-o fi fost voia Domnului; nu-l reiau. Unitatea Evanghelica e dinamica, precum fisurile. Ma uitam pe-o conferinta Gospel Coalition, sau asa ceva, din Chicago. Acolo sunt de toate pt toti: prietenul dvs. Mohler alaturi de Driscol (what?). Chandler- nou star sudist- alaturi de Carson, preferinta dvs. Nu e unitate? Se schimba lucrurile: nu mai mergem dogmaitc, c’est pas de bon ton. Prezentam toate punctele de vedere. Va acoperi asta diviziunea de care se vorbeste? Pare rezonabil, dar neconvingator -parere personala. Well… umila mea parere este, una de om simplu. Iubim pe toti, suntem frati cu toti cari indeplinesc un minimum de conditii, dar nu ne sfiim sa spunem cu smerenie ce credem sincer. Vopsitu’ asta peste rugina e ceva ce-mi aduce aminte ca inaintea unor sedinte furtunoase dela baptisti se cinta o cintare enervanta: “Ce bine e cind fratii cu dulce se unesc”… dupa care urma dezbinarea.
    PS 1- Cum era Wurmbrand? Cel putin eternal security o sustinea, Vali. Desi o numea altfel. Asculta predica cu vitejii lui David. Apoi, asa cum observa Niculescu, RW n-a avut o linie teologica unitara.
    PS 2- Cum era Moisescu? Nu era fundamentalist. Dar erau destui pe care-i “trimitea in Iad”. Si nu se sfia de asta. Nu se prea omora cu tamierea in stinga si-n dreapta de dragul popularitatii…


  8. Si eu cred ca ambii au refuzat aceste incadrari tip ‘camasa de forta’. Erau prea mari pentru a avea nevoie de asemenea cirje.


  9. Nu stiu daca Moisescu si Wurmbrand au fost arminieni, dar ma indoiesc si de ideea contrara (ca ar fi fost calvinisti in teologie). In orice caz, majoritatea evanghelicilor romani, cel putin pana la revolutie, nu au fost calvinisti.


  10. Este evident ca nu puteati fi pozitiv si nici macar obiectiv cuj un articol critic la adresa fundamentalismului (a propos, nici Moisescu, si cu atit mai putin Wurmbrand, n-au fost fundamentalisti, slava Domnului).


  11. Categorisirile astea de neo/post ajuta la unitatea evabgheicilor cam tiot atit cit a ajutat prelungita atacare a lui B. Graham de catre Bob Jones. Iar faptul Olson e mindru de arminianismul sau e un excelent exemplu de fatarnicie post/neo-conservatoare (tot aia e). Calvinsimul e noul pericol; ce sa fac? AM fost crescut de Wurmbrand si Moisescu: nu pot fi arminian cu tot excelentul CV al profesorului..
    Domnul Olson are o biografie impresionanta, iar bisericile Calvary se bucura de admiratia mea. Dinsul nu e departe de cei pe care-i critica.
    Dupa astfel de categorisiri, Pavel va fi fost fundamnetalist confruntindu-l pe fatarnicul Petru; la fel in diviziunea sa cu Barnaba vs. Ioan Marcu. Cit despre conflictul lui Ioan cu Diotref, a fost complet ne-elegant. La fel limbajul absolut inacceptabil din Galateni. E trist daca nu vom reusi sa ne unim… si s-ar putea articolul sa fie profetic… Probabil o pesecutie ne va uni…


  12. I understand what you say, Eugen, but as I address primarily Romanian Evangelicals and most of them are at best neo-fundamentalists, if not straight fundamentalists, my statement stands as it is.


  13. The real purpose of this article is to make Evangelicals think, not just simply hate, as they seem to naturally do. Yet, some of them would never think. It hurts too much.


  14. What is the (real) purpose of this article:to suggest that a conversion to Catholicism is desirable?


  15. Am apreciat analiza lucida, necomplicata si exemplele, unele nu tocmai fericite, din propria experienta a profesorului Olson in mai multe postari ale domniei sale despre schimbarile din miscarea evanghelica. M-am bucurat sa-i descoper blogul dupa ce am savurat “The Mosaic of Christian Beliefs”, o introducere excelenta in teologie istorica.


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