The Evangelical Left: Encountering Postconservative Evangelical Theology By Millard J. Erickson

    An assessment of postconservative theology's roots, proponents, and methods. Critiques the movement's revisionist interpretations of Scripture, God, and salvation. The Evangelical Left: Encountering Postconservative Evangelical Theology

    Very good book, and rather prophetic. The first and last chapters particularly were relevant to current events. The chapters in between were good, but more as a snapshot of the state of things in his time--and their current relevance mostly with regard to the ongoing popularity (or availability) of the authors he treats. Today, that leading edge of progressive evangelicalism has different issues, and different standard bearers. But whether through the analysis of the movements internal logic or by the lessons of history, Erickson correctly predicted one specific trajectory of this movement (and one for which all his concerns regarding the subtlety and pretense of evangelical fidelity ought rightly be applied):

    There has not been a great deal of discussion about the nature of salvation. ... However, as the effects of these presuppositions progress, we may well find less interest in the traditional loci of regeneration, justification, and so on. There may well be a greater emphasis on the temporal dimensions of salvation, even involving more of a social gospel. Since virtually all definitions of evangelicalism ordinarily include the idea of salvation by grace, in particular, the emphasis on individual regeneration, this, if it occurs, will strain the evangelical orientation of the postconservative theology. English Marsden has devoted a large portion of his career as an historian of American religion to teh task of defining the term fundamentalist. He has confessed, only half-jokingly, that the best working definition he can come up with is an evangelical who is angry over something. But then, what exactly is an evangelical? Whether one's approach is sociological or theological, historical or structural, evangelicalism is a notorious slippery term to define. This greased pig seems to be getting more slickly lubricated by the minute. Any observer of teh contemporary American religious scene will readily note some surprising theological developments within the rising Evangelical Left. A growing number of evangelical theologians are reconsidering the most basic foundations and methods of theology in light of postmodern thought and arriving at some striking conclusions.

    As Distinguished Professor of Theology at Baylor's Truett Seminary, and as author of nearly twenty books, including perhaps the most widely-used basic theology textbook among Baptists. Millard Erickson is well-positioned to offer a thoughtful analysis of this movement. More alertist than alarmist, Erickson offers a balanced critique of a trend which concerns him greatly. In the opening chapter Erickson succinctly traces the history of evangelicalism, ably guiding the reader through the usual highlights: Edwards and the Calvinist Great Awakening, Finney and the Arminian Second Great Awakening, the publication of The Fundamentals, the Scopes monkey business, the 1929 reorganization of Princeton Seminary, the founding of Fuller Seminary and the rise of Neo-Evangelicalism. Most recently there has emerged what UVA sociologist James Davison Hunetr describes as a brand of theology that for generations had been considered 'modernistic' being advocated by theologians who vigorously defend their right to use the name evangelical. Erickson contends that this new brand of 'postconservative evangelicalism is a movement that had been developing for some time rather silently, but that has only recently emerged publicly.

    Prominent evangelical teachers such as Roger Olson, Clark Pinnock, Stanley Grenz, and John Sanders are openly shedding theological conservativism (p. 29), while continuing to lead the evangelical movement. Erickson offers a list of brief bullet points in order to idnetify the main characteristics of his subject: an eagerness to engage non-evangelicals to the left (accompanied by a disdain for those to the right), a recognition of the influence of social location on theology and the need to seek out multi-cultural voices, a broadening of teh souurces of theology from Scripture alone to include experinece, an emphasis on narrative over propositions, a process theology-influenced conception of God (as a vulnerable and limited risk-taker rather than sovereign controller), a greater stress on teh concern for nature, a belief in universal salvation, a rejection of classical theories of biblical inspiration, an emphasis in Christology on the humanity of Jesus, and a renewed Arminianism.
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