Confessions of a Postconservative

I recently started reading Roger Olson’s book Reformed and Always Reforming: The Postconservative Approach to Evangelical Theology.  But then, I suppose I start reading a lot of books.  Finishing is another matter.

In the introduction, he references a 1974 book by Jack Rogers, then a Fuller Theological Seminary professor.

“Conservative” is a good word.  It marks continuity with the past, preservation of enduring values, holding on to what has been proven with time.  In this sense I am still a conservative.  I want to “hold fast to what is good” (1 Thess 5:21).

There is another sense in which the word “conservative” is used.  The dictionary defines “conservative” as “tending to favor the preservation of the existing order and to regard proposals for change with distrust.”  Being conservative in that sense leads to conservatism.  That is the sense of being conservative which has marked much of my past.  That is the sense of being conservative which I want to put behind me.  That is the sense of being conservative which confuses Christianity with our culture.  Salvation is not found in the status quo.  From apostlic times Christians have challenged the existing order.”

Rogers’ book was originally supposed to be titled: Confessions of a Postconservative Evangelical.  Apparently the publishers felt that was too provocative.  It was published as: Confessions of a Conservative Evangelical.  He was just ahead of his time.

Olson notes that the original title seems more appropriate, given the content of the book.  He begins his own book, mentioned earlier, with this statement:  “The thesis of this book is simple but controversial:  it is possible to be more evangelical by being less conservative.

I just picked the book up, so I’m not far into it, but the beginnings prove promising.

What do you think?  

Do you resonate with either Olson’s or Rogers’ statements?

There are certainly ways in which I am conservative, in some of the ways Rogers suggests.  I think it is impossible to be a parent and be otherwise.  But there are also deep and profound ways in which the conservatism in which I was raised has had to give way to a more progressive outlook on theology, politics, and society.  How did this happen?  One of the biggest influences has been simply reading the Bible and studying the text.  As a recent Christianity Today poll noted:  “Frequent Bible reading can turn you  liberal.”  Who would have thought?

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2 thoughts on “Confessions of a Postconservative

  1. I think the long marriage between evangelicalism and the Republican Party (which is not always conservative, but often is) has been disastrous for the Church. I say this as someone who is not a member of the Republican Party but so far has not found a compelling reason to vote for the Democrat Party. I think in general conservative politics tend be better for America at this stage of things than liberal ones, but it is a heresy to conflate the Gospel with any one political stance.

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  2. The “Christianity Today” poll doesn’t surprise me. Even in studying the ancient writing of the Torah, I see attitudes and laws that are far more progressive than those most conservative Christians I know would endorse.

    I find Rogers’ and Olson’s claims here to be too vague to evaluate properly. Surely, everybody wants to “hold on to what is good;” to claim to remain conservative in this sense is quite a weak claim indeed. Regarding the second sense, being less distrusting of proposals for change doesn’t strike me as a big shift, but maybe it is for Rogers and others.

    Is Olson’s claim that it’s “possible to be more evangelical by being less conservative” true? Probably. It wouldn’t surprise me if it were true on almost any understanding of the two key terms, though what he means by ‘evangelical’ and ‘conservative’ is essential to understanding his thesis. The more interesting question is whether being less conservative is a more effective way to be evangelical or makes it more likely that one will become or remain evangelical. (Whether being more evangelical is a desirable thing is another question).

    I await the post-read analysis. 🙂

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