Conflicts over the doctrine of God, postmodernism and views of the afterlife are emerging as the new theological battleground for evangelicals, writes Roger Olson in the journal Dialog (spring).
Olson writes that conflict in the evangelical theological community has unfolded in a series of “convulsions” thoughout the last century. Up until the 1990s, the battles were largely fought over the inerrancy of the Bible and the role of women in the churches. In the mid-1990s, the teaching of “open theism” first drew fire.
This teaching revises the traditional concept of God’s omniscience; although God may know much of the future, he is relational and interactive with human beings and thus does not know it exhaustively or infallibly. The battle lines are already clearly drawn in evangelical academic life; the Evangelical Theological Society condemned the teaching, and its key proponent, Clark Pinnock, is expected to be expelled from the society this year.
Olson adds that the next “convulsion” is already in view; “Some conservative gatekeepers are indicating that they will examine the evangelical credentials of theologians who believe that unevangelized persons who never hear of Jesus Christ may nevertheless be saved by his life, death and resurrection.” Another area of growing tension is the use of postmodern themes by evangelical theologians. Accusations of “cultural relativism” have been applied to those arguing that Christianity is a culturally conditioned (yet true) perspective, according to Olson.
He concludes that these charges of heresy affect the career paths of many young evangelical theologians, though they are forming their own enclaves, such as the Evangelical Theology Group of the American Academy of Religion and the Christian Theological Research Fellowship.
(Dialog, Pacific Lutheran Seminary, 2770 Main Ave., Berkeley, CA 94708)