All about Roger

Roger Olson has opened a vein on Molly Worthen’s new book about post-WWII evangelicalism. You don’t need to read between the lines to understand that this review is more about Roger than Worthen’s book. And much of what has appeared to motivate the theologian of divine openness is a bone (it was clean a decade ago) he continues to pick with Reformed Protestantism, especially with the way Calvinists are always “running things.” Here is how he ends the first of his series:

I have been criticized by some Reformed evangelicals for claiming that Arminians (among others) have been persecuted by Calvinist evangelicals. Worthen’s book provides support for what I say—not that we non-Reformed evangelicals are actively persecuted but that we have been patronized and treated like stepchildren by the Reformed leaders of neo-evangelicalism and that we have been accepted by them only to the extent that we take on their flavor of intellectual life and spirituality.

But Olson lets on more than he knows because Arminians are not simply victims in this relationship. Turns out they willingly cooperated and may have approved the persecution themselves (at least Olson’s uncle and father did):

My uncle was president of our little Pentecostal evangelical denomination for twenty-five years. He served on the boards of both the National Association of Evangelicals and the Pentecostal Fellowship of North America. As I grew older and became more actively interested in our religious “family tree” he and I had many discussions about all things Pentecostal and evangelical. It was he who informed me that we were “conservative” and “evangelical” but not “fundamentalist.” We were not the latter because we were not cessationists (which in our informal taxonomy, anyway, all fundamentalists were by definition). We also didn’t practice “secondary separation”—refusal of Christian fellowship with all who didn’t agree with us. Compared with hard core fundamentalists we were downright ecumenical.

My father read and introduced me to magazines such as The Christian Herald and Eternity and Christianity Today. (He also read The Sword of the Lord but often only to laugh at it or borrow a sermon outline from it.) We watched both Billy Graham crusades and Oral Roberts healing meetings on television (when we had a television). Our ideal Christian hero would be a hybrid of Graham and Roberts. When it came to the past our heroes of the faith were (after Jesus and the apostles) Luther, Wesley, Finney, Moody, Amy Carmichael, Fanny Crosby, Aimee Semple Macpherson, Billy Sunday, A. W. Tozer, and, later, Kathryn Kuhlman, John Stott, Alan Redpath (Keswick) and David Wilkerson.

My father attended all the local Evangelical Ministerial Alliance meetings and participation in Youth for Christ was taken for granted—as much as was church attendance. I saw every Christian film from “Without Onion” to “The Tony Fontaine Story” to “The Restless Ones” as a kid. (We didn’t go to movie theaters but often viewed these and many other gospel-themed films at churches and YFC events.)

So Olson’s family was not as intent on staking out a separate “evangelical” identity as Olson is. Why, the Olson’s even had positions of authority within evangelicalism. But only later did Olson understand that he was different:

When I was growing up in a pastor’s family with many close relatives in ministry I was well aware that we were most definitely evangelicals. As I look back on my home church and denomination now I realize we were also fundamentalist Pentecostals. I knew then that we were Pentecostals even though we preferred the label “Full Gospel.” However, throughout my childhood and youth we spoke the language of American evangelicalism and evangelicalism’s heroes were ours—especially Billy Graham. The music that filled our home was “gospel music”—on “Christian radio” and from evangelically-produced “sacred albums.” Our home and church were filled with evangelical publications. I was raised on childrens’ stories such as “The Sugar Creek Gang” series.

But apparently, the cozy relations and positions of power for the Olsons are not good enough for the son and nephew:

One of Worthen’s main themes is that Ockenga’s and Carl Henry’s neo-evangelicalism always was and still is (as represented by Christianity Today, for example) heavily Reformed. Putting this in my own language, her point is that neo-evangelicalism privileges Reformed theology and more or less expects other evangelicals (Holiness, Pentecostal, Anabaptists, Restorationist) to adjust to that to be acceptable. And many non-Reformed evangelicals have succumbed to that pressure while others have resisted it—causing tensions among evangelicals and within denominations.

I for one don’t particularly care who gets to run evangelicalism, or who is upstairs and who’s the help. If Olson knew much about Reformed Protestantism, he’d know that folks like Cornelius Van Til, E. J. Young, or John Murray hardly had guest passes to the executive washroom at NAE headquarters because of their theological convictions. It could very well be that Princeton Seminary provided a better and classier model for conducting evangelicalism in the public square than Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri. Go figure. Should that kind of status consciousness influence the way Christians organize or conduct themselves? Probably not, as the founding experience of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church attests. The OPC was willing to let goods and kindred go for the sake of a Reformed church, just as it also declined to sign on to neo-evangelical institutions like the NAE.

Whether Olson is willing to make a similar renunciation is not at all clear. His continuing complaints about evangelicalism have the feel of being slighted. But given his own family’s status within evangelicalism, his complaints sound decidedly ungrateful.

24 thoughts on “All about Roger

  1. Don Dayton’s family had a respectable place in “evangelicalism” as well, which is why I have no problem with Dayton’s attempts to define his way the “evangelical” job market-place. I only wish that everyone who claims to be “Reformed” would renounce being evangelical in the way that “burns bridges”. We need some discontinuity (if not repentance) from the falsehood that salvation is conditioned on the sinner. Recognizing that Olson is a spokesperson for “evangelicalism” should make flight from the Billy Graham movement ever more desirable.

    Roger Olson: I have heard many Calvinists say that when they are asked when they were saved they say “The moment Christ died on the cross.” That is not true Calvinism. According to Calvinism, Christ’s death secured their salvation; it did not then save them.

    Olson: Why is this important? Well, for one thing, it shows why it is wrong (inconsistent) for a Calvinist to pray for someone to be included among the elect but (possibly) not wrong (inconsistent) for them to pray for someone to be saved. Salvation is conditional. A prayer for someone’s salvation can be a “foreordained means to a foreordained end.” God foreordains that someone will pray for an elect person’s salvation and that prayer becomes an instrumental cause (not efficient cause) of God sending his effectual call through his Word into that person’s life resulting in faith and justification.

    Olson: But election is something entirely different. Calvin, anyway (and I would argue all true Calvinist theologians), described election in such a way that no prayer could possibly effect it even instrumentally. It is an eternal decree of God “within himself” not dependent on anything outside himself about who will be saved….. the Calvinist pastor who said he prays for God to include his son among the elect means that he hopes his prayer will somehow effect or contribute to God’s decision to elect his son. If he did not mean that, then he was simply confessing that his prayer is wishful thinking only and not true petition. My advice to Calvinists all: “Drink deeply at the wells of Calvinism or drink not at all.”


  2. If you find out that some of those who wrote the Westminster Confession did not believe in definite atonement, does that change what you think about the boundaries of what it means now to being Reformed? People can disagree about the “evangelical” past, and still agree that the “evangelical” future is going to tolerate process theology and errancy of Scripture.

    Olson: “Worthen goes to great lengths, into great detail, to argue that fear of liberalism (accommodation to secularity) drove non-Reformed evangelicals who did not have a history of affirming biblical inerrancy and who were by-and-large free of the influences of Princeton Orthodoxy (Alexander, Hodge, Alexander, Warfield, Machen) to seek shelter under the neo-evangelical umbrella and to imitate neo-evangelical institutions.”

    Olson:.” For neo-evangelicals the theology of Charles Hodge, B. B. Warfield, and J. Gresham Machen (largely stripped of Warfield’s openness to evolution) served as the interpretive framework, a kind of informal magisterium, for developing theology. Alternative evangelical theologies were expected to adapt to it to be accepted into the neo-evangelical fold…”


  3. Worthen’s book may get the ink blot of the year award. Olson reads it to support his pet gripes about the neo-evangelicals, Enns is all excited because he thinks it lends succor to his pet gripes about lack of academic freedom at confessional institutions. In fact, it is a fairly well rounded book that contains some surprises and is relatively free of the snarky tone that marred some of her early journalism. Don’t judge the book by its reviewers


  4. But the PCA signed on to neo-evangelical institutions like the NAE. So did the RPCES. And the OPC almost merged with both. Not to mentioned that broad evangelical troubleakers like John Frame started in the OPC.

    So the idea of OPC doctrinal purity in a sea of squishy evangelicals need to be questioned. After all, the CRC used to talk about itself in that way, but look what happens.


  5. So what happens to a child, especially a son, who grows up with Aimee Semple Macpherson and Kathryn Kuhlman as heroes?


  6. Wholesome, because the OPC “almost” merged with both, and because of some “troubleakers” like Frame were in her midst then we need to think about the OPC differently? She has her faults, certainly, but you are really reaching for something you haven’t quite shown.


  7. “… When it came to the past our heroes of the faith were (after Jesus and the apostles) Luther, Wesley, Finney, Moody, Amy Carmichael, Fanny Crosby, Aimee Semple Macpherson, Billy Sunday, A. W. Tozer, and, later, Kathryn Kuhlman, John Stott, Alan Redpath (Keswick) and David Wilkerson…”

    Good Grief! How would anyone lump ALL of these together as “heroes of the faith.??” Some are in direct opposition to the others. Unless, of course, one wants to be like Michael King and rename yourself and your son (Jr.) after a 16th Century “hero of the faith” only because he was a “bad” dude in his eyes and stood up the the powers that be of that Medieval period.


  8. DGH has pointed us to the example of the Christian Reformed coming back out of the NAE. In1948, Peter Eldersveld, voice of The Back to God hour—“The National Association of Evangelicals is Arminian. A formal united front before the world becomes exceedingly questionable for Calvinists when those with whom we are joined deny the real fundamentals of the faith, such as Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and the Perseverance of the Saints. It is ironical, to say the least, that those who deny these Fundamentals should be called Fundamentalists!. What happens to our Reformed witness to the world when, by a formal and official representation, we are silent on those salient points?


  9. mikelmann: The word was “troublemakers.” Had history been different, Frame would still be in the OPC or you would all be in the PCA — or, scary thought, a surviving RPCES. The isolation of the OPC is an accident of history, not because of stern conviction. Is the OPC’s heritage all bad? Of course not. But plenty of things that have since soaked into broad evangelicalism started within her gates.


  10. What’s all this about the Reformed dominating neo-evangelicalism? If Olson’s complaints are right, why are limited inerrancy views slowly gaining prominence on the Evangelical scene? The Reformed presence, not dominance, is actually a check on some of the downgrade trends.


  11. Wholesome, like you’re telling me something I do not know? See Between the Times on the OPC between 1945 and 1990. And if you are going to get uppity, try losing the pseudonym.


  12. Wholesome Severity: “So what happens to a child, especially a son, who grows up with Aimee Semple Macpherson and Kathryn Kuhlman as heroes?”

    AND Oral Roberts, Finney and Sunday-

    Answer: The child becomes confused, engrossed in emotionalism and Tradition.


  13. Ooookay, someone has an axe to grind. Hope you resolve things in due time.

    But you may want to avoid lecturing DGH on OPC history.


  14. “He also read The Sword of the Lord but often only to laugh at it or borrow a sermon outline from it.”

    Yeah, because something you laugh at is a great source for sermon material. What?!


  15. While people are piling on the OPC may I also thank you for Theonomy?

    To think we will ever maintain conservative P&R churches without having to deal with our share of fruits and nuts is not realistic. We need the dues.


  16. “may I also thank you for Theonomy?”

    As the story goes, Celtic center Dave Cowens was peeved at some ticky-tack fouls that had been called against him by the same ref. Seconds after his most recent complaining he lowered his shoulder and blasted an opponent, sending him to the floor hard. He looked at the ref again and said “now THAT’S a foul!”

    Erik, now THAT’S a complaint. Take notes, WS.


  17. DGH, how did we get to anti-thesis and common law? Was Erik’s youtube link a documentary on our legal system? What did I miss?


  18. Speaking of 2K, I started listening to Kim Riddlebarger’s 2K lectures this morning. He is not a fan of the blogs. Hart & Van Drunen are both mentioned. Hart is described as a “provocateur”, albeit in a friendly way. “A Secular Faith” and Van Drunen the shorter and longer are mentioned in the bibliography. You have to like a lecture that includes a bibliography. I look forward to the other lectures.

    [audio src="" /]


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