Toward a post-conservative evangelical theology – what is on the horizon

As I teach Postmodern Theology at Fuller Seminary this quarter, I am reminded that so much of what is shifting in current discussions surrounding what constitutes ‘faith’ is a deep concern for the sake of the poor and the marginalized in our world.  The outpouring of support these past few days for Haiti, the constant desire to end human trafficking, the desire to return to the first impulses of the Reformers – to say once again that if the Christian faith is anything then it is deeply practical and bound up in God’s care and longing to reconcile a broken and battered world.  This is not a God of Deism that sits far off, indifferent to the cries of captivity, loss, mourning, joy, and wonder.  No, a generation is arising that so deeply cares about what it means to live and breath each moment of the day that they are willing to sacrifice everything – job security, church traditions, safe zip codes of comfort – just to taste it once before they die.  These are members of the community of loving defiance amidst the comfortable clubs of conformity that fill our web searches and reality shows.

One of the writers I continue to come back to and think has been lost in the Emergent swelling of writers is Millard Erickson.  Erickson was ahead of the curve prior to the wave of Emergent folks who blossomed in popularity in the last 10 years and I think needs to be re-read.  One book that is quite compelling is The Evangelical Left: Encountering Postconservative Evangelical Theology (Baker Books, 1997).

In it Erickson surmises the shift from evangelicalism as a movement toward a “post-conservative evangelical theology” which is marked by the following characteristics:

* Eagerness to engage in dialogue with nonevangelical theologians. Indeed, “they seek opportunities to converse with those whom conservative evangelicals would probably consider enemies.”  In particular Erickson refers to liberal and catholic theologians.

* Concern with theology’s domination by white males and Eurocentrism. Recognizing the influence of social location on theological work, postconservatives seek to include women, persons of color, and Third World Christians in theological scholarship.

* Broadening of the sources used in theology. This frequently includes an emphasis on “narrative-shaped experience” rather than “propositional truths enshrined in doctrines.” The sources may include, in addition to the Bible, Christian tradition, culture, and contemporary Christian experience.

* A discontent with the traditional ties of evangelical theology to the “evangelical Enlightenment,” especially common sense realism. Rejection of the “wooden” approach to Scripture, in favor of regarding it as “Spirit-inspired realistic narrative.”

* An open view of God, in which God limits himself and enters into relationships of genuine response to humans, taking their pain and suffering into himself. God is a risk-taker, not one who controls everything so that nothing contrary to his desires can occur.

* An acceptance, rather than a rejection, of the realm of nature. Nature, although fallen, is never abandoned by grace, which then pervades it.

* A hope for a near-universal salvation as far as access to God’s grace. God has not left himself without a witness in all cultures, sufficient to bring people to salvation if they earnestly seek it.

* An emphasis in Christology on the humanity of Jesus. While retaining belief in the divinity of Christ, this is thought of more in relational than in substance and person categories.

* A more synergistic understanding of salvation. These theologians are, overall, more Arminian than Calvinistic.

* A rejection of triumphalism with respect to theological truth-claims. Postconservatives are critical of belief in epistemological certainty and theological systems.

What do you think of Erickson’s points?  Given that Erickson wrote this over a decade ago, did he sum things up well and what did he miss as we enter the next decade of the 21st century?

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