Postconservative evangelicalism and beyond

I thought I had found a nice new label for myself: a ‘postconservative evangelical’. Roger Olson defines the term in Reformed and Always Reforming: The Postconservative Approach to Evangelical Theology and makes reference to it in a post on NT Wright and the New Perspective. Wright admits to being a postconservative evangelical in his book Justification.

But on further reflection, though not having read Olson’s book, I’m not sure about any ‘reformed and always reforming’ part of the definition. Wright may profess to remain loyal to the Reformation, and if that is simply a matter of not ‘smuggling “merit” back into the doctrine of salvation’, as Olson’s post rather suggests, then I have no great quarrel with it. But it seems to me that the New Perspective has the potential to subvert Reformation theologies in much more fundamental ways than this definition implies—that the narrative-historical approach cuts across the dominant paradigms of modern theology at ninety degrees, leaving the whole intellectual framework seriously weakened.

I think the term ‘evangelical’ should be central to any account of Christian self-understanding that purports to remain in continuity with the New Testament. But the ninety degree shift relocates the ‘evangel’ in a particular historically construed narrative of community existence that ceased to have any framing relevance once the church had embedded itself comfortably in the Greek-Roman world. By recovering that narrative from our very post-modern, and in many respects post-Christian, vantage point the New Perspective has relativized the whole Christendom event and the Reformation turn that was firmly part of it.

So it seems to me that the shaking of worldviews of which Wright has been such a powerful instigator will increasingly force us to consider the possibility of being not merely postconservative evangelicals, which is a restrictively modern notion, nor even post-Reformational, but post-Christendom evangelicals. Just as Rome’s assault on second temple Judaism propelled the evangelical people of God into a new age of influence and power that Judaism could only dream of, so I think that the assault of modernity on Christendom has propelled the evangelical community into a radically different age, the contours of which we can only faintly discern; and I think that the New Perspective offers us the best chance of ensuring that in the process we remain loyal to scripture.

Submitted by Jim Hoag on  Mon, 11/08/2010 - 15:56

Andrew,

This was a really intriguing post, I really enjoyed it and continue to draw from it. For instance, this statement, “But it seems to me that the New Perspective has the potential to subvert Reformation theologies in much more fundamental ways than this definition implies—that the narrative-historical approach cuts across the dominant paradigms of modern theology at ninety degrees, leaving the whole intellectual framework seriously weakened”. I think this is saying so much more than it appears by just a casual reading. So, for a greater understanding, I have two (or three) questions, I'm no longer sure how many:

1. I'm eager to see the dominant paradigms of some of that modern theology "weakened", especially with a Reformed theology that often reacts and entrenches rather than engage. I believe in many ways it has quarantined forward movement. So, my first question is, how are you defining “New Perspective” and how do you see it subverting Reformation theologies and ensuring we remain loyal to Scripture? I perceive it in a way that has helped historically situate New Testament theology. But it seems, at times, the NPP (if this is what you are referring to) lacks narrative/historical “muscle”. In “The Story That They Now Find themselves In” you said, “The New Perspective has a tendency to respect the contingency of biblical thought up until the ascension, at which point it is assumed that everything may now be translated into absolute terms...”. So, again, how are you defining “New Perspective” and how will it ensure we remain loyal to Scripture; are you actually referring to the narrative-historical approach?

2. And what do you mean by "the narrative-historical approach cuts across the dominant paradigms of modern theology at ninety degrees, leaving the whole intellectual framework seriously weakened”. I’m especially interested in the cutting across at “ninety degrees” and how that will “weaken the whole intellectual framework”. Great post Andrew.