Must-Read Articles by Roger Olson

Fascinating. Roger Olson (annoyingly clearheaded at times for someone I disagree with so frequently) argues that evangelicalism as a cohesive movement no longer exists. It took a figure with the stature of Billy Graham to hold it together, and with Graham off the scene, fissures have turned into canyons—and soon perhaps, I would add, great gulfs fixed.

I think Olson is right to say, however, that there is still an evangelical ethos that informs every stream of evangelical identity:

So what is this evangelical ethos? Each group of evangelicals will give it a somewhat different description. One evangelical party will emphasize its experiential dimension—“conversional piety.” Another one will emphasize its doctrinal dimension—usually then with emphasis on a distinctive view of Scripture that includes inerrancy. Yet another one will emphasize its culture-transforming dimension with stress on changed people changing culture toward the Kingdom of God.

If this is an accurate diagnosis I can’t help but see John Frame’s triperspectivalism in it:

  1. Conversional piety is clearly Frame’s existential perspective.
  2. The doctrinal fidelity stream emphasizes, pretty obviously, Frame’s normative perspective.
  3. The last group is a little more difficult to peg, but the culture-transforming stream is aiming at a particular situation, so it fits in the situational perspective.

If you haven’t read Frame, I recognize that this will sound esoteric or maybe just weird or OCD. But read Frame and you’ll see that there’s Bible behind this tri-way of viewing the world. Frame says that the three perspectives mutually cohere, so part of our job as Christians would be to hold them together. Ideally, we could have an evangelicalism that 1) cultivates genuine piety (let’s just call it love for God and neighbor), 2) holds tightly to God’s norms in Scripture, and 3) aims for God’s glory through every-nation disciple-making.

Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

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