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Pocket History of Evangelical Theology (Pocket (IVP)) Paperback – January 26, 2007
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"Concise, lucid and balanced." (David W. Bebbington, author of Evangelicalism in Modern Britain)
"A helpful essay that tells the story of his many-sided subject." (Gary Dorrien, author of The Remaking of Evangelical Theology)
"Roger Olson demonstrates that he is not only a formidable theologian in his own right but also one who has an uncommon command of the work of others." (Randall Balmer, author of Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism)
About the Author
Roger E. Olson (Ph.D., Rice University) is professor of theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University in Waco, Texas. He is the author of The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform (IVP), The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity and Diversity (IVP) and The Westminster Handbook to Evangelical Theology (Westminster John Knox). He is also coauthor of 20th-Century Theology: God & the World in a Transitional Age and Who Needs Theology? An Invitation to the Study of God (both with Stanley J. Grenz, IVP), and of The Trinity (with Christopher A. Hall, Eerdmans).
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Top Customer Reviews
His first task in his Pocket History of Evangelical Theology is to try to provide a definition of the term evangelical. Why is this necessary? "Even some self-identified evangelical scholars have declared evangelical an essentially contested concept--an idea and category with no precise or agreed-on meaning" (p. 7). Olson's strategy is to provide an essentially historical account of the term's variety of senses. Etymologically, the term evangelical means "the good news" of the gospel (p. 8). In the next sense, the word "is simply synonymous with Protestant" (p. 8). Lutherans like to use it as the name of their denomination (the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). Evangelical also identifies a Low Church party within the Church of England (p. 9), and hence it was associated with the Methodist movement. In another sense, the term refers to Pietism and especially that version found among the Moravian Brethren, as well as to the Great Awakening, where it applied to the message spread in revival efforts (p. 10). But evangelical eventually came to identify "conservative Protestant reaction to the rise of liberal Protestantism," and in this sense it came to be nearly synonymous with fundamentalism (p. 11).
The story Olson wishes to tell concerns that most recent meaning given to the word. In the 1940s and 1950s evangelical was used to identify a new postfundamentalist movement--a so-called Neo Evangelicalism, closely associated with Billy Graham (pp. 12-13).
Olson holds that the evangelicalism he describes "is a loose affiliation (coalition, network, mosaic, patchwork, family) of mostly Protestant Christians of many orthodox (Trinitarian) denominations and independent churches and parachurch organizations" (p. 14). This assertion is followed by a long list of beliefs and practices of a loose network of contemporary conservative Protestants, who share revivalist instincts and so forth (p. 15). What keeps the whole thing from flying apart is not some set of core beliefs but "the powerful unifying figure of evangelist Billy Graham" (p. 15). Olson calls this the "Graham glue" and wonders what will happen when it dissolves.
Latter-day Saints probably encounter evangelicals who are essentially from the Reformed (or Calvinist) faction of the movement. This is especially true if they have been confronted by anti-Mormon countercult propaganda, but it is also true if they know conservative Protestantism only from some encounter with the recent "interfaith dialogues." There they will have faced TULIP (five-point Calvinism), but they will not have even a faint idea of the vast variety of competing opinions held by the large majority of those who consider themselves evangelicals. Olson's expert and learned narrative is a corrective for this deficiency in LDS understanding of the conservative Protestant world around them. The Holiness-Pentecostal element in the loose gathering under the evangelical umbrella is far more numerically significant than the Reformed element, with which Latter-day Saints are most familiar.
Olson describes the theologies of leading evangelical theologians, including Carl F. H. Henry (pp. 96-107), E. J. Carnell (pp. 108-11), Bernard Ramm (pp. 112-19), and Donald Bloesch (pp. 120-29). He ends this survey by describing what he calls the "postconservative evangelical theology" (pp. 130-40). In this setting, he introduces Clark Pinnock (pp. 132-38), who, as some Latter-day Saints are aware, espouses opinions close to their own. This is seen, for example, in his rejection of much of classical theism (advancing instead a version of an openness theology), his acceptance of narrative theology, his eschewing of traditional evangelical cessationism (the view that spiritual gifts like prophecy, healing, and tongues ceased early on in church history), and so forth.
As much as Olson prizes and even celebrates diversity among believers, he also longs for a center that can somehow hold all the competing and even warring factions together. However, in his final and most important chapter, in which he addresses the topic "Tensions in Evangelical Theology" (pp. 141-51), he reluctantly but essentially grants that the center simply does not hold. Hence contemporary evangelicalism is in flux, with dynamic forces (some of which involve nasty political and dogmatic powers that he cautiously identifies) on the verge of tearing the movement apart.
This crisp, clearly written little handbook is highly recommended for Latter-day Saints who are interested in or puzzled by what is taking place in conservative Protestant circles.