Reclaiming the Center: Confronting Evangelical Accommodation in Postmodern Times

Millard J. Erickson, Paul Kjoss Helseth, Justin Taylor, eds.

In an effort to respond to post-conservative evangelicals that have challenged the presuppositions and foundations of popular evangelicalism, the conglomerate of authors have written to correct Grenz, et al. As Taylor writes in his introductory essay, the editors of the post-conservative movement are Roger Olson and Robert Webber, the pastor is Brian MacLaren, and the professor is Stanley Grenz. These men have emphasized narrative theology, while poo-pooing propositional doctrine. MacLaren describes what he seeks to do as the pastor as an emerging postmodernism that seeks middle-ground between Derridian Deconstructionism and Cartesian certainty.

What is telling in the essays is the desire to draw clear boundaries in methodology and application of doctrine so that there are contours of evangelical theology. In his review of Grenz’s Renewing the Center, Carson summarizes the movement’s greatest weakness that he is “utterly unable to detect any weakness in postmodern epistemology, and therefore all of his prescriptions for the future assume the essential rightness of postmodernism” (45). Carson highlights a strong disparity within the post-conservative vision by pointing out that if our problem in speaking of universals is due to our finitude, there is no hope for a universal redemption of body and mind since we will continue to be finite.

The post-conservative problems persist in their inability to articulate/define truth. As Wellum says, “their project leaves Christian theology apologetically defenseless, a self-contained linguistic system that is not able to demonstrate before a watching world why it is indeed true” (188). Brand’s essay helpfully moves in the direction of defining what the sometimes nebulous term “evangelical” means. It is particularly helpful to see that evangelicalism grew out of the revivalist tradition. Thus attributing to the diverse theological persuasions – Pentecostal, Methodist, etc. However, it would have been helpful to see how more Reformed strands began to be seen as evangelical if this is one of the criteria. Lastly, Millard Erickson’s essay on post-postmodernism has a helpful summary on what the post-conservative movement seeks to accomplish. He says, “Civility and irenicism are not identified with a particular position; they involve acting with respect and using language that is not perjorative or inflammatory” (348). Much of the rhetoric used by post-conservatives seems to draw a false dichotomy between foundationalism’s certainty (and arrogance) and post-conservative’s humility. Humility should be a characteristic of anyone who is called “Christian.”