Conservative Evangelicalism

Roger Olson (an Arminian Pietist who classifies himself as a “postconservative evangelical”) has two interesting articles on the recent phenomena known as “conservative evangelicalism”–

(HT to Michael Riley for pointing me to Olson’s blog.)

In the first article, after listing four aspects of conservative evangelicalism (which Olson calls “neo-fundamentalism”), he concludes with this assessment:

What I see emerging, that in my opinion is not being recognized by most evangelical leaders, is a third way–a via media between movement fundamentalism and the postfundamentalist evangelicalism.  People from movement fundamentalism are emerging out of their isolation into this third way and calling it “conservative evangelicalism.”  People from postfundamentalist evangelicalism are adopting this third way and calling it “conservative evangelicalism.”  THIS is why I call myself a postconservative evangelical.  It has NOTHING to do with being liberal; it has everything to do with not wanting to be confused with these people creating and populating this third way via media.  I simply refuse to give up the label “evangelical,” but because of the growing influence of this third way I have to use some adjective to distinguish my own way of being evangelical from that.

Interesting to note those whom he says populates neo-fundamentalism/conservative evangelicalism–

  • “People from movement fundamentalism are emerging out of their isolation”
  • “People from postfundamentalist evangelicalism”

In another post Olson concludes that

Perhaps the time has come for moderate and progressive evangelicals to say “Farewell neo-fundamentalists.”  There’s no point in prolonging the long kiss goodbye.  We are two movements now–fundamentalists and neo-fundamentalists, on the one hand, and moderate to progressive evangelicals on the other hand.  This painful parting of the ways happened between the movement fundamentalists and the new evangelicals in the 1940s and 1950s.  It is happening again (among people who call themselves “evangelicals”) and the time has come to acknowledge it as, for all practical purposes, done.  It’s just a matter now of dividing the property.

Recently, many who would identify themselves as fundamentalists are beginning to have limited fellowship with “conservative evangelicals.” Olson has an interesting assessment as to the difference between a fundamentalist and a neo-fundamentalist/conservative evangelical that should affect such working-fellowship–

The distinction still has to do with separationism and especially secondary separation.  Even the most conservative, neo-fundamentalist evangelicals rarely practice secondary separation.

Olson says that while conservative evangelicals are like fundamentalists in that they practice some level of separation, they are not fundamentalists because they will not separate from disobedient brethren (what he and many others call “secondary separation”).

Neo-fundamentalists/conservative evangelicals are, in Olson’s assessment, neither classic new evangelicals nor classic fundamentalists. They are a “third way.” Maybe that’s one of the reasons some fundamentalists are moving in that direction–it rejects many of the problems of new evangelicalism and doesn’t make an issue of separation from disobedient brethren.

On a different but somewhat related note, I found it interesting that Olson refuses to give up his evangelical label and movement identification (which some fundamentalists seem intent on doing). In fact, in the comments section Olson is asked,

How do we delineate between Classic Neo-Evangelicalism, to coin a term, and New Fundamentalism amidst a society that sees “evangelical” and “fundamentalist” as a tautology? Making matter even more complicated, young (true) evangelicals seem content on abandoning the term.

Olson’s response:

Well, it’s probably impossible to educate secular people about these differences. But I gave several distinguishing characteristics that most knowledgeable evangelicals can understand and recognize.


  1. Ok, very interesting. I now read the whole two articles. I think the first one is a pretty accurate view of what is going on. Dr. Olson is not happy with what is happening in evangelicalism. To the extent that he is correct about the philosophy of the ‘neo-fundamentalists’, I say, Praise the Lord. The problem, from my perspective, is that they (‘neo-f’, Conservative E) are not consistent or going far enough. They are attacking liberalism and false teaching, but they aren’t really separating from brethren who cooperate with false teachers for the most part, and not consistently. (Not sure where Olson is, but he seems to be a proponent of the false teaching of Open Theism, or at least sympathetic to it.)

    So… very interesting…

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

    • The lack of separation from brethren is exactly what Olson identifies as what distinguishes the NF/CE from fundamentalists. That was one point I was trying to bring out, but maybe got lost in the middle.

      It seems Olson feels much more comfortable in the classic new evangelical realm/identification. He says that things like inerrancy and substutitionary atonement should not be determining issues of fellowship, that the NAE doesn’t state such in their doctrinal statement. So, from his standpoint, the NF/CE’s are going too far.

      Who says that there aren’t any true, classic new evangelicals around anymore? 🙂

      For my part, on “my” side of the fence, as it were, the difference between me and a NF/CE is what Olson has identified–separation from disobedient brethren.

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