How to Be Evangelical without Being Conservative: the Most Important Book You Haven’t Heard About…

I don’t know how I missed Roger Olson’s latest book, but it may very well be one of the most important books released this year if you’re an Evangelical Christian. However, How to Be Evangelical without Being Conservative may very well present a refreshing, timely vision for Evangelicals in the wake of the religious right. Apparently the marketing campaign is a bit thin at this point because I actively search for books such as these, and I had to look at Zondervan’s web page just to find some information after viewing Amazon’s bare page for the book.

While the religious right is still alive and well, it has suffered a grievous blow under the Bush administration’s failed policies in Iraq; its inability to address pressing domestic issues such as health care, the mortgage crisis, and many social programs; and its head-in-the-sand approach to the environment. Many Evangelicals recognized that the Republicans they trusted to bring about greater morals have actually proven to be just as flawed as the Democrats they detested in the 90’s. In my opinion the religious right is on the decline as many Evangelicals question its basis and agenda.

Roger Olson presents a compelling notion that I find irresistible:

“In recent years the American media have portrayed the evangelical movement as a conservative force in society equating it with fundamentalism. Many people equate evangelical Christianity with conservatism in religion, politics, theology and social attitudes. But is this the whole story of evangelicalism? Roger Olson’s new book sets forth evidence that the link between evangelicalism and conservatism has not always been as strong as it is today in the popular mind. Olson shows how contemporary evangelicals—who want to remain evangelical—can do so without identifying with conservatism in every way.”

That sounds alright with me. I think we need to recover our Evangelical heritage and rethink many of the pieces of our movement that have become hallmarks, but truly belong on the margins. The description continues:

Many people equate evangelical Christianity with conservatism in religion, politics, theology and social attitudes. Some are scandalized by any separation between them. As one evangelical pastor’s wife declared to a church group “We are a conservative people!”

In fact, however, evangelicals have not always been conservative; radical stances on doctrines, worship, social norms, politics and church leadership have often marked evangelicalism in the past. The 2007 movie Amazing Grace about William Wilberforce’s protracted battle against the slave trade featured a small group of British evangelicals committed to abolition. The same radicalism characterized much of American evangelicalism in the years before the Civil War. In recent years the American media have portrayed the evangelical movement as a conservative force in society sometimes equating it with fundamentalism and puritanism.

The missing piece of the story is, however, that both fundamentalism and puritanism contained radical elements that opposed the status quo.

This book sets forth evidence that the link between evangelicalism and conservatism has not always been as strong as it is today in the popular mind and it will provide suggestions for contemporary evangelicals who want to remain evangelical (and not become “post-evangelical”) without identifying with conservatism in every way.

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