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Roger Olson: Pocket History of Evangelical Theology


Roger E. Olson, Pocket History of Evangelical Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2007), 152 pages, ISBN 9780830827060.

In sixteen short chapters, Olson (Ph.D., Rice University) provides us with historical essays that cover the origination, development, and maturation of Evangelical theology within North America. The introductory chapter, composed of only fifteen pages, is worth the price of the book. Olson offers seven different possibilities of the meaning of the term Evangelical. Evangelical could merely refer to someone who proclaims the “good news” of Jesus Christ, a code word for “Protestant,” and historically refers to the “low” churches within the communion of the Church of England. The term Evangelical has similarly been used in the past to refer to the adherents to the Pietist movements within the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the early twentieth century, the term Evangelical generally referred to the fundamentalist movement. In the middle of the twentieth century, the term Evangelical was applied to the postfoundationalist school of thinking. The term Evangelical has also often been used as a term of derision in the twentieth century in reference to certain scholarly or historical figures that were deemed to be enthusiastic, fanatical, or aggressive. Finding these terms lacking, Olson offers the idea that an Evangelical is an orthodox Trinitarian who affirms the possibility of supernaturalism, who deems the Bible authoritative in all that it teaches and affirms, that Jesus of Nazareth is the unique revelation of the God of Israel, that humanity is fallen, and that the only way for humanity to be reconciled is through the agency of God’s Son (entailing His suffering, death, and resurrection). Moreover, Olson asserts that an Evangelical recognizes the necessity of personal conversion, the importance of regular devotional time, the urgency of evangelism amongst a decaying world, and the ultimate return of Jesus Christ that will usher in the Kingdom of God. Olson explains the roots of Evangelical theology coming from Pietism, revival movements, as well as Wesleyanism. He then goes on to demonstrate the relation between Holiness Pentecostalism and Evangelical theology. Olson covers the relation, if any, of fundamentalism and Evangelical theology. Olson mentions four representative theologians of the twentieth century within the Evangelical movement (Carl F. H. Henry, E. J. Carnell, Bernard Ramm, Donald Bloesch). In the later chapters, Olson offers a projection of where Evangelical theology may go from here (he mentions Postconservative theology in chapter 15), as well as mentioning several existing tensions found within Evangelical theology today. This small text would be ideal for adult studies at the local church, as it gives a succinct, accurate, and expandable introduction to the history of Evangelicalism.

Reviewed by Bradford McCall


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Category: Church History, Summer 2008

About the Author: Bradford L. McCall, B.S. in Biology (Georgia Southwestern St. University, 2000), M.Div. (Asbury Theological Seminary, 2005), grew up on a cotton farm in south Georgia. A graduate student at Holy Apostles College and Seminary, Bradford has particular interest in teleology, causation and early modern philosophy.

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