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Roger Olson: The Mosaic of Christian Belief

Roger E. Olson, The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity and Diversity, Second Edition (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016), 396 pages.

Roger Olson was raised Pentecostal and now writes as an evangelical within the Baptist tradition. Although Baptist, he is neither a fundamentalist nor a Calvinist. Rather, he is one of the few Arminian evangelical theologians who have written an accessible text introducing theology.

Olson’s intention is for the book to serve as a “very basic, relatively comprehensive, nontechnical, nonspeculative one-volume introduction to Christian belief” (p. 7). Hence, Olson primarily aims to describe the various views that Christians have held in Christian history rather than arguing for any particular viewpoint. Aside from the first chapter, the book’s outline follows the key topics in systematic theology, like, creation, Jesus, and the Church. Each chapter includes a section explaining what the historical consensus of the church has been regarding the theme of the chapter, a section explaining alternative views (including both historical heresies and, in some cases, non-Christian views), and a section outlining diverse Christian beliefs regarding the chapter’s topic. This approach not only helps readers avoid heretical beliefs, but it also serves Olson’s irenic aim of helping readers realize that there is a core to Christian beliefs that also allows for authentic Christians to disagree on some points. Olson concludes each chapter by also proposing a brief “unitive Christian vision” of the doctrine under discussion, where he briefly recommends his own position, including an affirmation of the consensus as well as an attempt to take a “both-and,” rather than “either-or,” approach to the various theological issues regarding which Christian disagree.

Cessationism is largely a phenomenon of Modern Protestant Christianity.

Readers of The Pneuma Review will appreciate the new second edition of The Mosaic of Christian Belief, particularly because this revision adds a much needed chapter on the Holy Spirit. As usual, Olson does well in this chapter describing the consensus of the church and alternative views. His section on diverse Christian beliefs regarding the Holy Spirit could be stronger though. Here he includes a discussion of the historical filioque controversy, which relates to how the Holy Spirit exists eternally in relationship to the Father and the Son, as well as a discussion regarding whether or not there is an “infilling of the Holy Spirit” for Christians after conversion. When discussing the second issue, Olson curiously describes cessationism (the idea that the dramatic gifts of the Spirit, such as speaking in tongues, ceased after the first century) as the “traditionalist” position, in contrast to the “renewalist” position. His use of the descriptor “traditionalist” is strange given that cessationism is largely a phenomenon of Modern Protestant Christianity, and given that the dramatic gifts of the Spirit were never rejected by the Catholic or Orthodox traditions, even when they were not widely practiced. While there are some Christians who affirm cessationism today, it is certainly not the traditional position of the Church. One might even argue that it is an alternative to the historical Christian consensus. Rather than using so much space to discuss cessationism, Olson might have strengthened his section on diverse beliefs of Christians by explaining the various ways that Christians in different church traditions have understood the significance of baptism in the Holy Spirit.

The greatest strength of this book is its historical content.

The greatest strength of this book is its historical content. Olson draws frequently on theologians, from the Patristics, through to the Protestant Reformers, to contemporary theologians. While Olson does discuss key ideas and passages from the Bible, the book could be strengthened with more engagement of Scripture. Overall, this book serves as an excellent thematic introduction to what Christians have historically believed.

Reviewed by Andrew K. Gabriel


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Category: Church History, Fall 2016

About the Author: Andrew K. Gabriel, Ph.D. (McMaster), is an ordained minister with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada and associate professor of theology at Horizon College and Seminary, an affiliated college of the University of Saskatchewan. He has focused his research on the doctrines of God, the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, Pentecostalism, and Karl Barth. He is the author of Barth's Doctrine of Creation: Creation, Nature, Jesus, and the Trinity (2013), The Lord is the Spirit: The Holy Spirit and the Divine Attributes (2011), co-author of Johannine Writings and Apocalyptic: An Annotated Bibliography (2013), and a forthcoming book for pastors and laity, Simply Spirit-Filled: Experiencing God in the Presence and Power of the Holy Spirit (2019). You can download his free e-book Spirit Baptism in the Old and New Testaments (Not Just Acts) at his web page,

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