The Exciting Futures of Evangelical Theology

By Joshua Penduck

Theology is never static, because the world is never static. God’s world is a place of dynamic change, in which there are ever new unexpected possibilities and outcomes – of course underwritten by those theological constants of life, sin and grace. This is the same for all theologies, whether those that consciously attempt to adapt to the times or those that imagine they do remain the same. Whether theology is ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’, it changes with the times. Even those kinds of conservative theologies that self-consciously try to be as ‘unchanging’ as possible – such as some kinds of Orthodox and Protestant Fundamentalist theology – adapt with the times. New subjects arise to speak about, which changes the whole tenor theological discourse, whether that be evolution in the 19th Century, abortion in the 20th Century, or increasingly gay marriage in the 21st Century. Even theologies written in self-conscious continuity differ greatly: just witness the difference between the theologies of 19th Century Princeton (i.e. Hodge and Warfield) with their contemporary imitators (i.e. Erickson and Grudem). Different subjects to approach, different orderings, different ways of reading the Scriptures.

Since the mid-20th Century, Evangelical theology has broken with its Fundamentalist past. A new tradition of theological thinking arose, sometimes in contrast with one another. In his book, Renewing the Centre, Baptist theologian Stanley Grenz mapped the ways in which the followers of key thinkers of the early days have forged their own Evangelical theological traditions. For Grenz, those following after the great theologian Carl F.H. Henry – such as Millard Erickson, Wayne Grudem, David Wells, D.A. Carson, Paul Helm, and John Piper – have maintained that a conservative stance is vital to remaining faithful to the Evangelical tradition. Those who followed after Henry’s friend and more theologically flexible contemporary, Bernard Ramm – such as Donald Bloesch, Clark Pinnock, Roger Olson, and Grenz himself – have developed what Olson has called a ‘Postconservative’ approach to Evangelical theology. However, I’ve noticed that even this bifurcation is beginning to develop in multiple ways: no longer can we talk so simply about a ‘conservative’ and ‘postconservative’ approach to theology like we could have done, say, ten years ago. More branches have emerged. Some conservative approaches to theology – such as those pioneered by figures like Michael Horton and Peter Leithart – are increasingly sophisticated and worthy to be ranked alongside the best of mainline Protestant theology. In reaction to some of the increasingly liberal approaches to Evangelical theology, postconservative figures such as Kevin Vanhoozer have tightened their connection to the Protestant scholastic past (without losing their postconservative critical edge). Meanwhile, as mainline theology returns to orthodoxy, surprising new connections are being forged.

In the next three posts, I’m going to talk about three of those surprising connections that have already been made in the last ten years. After all, who would have thought that ten years ago, Evangelical theologians would be positively engaging with, amongst other things, Roman Catholic Neoplatonic ontologies, process-based liberation theologies, and even French phenomenological philosophies? So what are these three emerging Evangelical theological ‘schools’ – or, to be more accurate, ‘movements’?


  • Evangelical Calvinism
Myk Habets

This is not the kind of Calvinism you learnt from your high school youth pastor, let alone the kind of Calvinism preached by the ‘Young, Restless, and Reformed’ New Calvinist crowd (of the likes of Mark Driscoll and Francis Chan). Instead, this kind of Calvinism reaches out to the ‘other Calvin’, the one we don’t hear about much these days, who was more interested in the sacramental union with Christ found in baptism than in double predestination; more interested in being Catholic than contemporary; more grounded in rituals than pop culture. Those influenced by the Evangelical Calvinism movement look to the Calvinist tradition that developed in Scotland, that wasn’t so keen on the scholastic ‘federal’ Calvinism that was more prevalent on the Continent and seen most keenly in the Westminster Confession. This Calvinism is more missionally focussed, emphasises Jesus’ incarnation more than the covenant, and is more at home with the Patristics in reading Scripture. These Evangelicals look more to Karl Barth and Thomas Torrance than to Charles Hodge or Louis Berkhof.

Key Text: Evangelical Calvinism, ed. By Myk Habets and Bobby GrowPICKWICK_Template

Influences: Athanasius, Calvin, Edwards, McLeod Campbell, Forsythe, Barth, Brunner, Torrance, Gunton

Characteristics: Missional metaphysics, union with Christ as the basis for atonement, baptismal ecclesiology, an expansive understanding of the Reformed tradition, ‘depth exegesis’, kerygmatic liturgy, and Christologically-centred election

Representatives: Tom Smail, John Webster, Myk Habets, Bobby Grow, Paul Nimmo, Tom Greggs, Richard Briggs, Jens Zimmermann


  • Evangelical Sacramentalism
Hans Boersma
Hans Boersma

Whereas Evangelical Calvinism found its resources in one branch of the great Protestant theologians of the 20th Century, Evangelical Sacramentalism has turned to Roman Catholic theology. In particular, it has turned to the mid-20th Century French ressourcement or Nouvelle Théologie for guidance. This movement, headed in particular by figures such as Henri de Lubac and Yves Congar, strove to look behind the divisions that emerged in Christendom in the 16th Century, and even before the Catholic theology on the later Medieval period. Instead, their focus was on returning to the great Patristic tradition, as well as its expression in early Medieval theology. Those in the Evangelical Sacramental movement view the Reformation in part as a tragic happening, tearing the Church apart, but recognising that this was due to problems in later Medieval theology (which were rectified in part by the Reformation, but exaggerated in other ways). Nevertheless, they do not want to simply become Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or High Church Anglican, maintaining many of the best aspects of the Reformed tradition of which they are a part. The Evangelical Sacramental movement, spearheaded in particular by Reformed theologian Hans Boersma, emphasise Patristic approaches to viewing the universe (which draw especially on Plato), Scripture (in particular an allegorical approach to interpretation) and liturgical formational approach to discipleship.

Key Text: Heavenly Participation, by Hans Boersma Heavenly Participation

Influences: Irenaeus, Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, the Caroline Divines, the Oxford Movement, de Lubac, Congar, von Balthasar, Daniélou, Kathryn Tanner

Characteristics: Analogical ontology, sacramenal ecclesiology, participatory Christology, Catholic understanding of the Reformed tradition, allegorical exegesis, eucharist-centred liturgy

Representatives: Hans Boersma, Eugene Peterson, Robert Webber, Christopher Cocksworth, James K.A. Smith


  • Pentecostal Globalism
Amos Yong

It’s no surprise to see that Pentecostalism, having become a global movement, is rapidly diversifying. This is in part by the way it easily takes on many of the characteristics of its culture. For instance, a Nigerian Pentecostal, a Chinese Pentecostal, and a Swedish Pentecostal share much in common, but they are easily identifiable by their own culture. In the same way, Pentecostal theology has adapted many ‘mainline’ concerns into its own oeuvre. For instance, Latin American Pentecostal theology increasingly engages with Liberation Theology, and African and Asian with Postcolonial Theology. Guided by an overarching Pneumatological hermeneutic – in particular, an experiential approach to this hermeneutic – the rising generation of Pentecostal theologians are in conversation with such unexpected partners as process theology, cosmological sciences, interfaith theology, macro economics, and the ethics of disability. At the centre of this fascinating emergence is the great Pentecostal theologian Amos Yong, though there are plenty other figures to look at as well.

Key Texts: The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh, by Amos Yong; as well as the Pentecostal Manifesto SeriesSpirit Poured Out

Influences: Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Wesley, Barth, Tillich, Moltmann, Pannenberg, Jenson, LaCugna, Volf, Boff

Characteristics: Pneumatological metaphysics, charismatic ecclesiology, a pneumatic approach to exegesis emphasising anamnesis, a globalised understanding of the Protestant tradition, a ludic and experiential approach to liturgy and narrative

Representatives: Amos Yong, Frank Macchia, Wolfgang Vondey, Nimi Wariboko, Simon Chan, Steven Studebaker, Veli-Matti Karkkainen


I’ll be looking at each of these in detail over the next few weeks (in case you don’t understand some of my meanings – especially in the characteristics section!), so stay tuned!

P.S. I too have noticed how Evangelical theology is still a male-dominated arena. Thankfully, this is beginning to break down!


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