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Am I a Liberal?

Roger Olson's post from February 7, in which he explains why he is not a liberal, and in which he offers up his personal definition of theological liberalism, has been generating a lot of buzz today. Tony Jones has taken the plunge by laying out his beliefs along-side Olson's six-point test, and is encouraging others to do the same.

I attempt to score myself on the "Olson Scale of Theological Liberalism" below. :


Question 1: Do I think the universe is open to God's "special activity" (i.e., "miracles")?

Answer: Yes. No qualifiers on this one.

Verdict: Not liberal.

Running Score: 0 out of 1


Question 2: Do I begin theologically with the notion of "special revelation"? (By this, I think he means do I think there is some sense of a theological norm that has a divine origin, rather than one in human experience and culture)

Answer: Yes. However, this one is a little more complicated. I believe in divine revelation, but think it occurs within human experiences and communities. Always has, always will. See one John Wesley and his quadrilateral.

Verdict: My guess is that the notion of divine revelation being all mixed up with human experience is what makes Olson squirm on this point, so I'll take a "liberal" mark on this one. (Does this make all non-evangelicals "liberals"?)

Running Score: 1 out of 2


Question 3: Is my Christology truly incarnational? (In other words, do I think Jesus existed as "the Word" prior to being on earth? That he is categorically different from other "great souls"?)

Answer: Yes.

Verdict: Not Liberal

Score: Liberal 1 out of 3


Question 4: Do I think God is the "author" of scripture? (Olson rejects the notion that scripture is merely a "wisdom-filled source of religious illumination" but does not require a belief in "divine dictation." He says this issue largely comes down to whether one believes that the Bible is unique when compared to other writings, etc.)

Answer: I do think the Bible is a source of illumination that reflects our "ancestors' experiences of God" (who doesn't?). I also reject the notion of divine dictation. I also think the Bible is unique compared, say, to the collected teachings of the Buddha – though, again, I believe it is a product of the divine working within human experience and human community.

Verdict: I honestly don't know how Olson would react to this. I think he would find that I lean toward the "liberal" approach, but not whole-heartedly. Score a very wishy-washy half point.

Score: 1.5 out of 4


Question 5: Do I think "salvation" is forgiveness, reconciliation, and sanctification or is it only the realization of human potential?

Answer: I don't think "salvation" is only the realization of human potential. I think it is a lot of things, many of which have to do with the social, environmental, and political situation in our world. I also think, in part, it is forgiveness, reconciliation, and sanctification.

Verdict: Again, I don't quite know how Olson would look at this. I'm going to go with a half point again. I think he would prefer that I have a stronger emphasis on atonement for personal sin, though my perspective isn't too far askew.

Score: 2 out of 5


Question 6: Do I believe in a "real" return of Jesus Christ to bring about a new world of righteousness?

[Interesting note: In Olson's world, inclusivists and universalists are presumably not theologically liberal because they believe in a "real" new world of righteousness – he requires a sense of Jesus' return, but his test doesn't require agreement with the traditional notions of hell/judgment]

Answer: Yep. I can't say that all of the stories and parables about the "day of Christ" are 100% "literal," but I do think my eschatology is strong enough to pass muster with Olson. I line up with Wright, and I think he is probably comfortable with that.

Verdict: Not liberal.

Final Score: 2 out of 6


Under Olson's six-point test, it can be said that I have been influenced by theological liberalism, but that I haven't drunk the Kool-Aid. Its probably a fair assessment.

How do you think you would score?

1 Comment

  1. Steve Allison's Gravatar Steve Allison
    February 14, 2013    

    I’m with those who are non-traditional but find a problem with the term liberal. That is so mid-20th century. But I have traveled through that territory and wrestled with it. Seemed to me after graduating from Harding in 1972 that there were only two options, conservative or liberal. But more recently people like Tony Jones, Brian McLaren and others are helping me find a reasonable and real Christianity worth believing, be it termed Emergent, Postmodern, Incarnational or whatever. Regarding Question 1, God will do what God will do. However, that God would find it absolutely necessary for me to believe that every magic trick described in a book written two to three thousand years ago is literally true does not seem fair to me. I came across a priest on the internet a few years ago who wrote that he believed everything in the Bible is absolutely true and that some of it actually happened. Regarding the incarnation, the Christ is part of the nature of the universe. This is conjecture, but it seems to me that there must surely be other planets in the universe that have sentient life. In those places I presume life unfolded similarly to how ours developed. I won’t go into the details but have a more detailed rationale of this. And eventually they get their Jesus. Yes, that is how is must be and and how it was meant to be.

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