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Richard J. Mouw
How Should Evangelicals Do Theology? Delete the Post from Postconservative
Papers and responses from the first annual Theology Conference at Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia, in October 1999 have been gathered in a volume edited by John G. Stackhouse, Jr., Evangelical Futures: A Conversation About Theological Method (Baker Books), with contributions by Stanley J. Grenz, Trevor Hart, Alister E. McGrath, Roger E. Olson, J.I. Packer, Kevin J. Vanhoozer, and Stephen Williams. Books & Culture asked Harriet Harris and Richard Mouw to respond to this volume, with an eye to what it says about the current state of evangelical theology.
During the course of some recent travels I carried the Evangelical Futures volume around as my "heavy" reading. For a change of pace I would switch over to Ben Rogers's fascinating recent biography of A.J. Ayer. At one point Rogers quotes a few lines from a 1956 review that Stuart Hampshire wrote of Ayer's The Problem of Knowledge. Hampshire saw "a certain tameness" in the book: "one can see from the beginning," he reported, "that none of the sceptical arguments are going to get out of hand; they are on a tight, light rein, familiar, domesticated animals which are taken out for a short run."
It struck me that Hampshire's characterization of Ayer's approach nicely captured my own sense of what was going on in the evangelical essays. To be sure, Hampshire did not intend his remarks to be words of praise; Ayer's book, he said, had "a lack of impulse, as in a school work." In my reading of Evangelical Futures, on the other hand, I actually found the taming patterns to be refreshing. While some of the familiar themes that we associate with postmodernity were taken out for a walk—communities of interpretation, the importance of narrative, language games, coherentist understandings of truth, and so on—they were kept on a leash. And the writers were not reluctant to tug on that theological leash at many points as they frequently introduced appropriate qualifications and identified genuine dangers.