Roger Olson’s Questions to All Your Answers is an argument for what he dubs “reflective Christianity” in place of “folk Christianity.” He writes, “Folk Christianity consists of a common stock of cute or comforting sayings and sweet aphorisms worked into and out of songs, poems and devotional books” ((Roger E. Olson, “Questions to All Your Answers: The Journey from Folk Religion to Examined Faith” (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 15.)). Olson, a professor of theology at Truett Seminary at Baylor University, wants to see Christians move to a more reflective and biblical Christianity. He describes reflective Christianity in the following ways:
- Reflective Christianity is the opposite of folk religion.
- Reflective Christianity has the courage to say “I don’t know,” rather than fall back on half-baked and pat answers that wither and die under scrutiny.
- Reflective Christianity is mature, wife Christian spirituality.
- Reflective Christianity encourages and enables education and is not afraid of facts.
- Reflective Christianity has roots; it admires and respects the great sages of the Christian past.
- Reflective Christianity is catholic Christianity.
- Reflective Christianity is reasonable Christianity.
- Reflective Christianity is humble because it knows how little we really know or understand about the great mysteries of God and the universe.
- Reflective Christianity is culture-shaping Christianity. ((Ibid., 19-22.))
For the ten chapters in the book, Olson goes through a variety of Christian clichés and tries to present a more “reflective Christianity” position to them. Some of the clichés he responds to are: It’s a mystery, just accept it; God is in control; Jesus is the answer; the Bible has all the answers; God has a perfect plan for your life; God helps those who help themselves; Jesus is coming soon; all sins are equal; judge not; and money isn’t bad, but only what we do with it. It’s his belief that each of those statements finds its root in a folk religion/folk Christianity that has, over time, come to be believed to be synonymous with Orthodox Christianity. He believes that there my be some truth to each of the myths, but that their fullness is not found in that statement alone, and many times, it is a both/and as opposed to an either/or.
Olson is an evangelical, and he makes that clear throughout the book. However, he is trying to argue against a contemporary evangelical Christianity that is skeptical of academic thought, reason and relies only on occasional emotional experiences. What I did find interesting is that while I would consider myself more progressive/liberal/(whatever word you want to include) than Olson, I was somewhat “convicted” (now there is a good evangelical word for you) about some of my own past usage (and current usage!) of a few of these “myths” of folk religion, especially when I thought about my time in camping ministry with students.
One in particular that I would still probably want to argue for is the first: “it’s a mystery, just accept it.” While I’m not asking people to turn their brains off – I think there are probably more constructive things to do with our Christian lives than sit around and argue about whether Romans 7.14-25 is Paul discussing life as a Christian or pre-conversion, or try to figure out exactly how our freedom and God’s sovereignty work together. Now, I am a seminarian – and I do find these conversation interesting. But at some point, I think you have to say, “It is a mystery. Period.” One of my favorite verses is Deuteronomy 29.29: “The secret things belong to the Lord.” While I think to pull out the paradox/mystery card too early could potentially be a cop-out, it isn’t necessarily always so.
The book is fairly engaging, and it feels like it would be a good book for a freshman religion major to read (I would have benefited from reading this when I was a freshman religion major). I appreciate the way he addresses each of these myths, especially in his “Jesus is the Answer” chapter, Olson tries to combat against a “Jesus only” theology (Oneness theology) and argues for a more robust vision of a Trinitarian God – a move that I think is very good and helpful. However, I don’t think that he goes far enough some times – but I do like where he leaves us at the very end of the book: “The reflective Christian is one who questions what she believes while continuing to believe what she is questioning.” ((Ibid., 188.))
If you’re interested in reading and/or reviewing this book on your blog – it’s yours. First person to leave a comment (who hasn’t already received another book) will get the book. Otherwise, you can purchase it here.