The Evangelical Left

By Millard J. Erickson
Grand Rapids : Baker (1997). 157 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Larry Pettegrew
9.1 (Spring 1998) : 106-107

"If a waterfowl looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, but walks like a goose, is it still a duck? If it then honks like a goose and walks like a goose but still looks like a duck, is it a duck or a goose?" (147). Millard Erickson, who is Distinguished Professor of Theology at Baylor University's Truett Seminary, and at Western Seminary, Portland, Oregon, asks this question and concludes that these postconservatives who make up the evangelical left have not yet surrendered "the right to be called evangelicals," but he contends that evangelicalism is not "unlimited" (147). Erickson says that he does not wish to cause "alarm," but he does wish to sound an "alert" regarding the theological deviations of the "evangelical left."

 He analyzes the evangelical left, first by a historical, and then a theological survey of the movement. He begins with a review of the history of evangelicalism, explaining its background in fundamentalism and how it developed into the new evangelicalism in the 1940’s. He explains such features of new evangelicalism as the impact of Billy Graham, the role of Christianity Today, the leftward move of Fuller Seminary in the 1960’s, and then concludes with a general survey of postconservative evangelicalism. It is probably nit-picking to note it, but Erickson reiterates the oftBook repeated mistake, first made by the early historian of fundamentalism, Stewart Cole, that the Niagara Bible Conference participants wrote a five-point creed in 1895. There was no such thing - actually they approved a fourteen-point creed in 1878. And Erickson generalizes that Curtis Lee Laws coined the term "fundamentalism" in "about 1910" (18). Actually, it was 1920.

In chapter two, "The Task and Method of Theology," Erickson examines four different programs of theological methodology which represent the evangelical left. He notes one of the heroes of the movement, Bernard Ramm, and then focuses on the contributions of Clark Pinnock, Stanley Grenz, and James McClendon. He points out how these are explaining evangelicalism as a pietist movement, and how they have expanded the sources of theology beyond the Bible to historical theology, experience, and the thought-forms of contemporary culture.

In chapter three, the author explains some of the recent low-lights in the evangelical lefts' doctrine of Scripture. Erickson analyzes Rogers' and McKim's historical work in which they try to prove that inerrancy is a relatively recent idea, as well as Dewey Beegle¬ís 1970’s attempt to promote a limited inerrancy doctrine of Scripture. He also notes the influence of Karl Barth on the evangelical left's Bibliology.

"The Doctrine of God" is the topic of the fourth chapter in which Erickson explains the shocking innovations in the theology proper of postconservative evangelicalism. They have elevated what has been called "The Open View of God" over the classical understanding that God is omniscient and omnipotent. Many of the participants in the evangelical left (though thankfully not all) have concluded that not only does God not sovereignly control the details of the universe, but He does not, indeed cannot, even know many of the things that are going to happen in the future.

In his last major chapter, Erickson analyzes the recent aberrations in the doctrine of salvation seemingly stolen from liberalism and the cults by the evangelical left. Inclusivism, the idea that adherents to the other religions of the world may be saved in some way by Christ without actually becoming Christian -  perhaps through general revelation - has become popular. Some of the evangelical left, such as Clark Pinnock, are also proposing that it may be possible for some to get into heaven by a "post-mortem encounter" with the gospel. And for those who finally reject the gospel, some postconservatives are teaching the annihilation of the wicked on the basis of the conditional immortality of the soul.

 I recommend this book. It will be a handy tool for pastors who wish to warn their people about some of the dangerous doctrinal novelties within evangelicalism. Seminary and college students, as well as other informed lay people, will certainly profit from Erickson's insightful analyses of these current peculiarities within the evangelical left.