Friday, February 16, 2007

Olson on Folk Religion

I am going through “The Mosaic of Christian Belief” by Roger Olson with a small group. Last week in our first meeting we reviewed the introduction where Olson introduced the concept of folk religion. Folk religion focuses upon faith experience and rejects that there is necessity within Christians for an understanding of the basic beliefs or doctrines of the Christian faith. A common phrase of the folk religious is “doctrine divides, Jesus unites.” On the other side we have those who spend all their time and energy on developing their beliefs.

Regarding this dichotomy Olson explains that, “on the one hand, some evangelical ministers and teachers emphasize believing as if it were the be-all and the end-all of authentic Christianity. On the other hand, many more emphasize “experiencing God” or “doing what Jesus would do” as the be-all and end-all of authentic Christianity.” (P 20) Olson feels there is a middle ground that is both necessary and healthy for the today’s believing Christian because “folk religion is a poor substitute for historic Christianity” and “intellectual “head knowledge” is an equally poor substitute for personal transformation through a relationship with the triune God.” (P 20)

Olson’s primary agenda is to counter the present decline in awareness of basic Christian beliefs. I do think Olson’s points are very good and worth all of us pondering. Some of you are so busy “knowing God” that you take little time to enjoy a simple and intimate relationship with your Abba Father. Others of you are so focused on “just loving Jesus” that you are actually at risk of embracing an “odd eclecticism” of faith “in which completely incompatible notions are combined in a soup of experiential spirituality.” (P 19)


First Theology said...

Scooter- Good stuff. I think the "categories/methods" of doing theology (folk, lay, ministrial, professional, academic) in the intro of this book are probably worth the price alone (the rest is good too tho). He definitely breaks thru some ingrained paradigms in terms of his method/orientation to theology we might not even recognize we have.

I'm interested to see what your group thinks of the chapters dealing with each theological theme as he applies his method (very dialectic BTW) to historical theology.

Sara said...

hey...i think i'll have to put this book on my "after I'm done with school" reading list...sounds like an thought-provoking one. when you said "folk religion" i immediately thought of folk it was interesting to see it used with Christianity. :)

i just wrote a post on how we in the West (particularly) get caught up in names (i.e. baptist, presbyterian, etc.) and how, though these denominations are necessary and not bad, they can be a hindrance in bringing God His due glory...particularly in light of the fact He doesn't "see" them, but just those who love Him and those who don't.

I guess my thought is, how can you love Someone if you don't know about them? i guess i see doctrine as a way of putting our knowledge about God into words that we can better understand. You've got to have the knowledge and the experience. Bc when experience falls short, sometimes you have to rely on knowledge.

good stuff. thanks for sharing! :)

First Theology said...

Sara- It's interesting to see that folk religion is really common in every system - Christianity included. If you are interested in pursuing this further I'd suggest a book called Understanding Folk Religion - it should be required reading for all pastors & missionaries since almost everything you run into "out there" (including here in America) has some very similar themes/concerns.