The mosaic of christian belief Roger E. Olson

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                        The mosaic of christian belief

                                     roger e. Olson

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Author Roger E. Olson wrote ‘The Mosaic of Christian Belief’ after completing almost twenty years of teaching theology and doctrines of Christianity in various academic institutions. This book was an attempt on his part to produce an introductory, complete, non technical and non speculative work on Christian beliefs. ‘The Mosaic of Christian belief’ is a great example of mediating theology of evangelical Protestant Christianity. It also attempts to unite the Christians under common grounds by teaching the values of unity and truth. The author is of the opinion that though there is significant amount of the diversity within Christianity, there are some common points, which are shared by all. Thus, ‘The Mosaic of Christian Belief’ wants ‘to portray Christian belief in all its glorious harmony and rich diversity’. (Olson 2002 p.12)

The first and foremost diversity among Christians is regarding the term evangelical. Each group has their own theory like for example to the Europeans evangelical means Protestantism. In England this term is used to refer to the revivalist movements by John and Charles Wesley and in the United States of America evangelicalism is a form of conservative Protestantism. According to Olson,

“Evangelical comes from a Greek word for the gospel or good news proclaimed by the apostles following Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection………………………….Thus, any church, organization or person who proclaims that gospel faithfully is evangelical.” (Olson 2002 P.13)

In the first chapter, Olson tries to come to a consensus between the diversity and uniformity, which exists within Christianity. One hand it is not necessary for every Christians to have a common belief as it would lead to authoritarianism and will insult individuality. On the other hand, if there is no common belief Christianity suffers the risk of loosing its meaning and historical identity. From the early days of Christianity, there has been diversity in opinions between people considering Jesus as the ‘son of God’ and some considering him as normal human being. This distinction between ‘Jesus’ and ‘Christ’ still exists today. The great leaders of Christianity have identified certain most important basics of this religion, to distinguish it from other religions. These basics have to be followed by all true Christians. However, the Christian churches and the thinkers had to face many hurdles while building up these common basics. They developed the basic doctrines in the 2nd and 3rd century, which were again negated in the 16th century by the Protestant reformers. In one hand, various beliefs of Christianity has mushroomed at various levels and on the other hand there is fundamentalism which “explicitly or implicitly reject all diversity and plurality” (Olson 2002 P. 32). However, this fundamentalism was unable to prevent the various beliefs and doctrines, which individual churches and ecclesiastical groups have propounded. Thus, according to Olson, in Christianity “beliefs matter but not all beliefs matter equally”. (Olson 2002 P. 33) Even as per the Great Traditions of Christianity, there is no consensus among the Eastern Orthodox Church, Protestants and Roman Catholics. The author goes to say that the Great Traditions or Christian Consensus are not in one book or one documents it is to be brought out from various Christian teachings and beliefs. “The Christian consensus is divided over so called predestination as well as over free human participation in salvation” (Olson 2002 P. 36) However, it is important for all Christians to known the basic Christian beliefs, traditions and also the Bible. In the third and the fourth century there was a conscious effort made by the fathers and bishops of various churches to make a common ‘Rule of Faith or the ‘Apostolic Teaching’, which brought a consensus among the Christians, although different church groups explained them in a different way and the ‘Rule’ was also anti-Gnostic. After the Reformation movement as new set of ‘Rule of Faith’ was created by the Protestants. Olson in this chapter also talks about the orthodoxy and heresy in Christianity. Orthodoxy has a note of fundamentalism attached to it although just believing Christian doctrines is not orthodoxy but ‘dead orthodoxy’ is definitely dangerous. Another term very much misinterpreted like orthodoxy is heresy. “Heresy does not necessarily imply loss of Salvation or an inquisition or excommunication” (Olson P. 41). Orthodoxy is however, required to an extent to give unity to Christian beliefs and traditions and also allow the diversities to exist within it.

In the second chapter authors Roger Olson, aims to develop proper Christian beliefs and not those ‘merely held by most Christians’. (Olson 2002 P.49). There are many norms and sources, which has contributed to the modern day Christianity. Almost every Christian believes in the Bible and the other norms, which are followed, are traditions, reason and experience. However, interpretation of all the norms are not uniform in nature. In today’s world, “Christians prefer to fly by the seat of their pants and go with whatever beliefs seen both reasonable and comforting. Or they simply accept what a favorite preacher, writer or Christian teacher say.” (Olson 2002 P. 51) It is a very difficult task to come to a common consensus in the Christian beliefs and norms. Uniformity in beliefs had never existed in Christianity completely since the ancient times and it got the greatest blow during the time of reformation. “Scripture alone as ultimate sours and norm” for the Christians was the main teachings of Porestantism and according to Luther Bible was the cradle that holds Christ. In spite of the various contradictions and explanations of the norms and customs of Christianity, there are some common grounds, which unify Christians. The similarities still existing in Christianity today are, consideration of special divine revelation from God as the ultimate, scriptures are the written form of that revelation and the acceptance of ‘Rule of Faith or The Creed’ of the ‘Gospels’. The ‘Weselyan Quadrilateral’ is considered at the “four main specific sources and norms properly used by Christians. (Olson 2002 P. 56). These Quadrilaterals were not accepted or interpreted uniformly; however, Christian thinkers used it for the past centuries in their own ways. The sources and norms of true Christian belief have passed through lot of propositions, changes and disagreements. It is really a difficult task to establish a uniform and correct Christian belief. The process of establishing the right Christian tradition has sources and norms in it and “involves an on-going conversation between them”. (Olson 2002 P. 69)

In the third chapter, the author decides to discuss the non-uniformity, which exists even in the case of Scriptures. Divine revelation and scriptures were not similar for the Protestants and for the followers Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholicism “Scripture I one part of that larger revelation phenomenon”. Divine revelation can be termed as God’s message to his followers and it is clear and definitive when it is written. “The assumption of divine revelation is consistent with logic and shared human and Christian experience is basic to Christianity.” (Olson 2002 P.72). It is also a common belief among Christians that God has come on earth in the form of Jesus Christ. The twentieth century philosophical thinker Karl Barth gives his own three fold explanation of divine revelation or special revelation. The three forms of divine revelations are “God’s Word Revealed”, “Gods word written” and “Gods words Preached” thus giving importance to Jesus Christ, Scriptures and also the role of the churches. However, there is definitely no consensus and uniform belief about divine revelation also and according to the author “ so long as we give primacy and normativity to original revelation in Jesus Christ and Scripture, there is no great danger.” (Olson 2002 p.88)

Whether Bible is a divine or not is the main argument addressed in the chapter by the author.  Many consider Bible to be right from the heaven and according to some it is just a good piece of literature communicating divine thoughts. Humans wrote Bible or the Scripture and obviously, interpretations of human minds were included in them. However, there is common belief among the Christians that Bible is God’s Words. During the time of reformation, the reformers accepted only the Bible or Scripture. “Both Catholic Church and Luther at times went so far as to suggest that the Holy Spirit dictated the very words of Scripture to the human authors”. (Olson 2002 p. 93) To deny the divinity of the Scripture or the Bible is considered heresy. Whatever may be the controversies and disagreements the Scripture or the Bible has never failed in their purpose to preach or transform people.

It is in the hearts of every Christians that God is good and great. There is nothing more powerful than Him and better than Him. However, there has been a competition between the goodness and greatness of God, which is created by the theologians. There is also a conflict between the Deism and Pantheism and Classic Christianity as the formers question ‘God’s personal presence’ and ‘denies God’s holy transcendence’.

Trinity is one of the major part of Christian beliefs, which put forwards God has three different identities yet one. “God is one in three, three in one” (Olson 2002 p. 133). There is no clear definition of trinity in the Scripture or the Bible and it has made the notion unpopular. “ In spite of this great agreement among Christians that God is both truly three persons and one divine being, tensions and polarities have given rise to debate and controversy within Christianity.” ( Olson 2002 p. 134) Nicene Constantinopolitan Creed doctrines, which are followed by every section of Christianity believes in Trinity.  Trinity can be linked to the Christian intuition that ‘Jesus is God but not all of God’. There also exist many anti- Trinitarian and non -Trinitarian concepts in Christianity. According to the author, there is need of both Trinitarians and Monotheists for explanation of divine revelation but what should be avoided in monotheism.

In the seventh chapter, the author discusses creationism, which is the intricately related to Christianity. Before Charles Darwin had propagated his theory of evolution, Christianity had created its own doctrine of creation. Even regarding the theory of evolution or creation there is consensus and polarity among Christians. Not everything god created can be good and as He is the source of everything, it makes Him the creators of evils too. According to many, the theory of creation is unreal as everything God brought into existence is from ‘nothing’, which is not believable.

There has always been a belief among Christians that there is one true God and He is who had created both heaven and earth. The doctrine of ‘Christ the Mediator’, which is found in the Presbyterian Westminster Confession of Faith, is also discussed here.

Another main topic of debate among Christians in the past centuries is regarding the belief whether Jesus Christ was God or Man. Most of times Jesus has been referred as the ‘son of God’ by theologians or the propagators of Christianity.

Salvation is another very important part of the “The Mosaic of Christian Belief: by Roger Olson. Whether salvation is an ‘objective and subjective’ or ‘it is a gift or a task’ is the major bone contention between various groups of theologians and preachers. There are differences between the Eastern Orthodox Church, Protestants and Roman Catholics regarding salvation. “ When the early church fathers debated the doctrine of the person of Christ and sought to construct a unifying belief about his deity and humanity they were primarily concerned to protect the reality of salvation through Christ.( Olson p. 243). However, in recent times even a devout Christian ‘tend to reduce belief in Christ’s atonement to a subjective model and neglect or ignore the objective accomplishment of God in Christ. (Olson 2002 p.263).

As mentioned earlier there is another connotation of Salvation, which is discussed in this book. According to the author salvation can be achieved by faith and repentance, it cannot be earned it is just a gift.

Church is one of the most important parts of Christianity; it is the house of God and also is responsible for the interpretation of the God’s word. In the thirteenth chapter, the author answers the questions, which rises out of the visibility and invisibility of the church. Since ancient times to the modern days, the role of the church is definitely very important in Christianity but it is not right to say that Christianity cannot exist without the church. However, the importance church enjoyed until the 20th century has reduced considerable in modern age. In spite of this, one has to agree that ‘the church is called to holiness, not only in ethical conduct but also in its spiritual focus on God and God alone’. (Olson 2002 p. 304).

In the Second last chapter of the books “The Mosaic of Christian Belief’, the author deals with the future. ‘Life beyond Death’ is not only about the destiny of people after they die but also about end of earth. There is no consensus among the Christians about the life beyond death or after earth is destroyed. In fact, there is a great debate about the return of Christ on earth.

In the final chapter of the book, Roger Olson’s main debate encircles around whether the Kingdom of God is already here or is yet to come. As many other matters addressed in this book, there is also no consensus regarding this topic. There are agreements in some points and disagreements regarding others but all Christians have always confessed that “Our God reigns”. (Olson p.331)

Roger E. Olson in “The Mosaic of Christian Belief” addresses various issues, doctrines and dogmas of Christianity. He mainly focuses on the disagreements and agreements, which existed among Christians in the past centuries. In the final chapters, the author gets a bit futuristic. In the major portion of the book, Roger has attempted to mediate among the various disputes regarding principles, canons and beliefs in Christianity. The authors also tried his best to explain orthodoxy, heresy and fundamentalism in Christianity and tried to explain and distinguish between them.


Olson, R.E. (2002), The Mosaic of Christian Belief, Intervarsity Press.

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The mosaic of christian belief Roger E. Olson. (2017, Feb 19). Retrieved from

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