I recently wrote a quick review of How To Be Evangelical Without Being Conservative by Roger E. Olson but, even a week later, I have some more thoughts on the book (I guess a good book should keep you thinking).
I said that "I wasn't sure I was willing to accept Olson's definitions, indeed I wasn't sure if I agreed with him" and I believe I've put my finger on one of my main struggles with the book. He broadly describes Evangelicals as displaying five characteristics: "biblicisim (belief in the supreme authority of Scripture for faith and life), conversionism (belief that authentic Christianity always includes a radical conversion to Jesus Christ by personal repentance and faith that begins a lifelong personal relationship with him),"--and I find this "conversionist" to be among the most controversial between conservatives and liberals--crucicentrism (piety, devotional life, and worship centered around the cross of Jesus Christ), ...activisim (concern for and involvement in social transformation through evangelism and social action)" and finally, "respect for the Great Tradition of Christian doctrine." (all this is from his introduction).
Once you flesh these out there are many many Christians (some who may even refer to themselves as liberals) who might find them agreeable. But what's missing here? What central aspect of Evangelical theology does Olson leave out of his broad description as well as his more detailed analysis of Evangelicalism? I would assert that there is a particular doctrine with which you must deal if you're going to deal with Evangelicalism--the doctrine of hell.
Hell--the doctrine that asserts that those who do not experience conversion and/or those who die "in their sin" will experience eternal postmortem suffering--has become as central to mainstream Evangelical theology as Jesus himself. To propose a definition of evangelicalism that does not include nor deal with hell is to propose a completely different definition than Evangelicals hold for themselves (at least in practice). Thus, from my understanding, Olson does not provide a complete definition. It is possible, after all, for someone to be Evangelical by Olson's definition... even conversionist... without believing in hell at all and I'm not sure that's fair to most evangelicals.
On the other hand, I personally still (barely) consider myself to be an Evangelical (especially by Olson's definition), but I realize that I have to deal with Hell. I do not share mainstream evangelical sentiments about Hell. I don't see it as a rigid doctrine. As I've mentioned before, my beliefs about Hell kinda depend on the day. So I do believe that there is foundation for someone to be Evangelical without sharing the traditional theology of hell--it might very well mean proposing an altogether new (or newly remembered) definition for Evangelicalism--but either way, Olson missed an opportunity to approach that subject directly.
Overall, especially now that I've had time to let it settle, I still think Olson's book is fantastic. It really lays some good foundation for discussion. In a way, I'm glad he didn't talk about Hell... the book may have had to be significantly longer and he may not have been able to make the same kind of advances that he made throughout the book.