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A Contemporary Christian Spirituality Religion Essay

What are Williams’ reservations about Lindbeck’s position? What might be the implications of either view for a contemporary Christian Spirituality?

Introduction

One of the most poignant images of the twentieth century is that of Jacob Bronowski standing in the ashes pool at Auschwitz, and then bending to lift the liquid, letting it fall through his fingers. Members of his own family perished there and he saw himself as a survivor. He said:

This is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance. It was done by dogma. It was done by ignorance. When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods. [1] 

It has been suggested that ‘Auschwitz has become the symbol of the death of modernism’. [2] One could argue that when the Soviet troops entered Auschwitz Concentration Camp on 27 January 1945, Postmodernism (the ‘new king’) was born.

The purpose of this essay is to examine and comment on how Christian doctrine can be related (or not) to postmodern Christian spirituality by using the critiques of George Lindbeck’s work made by Rowan Williams and other scholars. The brevity of this essay requires necessarily that only four of Lindbeck’s main arguments will be addressed, although not necessarily in the following order. It will examine (1) the three perceptions of biblical interpretation proposed by Lindbeck, (2) notions of truth according to the possibilities recognized by postliberalism, (3) the relationship between perceived biblical knowledge and the requirement (or not) for such knowledge to be tested against reality (even though such a term might fit less than comfortably within a postmodern framework of thought) and (4) the public accountability of ‘communal enclaves’. Bronowski’s chilling words stand as a ‘literary frontispiece’ to what follows.

The motif of ‘The Orwellian Year 1984’, being the year of publication of Lindbeck’s The Nature of Doctrine, and also the year when Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition was published in English, stands as an oblique reminder of the relevance of Orwell’s vision of a postmodern world, where a sense of history, the use of language and the notion of ‘absolute truth’ are distorted or manipulated by the controlling elite.

The essay will present Williams’ wise reservations, his concerns and perceptive criticisms of Lindbeck’s position as stated in the latter’s seminal work The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age. This action of balancing the theological viewpoints will serve as a catalyst enabling a wider spectrum of views and critiques to emerge (including Lindbeck’s own measured comments on his work ten years on in 1994). The essay will address the relevance and implications of Lindbeck’s views in the light of postmodern Christian spirituality, and finally be drawn to a conclusion, bringing together the key points of interest within the examinations of the two positions as related to the beginning of the twenty-first century.

An exposition of Williams’ reservations of Lindbeck’s conservative Postliberalism

In the postmodern category of contemporary theology referred to as postliberalism, the reality of the world, as perceived by men, women and children, is often juxtaposed against a view of biblical narrative which is claimed not to need any verification about what it says other than from itself or from the community, or communities, in which it is read or proclaimed. [3] 

Rowan Williams wants to ask some questions about Lindbeck where he talks of ‘inserting the human story into the world of scripture: “Intratextual theology redescribes reality within the scriptural framework rather than translating scripture into extrascriptural categories”’. [4] Williams says that he is both ‘interested’ and ‘perturbed’ by the imagery employed by Lindbeck. Williams wonders whether ‘framework’ is the right word to use and whether things (or persons) should then be ‘inserted’ into it. He asks whether this is the way that ‘scripturally informed imagination’ operates. He sees the process as being much more complicated and he infers that the process lies outside the parameters laid down by Lindbeck. [5] Williams describes Lindbeck’s understanding of the relationship between scripture and human experience ‘within its own territory’ (Williams’ italics). [6] Williams sees the problem in an entirely different light. He claims that we have ‘misunderstood the alternatives before us’. The ‘world of scripture’, described by Williams, is rooted in ‘an historical world’ (his italics). Such a scriptural world is out in the enormity of human experience, in which ‘meanings are discovered and recovered in action and encounter’. He sees this view as being in stark contrast to the bordered inward-looking ‘ghetto’ as championed by Lindbeck. [7] In the notes, Williams refers to Eric Auerbach’s commentary of the story of Abraham and Isaac, and Williams comments, ‘This again is an instance of our being returned to the scriptural text afresh by its own legacy as appropriated outside the theological community’, (my italics). [8] One review of the 50th Anniversary Edition speaks of our understanding of the truly world-wide perspective of Auerbach’s work only being possible in an age of globalization. [9] 

Williams continues his argument by examining the re-reading of biblical texts. He makes the point that the Bible itself is a product of such re-reading, but also warns that the text becomes changed when it is ‘absorbed’ by an alien culture. He cites the treatment of the story of Abraham and Isaac by the poet Wilfred Owen. Williams shows how a familiar story can be used in a new way in the hands of an agnostic who talks of Abraham ignoring the angel’s message of redemption and using a false ending to the story to illustrate the carnage of the Great War. Williams uses this example to show how biblical material ‘is not purely intratextual (as Lindbeck would wish it to be), conducted in terms fixed by the primal narrative’. [10] Williams argues forcefully that Owen’s treatment of the biblical text illustrates what the text can become in a twentieth century environment. He refers to the ‘impotence’ of the traditional story in Genesis when confronted with the brutal realities of early twentieth century conflict. The ‘old men of Europe’ in 1914 did not recognize the importance of humiliation experienced by Abraham as he withdrew his sword, and, as Williams observes candidly, we might have missed the point in Genesis that withdrawal under obedience is actually more important than the creation of the decision to kill, even though is involves humiliation. Lindbeck’s intratextuality would not allow this illustration in secular history to occur. Williams says:

This is indeed a discovery of scripture and world, and of the gulf between them; and it is now - or should be - part of what the Church reads in Genesis 22. It will have found out what it is itself saying, in absorbing this scriptural exegesis from its own margins. [11] 

Williams argues for the ‘distinctiveness of the Gospel’ to be maintained, even in the light of different understandings of concepts and words in the modern world. By contrast, Lindbeck refers to people who attempt to make the Gospel intelligible in the modern world become ‘liberal foundationalists’, [12] who are concerned with changing the language of the Gospel into modern idioms in addition to a change coming about as the Gospel addresses secular problems and situations. Williams sees Lindbeck as viewing the Gospel being translated ‘into alien terms’. [13] Williams’ view is much more traditional than Lindbeck’s. Williams describes the Gospel proclamation as part of the Church’s identity which cannot be sidelined or ignored. This special quality of Christian understanding can be missed when modern interpretations are stretched to new language leading to new understandings.

Williams makes an important criticism of Lindbeck’s position. He insists that the nature of ‘communal enclaves’ must be in the public arena, fully accountable within their ‘cultural setting’, otherwise they will be ‘trivialized into stylistic preferences once more’. [14] There is an enormous danger, in Williams’ perspective, that these enclaves will be ghettoized unless they can make their mark on the ‘global community’ as a possible outcome of this whole process. Williams then proceeds to show arguments against his proposal. He claims that the notion of a ‘global community’ does not equate with what he calls ‘theocratic totalitarianism’. Williams gives three reasons: (1) Theocracy would recognize finality. That learning would cease, and, therefore conversion would also be completed, with no further action possible. In this process unbelief could be deemed illegal. (2) Theocracy would recognize an end to history. He describes this as, ‘the Church seeks to foreclose the eschaton’. (3) The ‘kingdom language’ of a theocracy, with its ‘fusion of divine and earthly sovereignty’, would be markedly different from the kingdom language of Jesus. Williams concludes, ‘Theocracy, the administration by Christians of a monolithic society in which all distinction between sin and crime is eroded, is neither a practical nor a theologically defensible goal’. [15] 

An examination of Lindbeck’s view related to postmodern Christian Spirituality

In 1984 the conservative postliberal scholar George Lindbeck of Yale University published his most famous and controversial work, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age, in which he expressed his uneasiness of the way in which doctrine had been handled during his twenty-five years as a University Professor. He perceived a lack of adequate categories of conceptualization, especially in the ecumenical dimension [16] in which he took a keen and active interest. He says, 'Doctrines … do not behave the way they should'. We cannot return to 'preliberal orthodoxy' – therefore a 'postliberal' way is called for. [17] 

His work was drawn from other sources, whom he readily admits in 1994 in the Foreword to the German Edition: hermeneutical material from Hans Frei and David Kelsey, his fellow colleagues at Yale; the patristic origins of his understanding of grammar and rules from Edmund Schlink and Bernard Lonergan; the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein; his understanding of ‘cultural-linguistic’ theory from Clifford Geertz, and his second-hand knowledge of such thinkers as Weber, Durkeim, Hegel and Marx as shown to him by Peter Berger. [18] Also Lindbeck claims his indebtedness to Karl Barth’s views on non-scriptural theological conception and anti-foundationalism, and the work of Stanley Hauerwas. Lindbeck has been influenced by the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, who ‘has redirected ethical thinking among philosophers away from the search for universal principles and toward the importance of community and tradition’. [19] Therefore whenever the views of Lindbeck are expressed within this essay, they are not to be seen as originating entirely with him.

Lindbeck sees Christian doctrine as being viewed in three main categories. Firstly, there is the ‘cognitive’ or propositionalist position which posits a direct, literal and immediately didactic imprint of Christian doctrine which is incapable of being altered - everything is to be understood in its ontological completeness. Secondly, there is the ‘experiential-expressive’ position which claims a universality of spiritual awareness and empathy with doctrine by the individual; this viewpoint draws heavily on the spiritual experience of individual Christians so that the acceptance of doctrinal formulae is driven by how a person feels about a certain aspect of Christian faith, or how particular perceived truths are related to varying situations within a person’s life. These two views are influenced heavily by Karl Rahner and Bernard Lonergan. [20] Thirdly, there is the ‘cultural-linguistic’ position, favoured and proposed by Lindbeck, in which doctrine is understood and shared within the Christian community by means of the language used and shared, and the culture in which the community is established. Lindbeck seems to view his ‘third way’ as being somewhat distinct from the first two where a combining of them would prove to be difficult, [21] but James Buckley, commenting on Lindbeck’s work says, ‘… the point of postliberal theology is not to eliminate preliberal or liberal theology but to “absorb” them whenever possible, e.g. whenever they do not contradict the faith’. [22] 

As said above, Lindbeck is a keen ecumenist and has much experience in ecumenical matters on the international stage. [23] His first category of doctrinal articulation falls, in his estimation, because of its shortcomings (or irrelevancies) on the question of change and its problems with doctrinal reconciliation without capitulation. He says, ‘For a propositionalist, if a doctrine is once true, it is always true, and if it is once false, it is always false’. [24] The second category of experiential-expressivism involves the notion of symbol. In this fluid interpretive system, the symbolic meaning of doctrines can change without the doctrine itself moving ground, and, alternatively doctrines can change with their meanings remaining unchanged. [25] Lindbeck notes that in the wider field of academic study, neither of these first two categories is emphasized in anthropology, sociology or philosophical literature. He also states than these two views are ‘unpersuasive’ even when championed by Rahner and Lonergan; they are ‘weak’ and not ‘desirable’ when relating doctrine to faith in a consistent manner. [26] 

Lindbeck sees the functions of doctrines as being ‘communally authoritative rules of discourse, attitude and action’. He calls this, as noted above, the ‘cultural-linguistic’ approach, and church doctrine is viewed as a ‘regulative’ or ‘rule’ theory. Unlike the propositionalist view, the cultural-linguistic approach can accept doctrinal reconciliation without the sacrificial capitulation, because under this system, as doctrines operate as rules, they can be reconciled as operating in changed situations while remaining unchanged themselves. In this respect the cultural-linguistic category is similar to ‘experiential-expressivism’. Lindbeck claims that such a view of doctrine acting as rules is not new. Such a view was present in the ‘earliest Christian centuries’. This is recognized by later historians and systematic theologians. [27] The new aspect of this view is ‘that it becomes the only job that doctrines do in their role as church teachings’. [28] 

Lindbeck laments the fast and pervasive removal of biblical texts from Western (North American) culture in the second half of the twentieth century. He talks of the previously cohesive nature of shared texts which individuals of a whole society inhabited in their imaginations - those who believed and those who did not, those who were actively Christian and those who wished Christianity to cease. [29] He claims that the Bible ‘has shaped the language and imagination of whole societies’. [30] He is careful to distinguish between ‘culture’ and ‘society’. At his time of writing, there is evidence (Gallup Poll) that there had been no decrease in the number of believing Christians and that in some areas of Christian faith there had been an increase. Lindbeck states, ‘In order to avoid misunderstanding, let me again stress that this is a de-Christianization of culture, not necessarily of society.’ [31] He sees that the only civilized way in which societies can exist is by sharing what he describes as ‘a shared imaginative and conceptual vocabulary and syntax’. The alternative, ultimately, is anarchy. Lindbeck observes with this warning, ‘… the biblical cultural contribution, which is at the heart of the canonical heritage of Western countries, is indispensible to their welfare, and its evisceration bespeaks an illness which may be terminal’. [32] 

George Hunsinger criticizes Lindbeck’s ‘rule theory’. He says:

Lindbeck’s “rule theory” of doctrine has not had many takers, nor is it likely to do so. Lindbeck acknowledges the oddity of this proposal: “It may seem odd to suggest that the Nicaenum in its role as a communal doctrine does not make first- order truth claims, and yet this is what I shall contend.” [33] 

Hunsinger examines Lindbeck’s emphasis on the Christian life being influenced, not by ‘religious truths’ or ‘prelinguistic religious experiences’, but by living in a ‘cultural system ‘within which one is shaped into a form of life, so that becoming religious is something like learning a language’, following the ideas of Clifford Geertz. [34] Hunsinger also says, ‘Although language and experience may well be related dialectically, many have found it to be plausible, as Lindbeck argues, that from a cultural-linguistic point of view, experience is more nearly shaped by language than the reverse.’ [35] In general terms, as Lindbeck steers away from the propositionalist position, he comes to ‘minimize the ways in which religions may actually involve incompatible truth claims’. [36] Therefore Lindbeck’s aversion to truth claims is in keeping with Postmodernism’s aversion to the same. On this footing, Postliberalism should be well-suited to postmodern Christian Spirituality.

William Placher discusses the debate and agenda of Postliberalism. He identifies ambiguity within Lindbeck’s position in that on the one hand Lindbeck upholds St Thomas Aquinas’ ‘modest cognitivism’, and on the other hand argues against propositionalist views in favour of his own position in which doctrines ‘describe the rules of discourse within a community.’ Placher asks,

So - does Christian theology simply lay out the rules for how Christians talk and behave, or does it make assertions about some kind of objective truth? Such questions about the nature of Christian truth-claims surely stand at the top of the agenda for postliberal theologians. [37] 

Placher observes that postliberal theology talks of Christianity as being ‘the central vision of one’s life, not as a means to some other end, and adopt ethical values because they follow from Christian faith rather than adopting Christian faith because it lends support to one’s ethical values’. [38] 

Mark Wallace, in his excellent perceptive book The Second Naiveté, supports and welcomes the postliberal position as Christians are encouraged to return to their biblical roots and to be immersed in the Bible’s view of reality. However, two problems have emerged, in his estimation. Firstly, the concept of foundationalism is not straight forward and has resulted in confused thinking. Secondly, the question of truth has not been addressed adequately in the process of intratextual hermeneutical enquiry. [39] 

Lindbeck’s ‘cultural-linguistic’ approach, being influenced enormously by Wittgenstein’s sense of ‘grammar’ and Geertz’s implications of (Gilbert Ryle’s) ‘thick description’, establishes the postliberal emphasis of what Wallace calls ‘grammars of the faithful’ as against any notion of bold truth-claims or, alternatively, ‘thematizations of inner feeling’. [40] With the strong focus on biblical texts, the ‘cultural-linguistic’ approach enables such texts to speak distinctively. There is no need for interpretation outside the biblical text itself. Lindbeck describes the situation as follows: ‘Intratextual theology redescribes reality with the scriptural framework rather than translating Scripture into extrascriptural categories. It is the text, so to speak, which absorbs the world, rather than the world the text’. [41] Wallace has much to say about Lindbeck’s view of scriptural absorption of the world. He says, ‘Lindbeck’s argument that the “Bible is to absorb reality” is, in my opinion, the cornerstone of the Yale intratextual approach.’ [42] Wallace poses as a realist, ‘Does the church’s grammar correspond to the way things really are?’ He examines how statements concerning truth work and concludes that such a view is contrary to way such statements normally relate to reality. But here, in a grammatical understanding, everything related to context is treated internally to be coherent. He comments, ‘For Lindbeck, whether a theological statement is true or not is “only a function of [its] role in constituting a form of life” [43] and is not found in its agreement to an extralinguistic order of things.’ [44] 

Wallace concentrates on the functionalism of language. We view language by how it works, not that a particular language is true. He quotes Lindbeck:

Just a grammar itself affirms nothing either true or false regarding the world in which language is used, but only about language, so theology and doctrine, to the extent that they are second-order activities, assert nothing either true or false about God and his relation to creatures, but only speak about such assertions [emphases Wallace’s]. [45] 

Wallace says here that ‘second-order theological language … makes no reality-claims’. He shows Lindbeck stating that truth must be expressed within ‘a grammatical context’. Lindbeck maintains that the ‘meaning, truth, and falsity of [religious] propositions” cannot be “independent of the subjective disposition of those who utter them.” [46] Wallace refers to Lindbeck’s gruesome example, ‘We cannot say “Christ is Lord” or “Jesus is the Son of God” and then “cleave the skull of the infidel.”’ [47] Wallace retorts by claiming that:

If, for example, I utter “Jesus is the Son of God” while living out of step with the Christian model (say, in the midst of cleaving an infidel’s skull), it does not follow that Jesus’ status as God’s Son is altered by my infidelity. I may misuse this christological title and distort its meaning my employing it in an unbiblical fashion, but my misuse is independent of the truth of the claim made, a truth that inheres in the relationship of the Son to the Father - not in my proclivity to live (or not to live) the Christian way of life.

Wallace refers to Lindbeck’s view that truth is related to function in a person’s life. Lindbeck claims that because there is ‘no common framework … within which to compare religions’, they may have ‘incommensurable notions of truth”. [48] Wallace considers that ‘Lindbeck has confused notions of truth and reference in theological language with notions of meaning and use ’; these two attributes are ‘aspects of how language actually works when it accomplishes certain ends. [49] He criticizes Lindbeck for reducing the ability of Christians to make ontological ‘assertions’ about perceived reality to being ‘“utterances” that are only intrasystematically coherent with their particular religious vision’. [50] 

Wallace discusses his unease about claims of biblical absorption of the world: ‘Given this relativist understanding of truth, how is the Yale school’s claims that the “Bible is to absorb reality” as the “one and only real world” to be understood?’ [51] He realizes that the Yale school makes the claim that it is “the religion instantiated in Scripture which defines being, truth, goodness, and beauty.” [52] Wallace then asks in what way can the biblical metanarrative ‘“define truth” if notions of truth, definitionally, are relative to different intratextual language-games and thereby “incommensurable”’? [53] 

The argument of the Yale theologians that the biblical world should contain all that is necessary for an understanding of the world outside scripture has considerable problems. The moment an independent understanding of the world is experienced, whereby the world is related to a scriptural view, the reality of the world becomes apparent independent of the biblical metanarrative. We cannot be locked into our own blinkered view of the world contained within scripture and also make truth-claims about the external world itself. As Wallace comments,

We cannot have it both ways: if intratextual theology only gives us intrasystematic vocabulary and not ontological clues about the nature of things, that is fine, but we should then give up the temptation to make reality-as-such claims about what external states of affairs should and can be able to do. But if, on the other hand, we make the general claim that all reality is a candidate for conformity to the biblical worldview, then we should come clean on what this claim means - that our language does have the capacity for telling us what the world outside the Bible is or could be - and admit that we are now smuggling into the argument a realist assumption in spite of our antirealist starting point. [54] 

Wallace comments on Lindbeck’s suggestion that notions of truth are ‘incommensurable’ in the light of Christians actually making truth-claims as mentioned above. If the Bible is ‘to absorb the world’ how can an ‘intratextual claim’ have any authority other than what Wallace describes as ‘a private wish, a tribal outlook’? [55] If intratextual study within the scriptures makes sense within itself, how can it have any justifiable authority outside itself in its attempt to ‘absorb the world’ as argued by the Yale school? [56] Wallace concludes his thoughts on this subject by saying, ‘It is difficult to reconcile the Yale school’s intrabiblical hermeneutics with its relativist notion of truth.’ [57] 

James Fodor also raises concerns about Lindbeck’s approach to the relationship of scripture to the world. He asks, ‘… does the encounter/confrontation between these worlds also raise prospects of mutual judgment and correction? [58] He recognizes that the absorption of ‘all other worlds’ by scripture cannot be circumvented if Christianity is ‘to retain its distinctive identity’. [59] Fodor follows Williams in suggesting that if the church is to take everything into itself, in the ‘unilinear direction’ of that activity, then the church might have ‘a moment of critical self-discovery’. Williams’ thoughts here are particularly apt: ‘In judging the world, by its confrontation of the world with is own dramatic script, the church also judges itself: in attempting to show the world a critical truth, it shows itself to itself as church also.’ [60] Fodor recognizes that in this process of interpretation, both the narratives and the world are affected and therefore changed in some way. [61] He comments, ‘Postliberal theology must do greater justice in future to characterizing this reciprocity and mutual correction.' [62] Fodor emphasizes that the judgement, ‘correction’ and missionary service experienced by the ‘scriptural world’ must be acknowledged in the process of absorption. Furthermore, there must be evidence of a repentant ‘form of engagement and solidarity, a willingness to listen and respond’, if this is not shown, ‘the movement is in danger of betraying its own best insights.’ [63] Yet he is positive and affirming in his analysis of biblical absorption of the world. He quotes Williams’ statement discussed above in saying, ‘The experience of “being returned to the scriptural text afresh by its own legacy as appropriated outside the theological community” [64] is one to which Christian theology must constantly remain open.’ There is the opportunity here for openness and warm hospitality full of life and vigour to be a feature of postliberal theology. [65] 

Fodor comments on Lindbeck’s statement: ‘Scripture structures and shapes “the entirety of life and thought.”’ [66] For Christians there is just one world - the world of the Bible. The assertion is extended when it is realised that the only theology available in this view is one of an ‘intratextual’ nature. He quotes Lindbeck’s often quoted statement that this theology ‘redescribes reality within the scriptural framework rather than translating scripture into extrascriptural categories. It is the text, so to speak, which absorbs the world, rather than the world the text.’ [67] Fodor observes, ‘Virtually all exponents of postliberal theology emphasize the primacy of scriptural narrative for theology.’ [68] Fodor concludes:

Deconstructionist and postmodern approaches emphasize the instability and indeterminacy of texts, challenging all grand narratives and raising doubts about appeals to the biblical narrative. Explicating more fully narrative’s “concordant discordance” or “discordant concordance” (Paul Ricoeur) - both as a literary genre and as an internally plural and differentiated sociality - remains an ongoing challenge to postliberal theology. [69] 

Jean-François Lyotard defines postmodern as ‘incredulity toward metanarratives’.

He comments further,

This incredulity is undoubtedly a product of progress in the sciences: but that progress in turn presupposes it. To the obsolescence of the metanarrative apparatus of legitimation corresponds, most notably, the crisis of metaphysical philosophy and of the university institution which in the past relied on it. [70] 

Perhaps one cannot avoid paraphrasing Lyotard by saying that withdrawal of the biblical metanarrative corresponds to a crisis in theology where it relates to metaphysical thinking and the institution of the Church which in the past relied on it. Lyotard reports that ‘the grand narrative has lost its credibility, regardless of what mode of unification it uses’. [71] Therefore the usefulness and importance of being able to relate to a metanarrative can no longer be experienced in the West. However, he does not seem to lament such a development. He talks of people having ‘lost the nostalgia for the lost narrative’, but the loss has not resulted in people being ‘reduced to barbarity’. Lyotard states, ‘What saves them from it is their knowledge that legitimation can only spring from their own linguistic practice and communicational interaction.’ [72] 

Graham Ward emphasizes the attribute of love as being the essence of the ‘postmodern God’ which also celebrates the humanity and ‘self-emptying’ of Christ as he sheds his divine nature temporarily to become human as an act of love for humanity. He continues by saying that ‘In specific Christian communities - communities defined and created by the narratives of Christ’s life and work, the creedal teachings of the church and liturgical practices - the operation of this love provides a redescription of the trinitarian God and the economy of salvation’. [73] 

The conservative Postliberalism of George Lindbeck does not sit easily within the postmodern world, and therefore postmodern Christian spirituality. As William Placher refers above to ambiguity within Lindbeck on the question of ‘modest cognitivism’ and ‘the rules of discourse within a community’, so further ambiguity arises from Lindbeck’s stance on his cultural-linguistic approach. At first glance, postmodern views on the nonexistence of absolute truth seem to sit well with Lindbeck’s postliberal views on the notion of truth-claims being influenced by language-games played within particular Christian communities and the fluid attributes of such truth-claims being relative to the cultural environment in which they are made. However, Lindbeck’s conservatism shows itself when he discusses the essential existence of the biblical narrative. Even though the intratextual hermeneutics keep the biblical narratives contained within themselves, any idea of those narratives ‘absorbing the world’ would be anathema to the postmodern mind where there can be no reference point for ‘absorption’ or anything else, as reported by Lyotard above. [74] Therefore, on that reckoning, all criticisms of Lindbeck’s work, where deemed appropriate, would tend to defend the postmodern position.

Conclusion

This essay has examined the interplay between conservative Postliberalism, as represented by George Lindbeck and the ‘Yale School’ on the one hand, and the perceived liberal stance represented by Rowan Williams and Lindbeck’s several critics on the other. The interplay between opposing views has been used as a tool to illustrate the difficulty of aligning late twentieth century theology with a conception of postmodern Christian spirituality. The themes of narrative, language and notions of truth have been examined in their relationship with the Bible and ‘the world’ within these two perspectives.

The result has been a conclusion that vigorous and extreme postmodern demands negate the possibility of all conservative Postliberalism’s attributes being aligned to a postmodern Christian spirituality. Lindbeck comments when speaking of the future, ‘…both conservative and liberal resistance to postliberal outlooks seems likely to prevail’. [75] If this turns out to the case long-term, given the weakness and undesirability of cognitivism and experiential-expressivism as discussed above, the future for postmodern Christian spirituality lived in a cultural-linguistic way will be bleak indeed.

Sarum College

MA in Christian Spirituality

CORE MODULE 2 - BIBLIOGRAPHY

PRIMARY

Bronowski, J. (1973), The Ascent of Man, London: British Broadcasting Corporation.

Fodor, J. (2005), “Postliberal Theology” in David F. Ford with Rachel Muers (eds.) (2005), The Modern Theologians: An Introduction to Christian Theology since 1918, 3rd edition, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Lindbeck, G.A. (2003), The Church in a Postliberal Age, 2nd edition, Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Lindbeck, G.A. (1989), “The Church’s Mission to a Postmodern Culture” in Frederic B. Burnham (ed.) (1989), Postmodern Theology: Christian Faith in a Pluralist World, New York, NY: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.

Lindbeck, G.A. (1984), The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age, London: SPCK.

Lyotard, J-F. (1984), The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, tr. G. Bennington & B. Massumi, Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Placher W.C. (1989), “Postliberal Theology” in David F. Ford (ed.) (1989), The Modern Theologians: An introduction to Christian theology in the twentieth century, Volume 2, London/New York, NY: Basil Blackwell Ltd.

Sheldrake, P. (2005), “Postmodernity” in Philip Sheldrake (ed.) (2005), The New SCM Dictionary of Christian Spirituality, London: SCM Press.

Wallace, M.I. (1995), The Second Naiveté: Barth, Ricoeur, and the New Yale Theology, 2nd edition, Macon, GA: Mercer University Press.

Ward, G. (2005), “Postmodern Theology” in David F. Ford with Rachel Muers (eds.) (2005), The Modern Theologians: An Introduction to Christian Theology since 1918, 3rd edition, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Williams, R. (2000), On Christian Theology, Oxford/Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.

SECONDARY

Auerbach, E. (1968), Mimesis, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Frei, H.W. (1975), The Identity of Jesus Christ: The Hermeneutical Bases of Dogmatic Theology, Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press.

Kung, H. (1971), Infallible? An Inquiry, tr. Edward Quinn, Doubleday and Co.

Lindbeck, G.A. (1984), The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age, London: SPCK.

Marshall, B.D. (1990), “Absorbing the World: Christianity and the Universe of Truths,” in Bruce Marshall (ed.) (1990), Theology and Dialogue, Notre Dame, IN.

Williams R. (1989), “Postmodern Theology and the Judgment of the World”, in Frederic B. Burnham (ed.) (1989), Postmodern Theology: Christian Faith in a Pluralist World, New York, NY: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.

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