The Church in a Postliberal Age

The Church in a Postliberal Age
George A. Lindbeck (edited by James L. Buckley)
Eerdmans, $27, 318 pp.

In 1984, Lutheran theologian George Lindbeck published The Nature of Doctrine. In this new book he admits that he had conceived the earlier book as a slim prolegomenon to a major work in comparative Christian dogmatics. What resulted, however, was the catalyst that crystalized a new and important "postliberal" theology. Lindbeck’s work has been extraordinarily influential and remains required reading. Although postliberal theology may not be the wave of the future, it is one of the major movements shaping theology today.

Lindbeck offers a "cultural-linguistic" approach to religious practice and belief (adapting the philosophy of Wittgenstein and the anthropology/ epistemology of Geertz). This account construes doctrines as neither propositions that require assent (as some "premodern" cognitivists such as fundamentalists and neo-Thomists did and do) nor as expressions of religious experiences or feelings. Rather, doctrines are rules that shape the life of a faith community and the language that gives sense to its practice. Religious doctrines are the grammar of religious faith.

For example, the doctrine of the Real Presence is neither a proposition about the transformed bread and wine nor an expression of a believer’s personal response to Communion. Rather, it is a rich, multifaceted rule that guides the way we regard and receive the Eucharist. For us, it shapes authentic Catholic practice.


To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.

About the Author

Terrence W. Tilley is the Avery Dulles, SJ, Professor of Catholic Theology at Fordham University.