By Christocentrism

The hallmark of a properly postliberal approach to religion is that it speaks on the basis of explicit religious commitment. In line with its non-foundationalist leanings in epistemology, it sees modern attempts to speak on the basis of neutrality as illusory; because neutrality is finally a non-neutral commitment, and what is worse, one that typically leads to distortions in its interpretations of religion. Although postliberalism does not eschew the search for adequate descriptive categories that will illumine what "religion" is, it will favor descriptions that are formal enough to include all the relevant phenomena, yet open-textured enough to allow for religious disagreement and irreducible difference. It will acknowledge that actual religious commitment has too often been a source of arrogance, bigotry and violence while yet seeking for resources within the tradition from which it speaks for combating such deplorable evils.

For postliberalism, no one strategy is mandatory for negotiating between formal description and explicit commitment. The only requirement would be somehow to do justice to both (and evaluation would pertain to how well both requirements are met). At the descriptive end of the spectrum, Paul J. Griffiths has proposed that religions are distinguished by three main properties: comprehensiveness, unsurpassability, and centrality. A religion will offer a "comprehensive" account of the world, one that somehow provides a framework for interpreting all aspects of experience. It will be unsurpassable" in the sense that, for its actual adherents, no other account

36 Insofar as radical orthodoxy merely reverses this relation, it remains trapped within the bounds of modernity.

7 Bruce D. Marshall, Trinity and Truth (Cambridge University Press, 2000). Note that, although Marshall contends that a sentence's meaning depends on its truth (pp. 90-96), he also states that "whether a sentence is true depends, in part, on what it means" (pp. 97-98). In the relevant sense, his views comport with "postliberal theology" as defined at the outset of this chapter.

can replace or subsume it. And it will be "central," because it will be vitally related to the deepest questions of human existence (ultimate loyalty, lifestyle, morality, death, etc.).38 What is of interest here is not the relative adequacy of this account, but rather the kind of account that it is. It is the kind which makes clear that religions are inherently exclusive in the sense that one can not adhere to more than one at the same time.39 Griffiths -perhaps the most outstanding Christian representative of a postliberal approach to religious pluralism - goes on to correlate his formal proposal with a keen appreciation for von Balthasar's way of relating Christology to religious plurality.40

Griffiths owes an obvious debt to Lindbeck's influential "cultural-linguistic" theory of religion. Like Griffiths, Lindbeck also moves mostly from formal, phenomenal analysis to considerations of explicit religious (Christian) commitment. Religion, he argues, is not primarily a matter of assent to religious truths; nor is it primarily a matter of particular symbolic forms (whether linguistic or not) that somehow codify and transmit deep, prelinguistic "religious" experiences. Rather, as Clifford Geertz has pointed out, religion is more like a cultural system that one linguistically inhabits, and within which one is shaped into a form of life, so that becoming religious is something like learning a language.41

Lindbeck's theory of religion has been effective in its argument against expressivist interpretations of religious truth. 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.42 Griffiths offers a valuable corrective to Lindbeck however by allowing a stronger place for cognitive-propositional elements :

But the uncomfortable fact remains that religious world-views do have explicit truth-claims associated with them; that these truth-claims are in many cases simply incompatible with one another; and that the incompatibility of truth-claims, coupled with significant differences in stated religious goals, leaves us absolutely no good reason to believe either that all religions are aimed at the same goal or that all conflicts between religious truth-claims are merely apparent.43

38 Paul J. Griffiths, "The Properly Christian Response to Religious Plurality," Anglican Theological Review 79 (1997), 3-26.

39 The problem of syncretism would complicate though not invalidate this account.

40 See Griffiths, "One Jesus, Many Christs?" fro Ecclesia 7 (1998), 152-71, esp. 165-68.

41 Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine, pp. 31-42. 42 Ibid., pp. 36-37.

43 Paul Griffiths and Delmas Lewis, "On Grading Religions, Seeking Truth, and Being Nice to

People - a Reply to Professor Hick," Religious Studies 19 (1983), 75-80, esp. 79.

Although Lindbeck need not disagree with any of this, his aversion to propo-sitionalism leads him to minimize the ways in which religions may actually involve incompatible truth claims.44

Within postliberal approaches to religion, an unresolved tension exists between those who proceed from descriptive formality to commitment and those who move more in the opposite direction from explicit commitment to formality. The former, like Lindbeck and Joseph A. DiNoia,45 strive toward a winsome irenicism that would minimize conflict; the latter, like von Balthasar and Barth, tend more readily toward tough-minded polemic and critique; Griffiths stands somewhere near the midpoint. All, however, would uphold the basic Christian conviction, which they regard as logically non-negotiable, that salvation is through Christ alone; and all attempt to reconcile the solus Christus with the salvation of non-Christians.

Griffiths distinguishes the Christian response to religious pluralism into a-priori and a-posteriori aspects. Since Barth represents perhaps the strongest a-priori (as well as polemical) response within postliberalism, his views may be briefly noted to round out the spectrum.46 Barth was concerned not primarily with religious pluralism, but with "religionism" as a modern Christian heresy. Liberal theology had made experiential-expressive "religion" into the criterion of revelation rather than the reverse, a move that represented a fatal anthropocentrism at the expense of Christology. Following Luther,47 Barth then went on to depict religion as a form of faithlessness and therefore sin. As a perennial human phenomenon

44 To sum up: Lindbeck is "neoliberal" insofar as he displays what I have called the liberal aversion to propositionalism. This aversion clearly shows up in his theory of truth and his theory of doctrine, and to some degree also in his theory of religion. He is nonetheless "postliberal" in several respects. First, by criticizing both literalism and expressivism, he attempts to move beyond these sterile alternatives. Second, he approaches the idea of analogical reference, holding that Christian theological language, when used properly in practice, does make truth claims and impart true knowledge of God, even though we cannot specify the modus significandi. Third, he does not believe that all conflicts between religious truth claims are merely apparent (though he wishes to maximize that possibility). His insight into religion as a cultural-linguistic system, his break with foundational ism, and his emphasis on the incommensurability of different religions - most recently on the irreducible particularity of Israel - are all enormously important contributions. Finally, he enlivens postliberalism's ecumenicity, not least by tilting toward von Balthasar in a way that counterbalances Frei's interest in Barth.

45 Joseph A. DiNoia, The Diversity of Religions: A Christian Perspective (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1992).

For an excellent discussion, see Garrett Green, "Challenging the Religious Studies Canon: Karl Barth's Theory of Religion," The Journal of Religion 75 (1995), 473-86. Excellent also is Joseph A. DiNoia, "Religion and the Religions," in John Webster, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth (Cambridge University Press, 2000).

Luther (not Barth or Bonhoeffer) was the first theologian to interpret Paul's polemic against 'the law" as a polemic against "religion." See Martin Luther, Lectures on Calatians 1535, in Luther's Works, vol. 27, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1964), pp. 87-90.

(not least within the church), religion was always both inevitable and futile. Since it could not deliver what it promised, it resulted in "a sterile cycle of religious affirmation, crisis, and breakdown, followed by the outbreak of new religious movements condemned to repeat the process."4® Only in the sense that one could speak of a "justified sinner" was it possible to speak of "the true religion." Where someone like Lindbeck offered a formal analysis for how one religion might be exclusively true ("categorial adequacy"), Barth's argument was substantive: "On the question of truth or error among the religions only one thing is decisive... the name of Jesus Christ."49 A richer elaboration of both formal and substantive considerations, a more fully informed analysis of both a-priori and a-posteriori elements, as represented most promisingly by Griffiths, sets an important agenda for the future of postliberalism's approach to religious pluralism.

Finally, a comment from Lesslie Newbigin will serve to round out the picture of how postliberalism views religion from a standpoint determined by Christocentrism. Newbigin provides a response to the categories of ex-clusivism, inclusivism and pluralism that dominate much contemporary discussion. Postliberals would not locate themselves within any of these categories.

It has become customary to classify views on the relation of Christianity to the world religions as either pluralist, exclusivist, or inclusivist... [My] position is exclusivist in the sense that it affirms the unique truth of the revelation in Jesus Christ, but it is not exclusivist in the sense of denying the possibility of the salvation of the non-Christian. It is inclusivist in the sense that it refuses to limit the saving grace of God to the members of the Christian church, but it rejects the inclusivism which regards the non-Christian religions as vehicles of salvation. It is pluralist in the sense of acknowledging the gracious work of God in the lives of all human beings, but it rejects a pluralism which denies the uniqueness and decisiveness of what God has done in Jesus Christ.50

Newbigin here represents what Frei meant by "generous orthodoxy." In a way typical of postliberal theology, he combines a high Christology with an open soteriology. The biblical witness to Jesus Christ as the world's unique

48 Barth as summarized by Green, "Barth's Theory of Religion," 481.

49 Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. I, part 2 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956), pp. 280-361, on p. 343 (following Green's translation, "Barth's Theory," 482).

5° Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), pp. 182-83 (italics added).

and indispensable Savior, he believes, still allows (and even requires) certain questions to remain open in hope.

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