By Critical Realism

Lindbeck's typology of the nature and function of theological language is, arguably, something like comparing two apples and a banana. "Cognitive propositionalism" and "experiential expressivism" are the same sort of thing, but the "cultural linguistic theory" is not.7 When the latter is

Hans W. Frei, "The Doctrine of Revelation in the Thought of Karl Barth, 1909 to 1922: The Nature of Barth's Break with Liberalism," unpublished dissertation (Yale University, 1956), 6 PP- 430-34, 513- 536. Since these are obviously enormous topics, what follows can be no more than a sketch. See Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1984), pp. 30-45.

unpacked, the relevant aspect is, as suggested, a pragmatist theory of truth, more nearly neoliberal than postliberal in inspiration.

My own work has involved a sympathetic reworking of the Lindbeck typology to direct it more plausibly along postliberal lines.8 Although differing from Lindbeck at the theoretical level, the revised typology is by no means incompatible with much of Lindbeck's actual writing since The Nature of Doctrine. In any case, the new typology was constructed, in part, to rescue Barth's postliberalism from the invisibility to which the Lindbeck proposal seemed otherwise to consign it. (A typology that cannot really account for figures like Barth and von Balthasar, in such matters, would seem to have something against it.)

The revised typology redesignates cognitive propositionalism as "literalism," and amends experiential expressivism to simply "expressivism." From a postliberal point of view, the real problem with the former is not that it is either "cognitive" or "prepositional," but just how it is so. Regardless of whether biblical narrative or language about God is in view, literalism sees the mode of textual reference as strongly univocal in ways that postliberalism would regard as untenable.9

Postliberalism, on the other hand, would largely agree with Lindbeck's analysis of expressivism, but it need not restrict what religious language is supposedly "expressing" only to non-cognitive religious experiences. (Some of Lindbeck's early expressivist critics thought they could dispatch his entire typology merely because of this restriction.) The logic of expressivism does not change when it is expanded, as the revision allows, to include the covert linguistic expression of social or political power relations (for example, "patriarchy"). The manifest content of religious language is still equivocal in its mode of reference; its surface content must still be unmasked and reinterpreted for its real cognitive content, which is always latent, and always unavailable apart from the use of some logically independent conceptual scheme (or combination of schemes). Since neither biblical language about events nor language about God can be taken "literally," the only alternative, supposedly, is to take it "metaphorically" or "symbolically," as if the meaning of these terms were obvious, uncontested or context-neutral.10 In any case,

8 See George Hunsinger, "Beyond Literalism and Expressivism: Karl Barth's Hermeneutical Realism," in Disruptive Grace: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids: Eerd-mans, 2000}, pp. 210-25.

9 A good representative of this type would be Carl F. H. Henry. See for example his essay "Is the Bible Literally True?" in God, Revelation, and Authority, vol. 4 (Waco, TX: Word, 1979), pp. 103-28.

10 The revised typology makes it clear that "literalism" and "realism" both have their own contextually determined definitions of these terms, and that the respective definitions across the typology are at strong variance with one another. Consequently, a mere appeal to "metaphor" solves nothing.

the mode of reference with respect to the manifest content (about God or events) is always strongly equivocal.11

"Realism," according to the revised typology, is the distinctively postliberal option. Where literalism sees the mode of reference for theological language as univocal, and expressivism as equivocal, postliberalism sees it as analogical. Analogy (in Barth's case often combined with dialectical modes of expression) allows for significant elements of both similarity and dissimilarity between word and object, text and referent, whether the textual referent is God or historical events or some combination of the two. Analogical modes of reference are, by definition, neither univocal nor equivocal, but they are nonetheless communally standardized and propositionally valid in ways that Lindbeck's pragmatism disallows.12

With respect to language about God, by opting for analogical modes of reference, postliberalism merely retrieves patristic and medieval insights that were often eclipsed during modernity by the polarized clash between liberalism and fundamentalism. "God is light," wrote Irenaeus in a remarkably pithy comment, "but he is unlike any light that we know."13 God's cognitive availability through divine revelation allows us, Irenaeus believed, to predicate descriptions of God that are as true as we can make them, while God's irreducible ineffability nonetheless renders even our best predications profoundly inadequate. Because only God is properly light, all other light is necessarily improper and dependent, and yet our only conceptual access to the light which God is depends inexorably on that light which is not God. Whether postliberalism thinks this matter through with someone like Barth in terms of the actualism of grace, or with someone like von Balthasar in terms of the Roman Catholic understanding of the sacramen-turn mundi, the false polarizations of modernity are overcome. Instead of divine availability at the expense of irreducible transcendence (literalism), or divine transcendence at the expense of real availability (expressivism), postliberal critical realism recovers the historic ecumenical conviction of divine availability to true predication in the midst of transcendent ineffability.

The Yale emphasis on narrative may be placed in this context. By coupling Barth's distinctive sensitivity to biblical narrative (Geschichte) with

A good example of this type would be Paul Tillich, though the progeny in academic religious studies are legion. See, for example, his essays in Theology and Culture (New York: Oxford ^ University Press, 1964), pp. 3-75.

I suspect that literalism and expressivism would each have its own distinctive way of accommodating what is valid in Lindbeck's pragmatism. For a discussion of how pragmatic factors can be accommodated by realism, without ceasing to be realism, see Hunsinger, "Truth as Self-Involving: Barth and Lindbeck," in Disruptive Grace, pp. 305-18.

3 Irenaeus, Against Heresies n.13.4 in A. Roberts and ). Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), p. 374 (translation slightly revised).

Auerbach's figural analysis of literary realism, Frei gained both a critical and a constructive vantage point. In The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative,14 he developed an influential criticism of modern biblical hermeneutics; and in The Identity of Jesus Christ, l5 he constructed rudiments of a narrative Christology. In his later work he shifted away from making formal claims about how the narrative genre logically depicted Jesus' unsubstitutable identity as the Savior to more sociological or historical claims about how the church, on the whole, has read the Gospel narratives in this way.16

At least three issues of importance for the future of postliberal theology arose from Frei's hermeneutical work: first, the relationship between intratextuality and extratextuality; second, the postcritical interpretation of biblical narratives; and finally, how to understand the overall unity of the biblical witness. For Frei, intratextuality was related to extratextuality as meaning was related to truth, and everything depended, he insisted, on keeping the two logically distinct. His ambiguous phrasing, however, sometimes created the impression that "what the narratives are about" (the identity of Jesus Christ) was merely intratextual and nothing more. What Frei meant is surely captured, however, by Francis Watson, who has defined "intratextual realism" as "the irreducibly textual mediation of realities that nonetheless precede and transcend their textual embodiment."17 The problem of extratextual truth was something that Barth wanted to solve by reconceiving the true referent and then appealing to the actualism of grace alone.18 The meaning and truth of biblical narratives, he believed, did not depend strongly on historical veracity narrowly conceived. Whether or to what extent postliberalism ought to follow him is a matter that will continue to be vigorously discussed.19

What postcritical biblical interpretation might mean is again something that finds its richest range of examples in the towering postliberal figure of

14 Frei, The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative: A Study in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Hermeneutics (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1974).

15 Frei, The Identity of Jesus Christ: The Hermeneutical Bases of Dogmatic Theology (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975).

16 See Frei, "The 'Literal Reading' of Biblical Narrative in the Christian Tradition: Does It Stretch or Will It Break?" in Theology and Narrative: Selected Essays (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), pp. 117-52.

17 Francis Watson, Text, Church and World (Grand Rapids: T. & T. Clark, 1994), p. 286. Watson's book is an excellent example of recent postliberal hermeneutics.

18 On Barth's reconceiving the narrative referent, see Hunsinger, "Beyond Literalism and Expressivism," in Disruptive Grace, pp. 212-15. On his appeal to the actualism of grace, see pp. 219-21. See also George Hunsinger, How to Read Karl Barth: The Shape of His Theology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 289 n. 1.

19 With respect to Frei and his modifications of Barth, especially regarding the precise status of historical investigation into Christ's resurrection, see my discussion in the "Afterword" to Theology and Narrative, pp. 265-68.

Karl Barth. As Rudolf Smend has suggested, Barth is the proper successor of Wellhausen and modern biblical criticism.20 Barth presupposes the full validity of biblical criticism, in principle, without being hamstrung by it. It frees us, he believed, from naive realism (literalist univocity) without heavily determining (as often supposed by literalists and expressivists alike) the larger questions of meaning and truth. Those questions are still logically inseparable from the direct wording of the biblical texts, he maintained, to which we can never pay thoughtful enough and close enough attention. Although in hindsight some of Barth's exegesis may seem excessive or overly imaginative, it would surely be ungenerous not to acknowledge his enormous contribution in this area,21 one that, along with von Balthasar's, has scarcely begun to be tapped and assessed.22

Frei knew that the category of narrative was insufficient to account for the unity of Scripture, even though, with Barth, he regarded narrative as central to that unity.23 More recent postliberal proposals have appealed, among other things, to the shape of the canon, to narrationally structured symbolic worlds, or to authorial discourse.24 This is obviously a very large area, and one that can barely be touched upon here. If one further comment on Barth may be permitted, however, it would be this. He did not think that the unity of Scripture depended finally on any such proposals as those just mentioned. That his work was done prior to the advent of redactional criticism may not be so great a liability as some would suggest. He knew enough about the diversity of Scripture to realize that no large-scale efforts at conceptual harmonization were likely to succeed. Instead he proposed a postliberal strategy of juxtaposition, at once ordered and yet also flexible, centered on the particularity not of a system but a name.25 That the one living Jesus Christ is himself the unity of Scripture, requiring dialectical explication without the aid of a single unifying scheme (or set of schemes), is an option whose promise postliberalism has yet to explore.

20 Rudolf Smend, "Nachkritische Schriftauslegung" in ParrhesiaKarl Barth zum achtzigsten Geburtstag (Zurich: EVZ-Verlag, 1966), pp. 215-37.

For an initial appreciation, see for example fames A. Wharton, "Karl Barth as Exegete and His Influence on Biblical Interpretation," Union Seminary Quarterly Review 28 (1972), « 5"13'

For a discussion of postcritical exegesis in von Balthasar, see Brian McNeil, "The Exegete as Iconographer: Balthasar and the Gospels," in fohn Riches, ed., The Analogy of Beauty (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1986), pp. 134-46.

Frei, "Remarks in Connection with a Theological Proposal," in Theology and Narrative, PP- 3!-32.

For a useful survey see Lindbeck, "Postcritical Canonical Interpretation: Three Modes of Retrieval," in Christopher Seitz and Kathryn Greene-McCreight, eds., Theological Exegesis: Essays in Honor of Brevard S. Childs (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999}, pp. 26-51. 5 For a brief account of the juxtapositional strategy, see my essay "Karl Barth's Christology: Its Basic Chalcedonian Character," in Disruptive Grace, pp. 131-47.


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