By The Primacy Of

Lindbeck's "rule theory" of doctrine has not had many takers, nor is it likely to do so. Lindbeck acknowledges the oddity of his 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."26 One reason for the demurral is that not even Wittgenstein dichotomized first-order and second-order discourse as Lindbeck does. Frei is much closer to Wittgenstein when he assumes that a proposition's "second-level" doctrinal usage can be both regulative and assertive at the same time (more or less the usual ecumenical position). Another reason is that Lindbeck seems to have misread Lonergan on the Nicene Creed. As Stephen Williams has shown, Lonergan, on whose account Lindbeck leans heavily, does not see the Nicaenum as merely regulative.27 Finally, as a means of accounting for continuing ecumenical disagreement (the motive Lindbeck gives for his idea), the rule theory seems like too much of a tour de force. The best hopes for ecumenical rapprochement, it would seem, lie not in one side capitulating to the other (the only option Lindbeck mentions besides his own), nor in minimizing intractable differences, but rather in pushing forward, in mutual repentance, to more complex and multidimensional doctrinal formulations that can critically appropriate what is valid in opposing views (Aufhebung).

Lindbeck's rule theory has the merit of calling attention, however, to the peculiar axiomatic status of certain propositions (implicit or explicit) in Christian discourse. These axioms, whether regulative, assertive or both, are often at variance with the reigning plausibility structures of modernity. Theologians who operate within those plausibility structures, like David Tracy or James Gustafson, have resorted to accusing Lindbeck, and with him the whole postliberal enterprise, of something called "fideism." Evangelical conservatives, for their part, have voiced similar anxieties about "relativism." Although these charges are not always backed by careful definition and analysis, they do signal a certain widespread uneasiness with postliberal epistemologies. What might be said in reply?

This is again a very large topic that can be dealt with only in very broad strokes. The philosophical discussion of nonfoundationalism after Wittgenstein has sometimes moved in directions favorable to postliberalism.28 The

26 Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine, p. 19.

27 Stephen Williams, "Lindbeck's Regulative Christology," Modem Theology 4 (1988), 173-86.

28 For a good, brief introduction to "nonfoundationalism," written with theological interests in mind, see William C. Placher, Unapologetic Theology: A Christian Voice in a Pluralistic Conversation (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1989), pp. 24-36. For a more technical discussion, see John Thiel, Nonfoundationalism (Minneapolis: Fortress/Augsburg, 1994)-

theological epistemologies of Barth and von Balthasar, which at first seemed odd to many, do not seem quite so strange in light of recent philosophical developments. Alasdair Maclntyre, for example, has developed an account of tradition-based rationality. He argues strongly against the possibility of neutrality in assessing the claims of rival large-scale traditions; and he explains how, by means of empathy, imagination, and insight, their adherents can nonetheless understand, disagree with, and learn from one another. The rational possibility of a paradigm shift, of switching from one large-scale commitment to another, is sensitively discussed. It is, however, the illusion of a view from nowhere - of "a tradition-independent rational universality" -that is apparently behind such (foundationalist) epistemological anxieties as "fideism" and "relativism."29 The illusion of a neutral standpoint must be left behind, because when it comes to the large-scale traditions that govern existential commitments, there is no circumventing (for anyone) the risks of faith.

Between postliberal theology and contemporary epistemology, the parallels, which are just beginning to be explored, can be suggestive. Von Balthasar's religious epistemology converges, for example, with Hilary Putnam's "internal realism." According to Victoria S. Harrison, five key similarities stand out.30 (1) All knowledge begins in a set of antecedent beliefs about the world; no knowledge can exist without some prior belief. (2) Because objectivity is always relative to a conceptual scheme, objectivity is not the same as neutrality. "The objects really exist, but... one requires a conceptual scheme appropriate to identifying the object in question."31 (3) Because method depends strongly on the object of knowledge, no one method is valid for all forms of inquiry. (4) Rationality is analogical, not identical, across the intellectual disciplines. (5) Some subjective belief-stance is the precondition for obtaining knowledge in any field. In short, like Maclntyre, Putnam contends that there is no neutral conception of rationality to which we can appeal, a belief shared by postliberal theology - over against modern theology in its standard liberal and evangelical forms.

In Types of Christian Theology, Hans Frei reflected on the kind of relationship proper to theology and other disciplines. He rejected various modern options in favor of postliberalism. Neither assigning logical priority to secular disciplines nor seeing them in co-equal mutual correlation with Christian theology was adequate. Secular disciplines were to be

29 Alasdair Maclntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (University of Notre Dame Press,

Victoria S. Harrison, "Putnam's Internal Realism and von Balthasar's Epistemology," international Journal for Philosophy of Religion 44 (1998), 67-92, esp. 82.

subordinated to "Christian self-description" (as Frei called it), and used only on an ad hoc basis, for purposes of description rather than large-scale explanation. Although the reasons Frei gave for subordination were largely pragmatist in orientation (Christian theology is a practical discipline of communal self-description), more substantive, if underdeveloped, reasons seem also to have been in force. In carrying out the theological enterprise, Frei urged that Christian categories take logical priority over other disciplines.32 This advice was apparently the direct methodological outcome of what he had discovered in his dissertation about "God's priority" as a major theme in Barth's break with liberalism. "Theology arises/' he noted, "because the Church is accountable to God for its discourse about God."33

Two applications of Frei's methodological advice are instructive. The interdisciplinary proposal developed by Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger is perhaps the most explicit account to date of the postliberal grammar embedded in Frei's typology. Theology and psychology, she proposes, are not properly related by granting priority to psychology, or by co-equal mutual correlation, or by "integration." "Integration" is not a theoretical desidera turn, but a skill to be developed by the ecclesial practitioner (in the context of pastoral counseling). The grammar governing the relevant interdisciplinary relations is provided by the Chalcedonian pattern. Theology and psychology are related in practice by a pattern of inseparable unity ("without separation or division"), irreducible distinction ("without confusion or change"),34 and asymmetrical ordering (the logical precedence of theology over psychology). It is especially van Deusen Hunsinger's asymmetrical ordering principle that gives postliberal methodological expression to the priority of God.35

Theology and philosophy are two disciplines related by much the same postliberal grammar (though more implicitly) in Bruce Marshall's recent work, yet with much greater emphasis, as is perhaps appropriate to the case, not only on theology's priority, but also on its assimilative power. By contrast to the familiar methodological practices of modernity which have correlated, subordinated, assimilated, or curtailed Christian theological content to some grand secular philosophy (for example, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Heidegger, Bloch, Whitehead, Ricoeur, Jung, Hayek, Fukuyama, Irigaray,

32 Frei, Types of Christian Theology, esp. pp. 38-46, 78-83. 33 ibid., p. 39.

34 Note that by allowing each discipline its own genuine relative autonomy ("without confusion or change"), and by focussing mostly on ad hoc modes of relation, postliberalism blocks the methodological imperialism associated with a movement like radical orthodoxy.

35 Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger, Theology and Pastoral Counseling: A New Interdisciplinary Approach (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995).

Derrida - the list is endless),36 Marshall offers something refreshingly different. He not only tackles some of the toughest minds in contemporary philosophy (Frege, Tarski, Davidson), but shows an unerring postliberal touch. Arguing on Trinitarian grounds that the Christian way of identifying God ought to have unrestricted primacy when it comes to the justification of belief, he proposes a Trinitarian way of reshaping the concept of truth. Whatever the disputes about the details, Marshall admirably demonstrates what Frei meant by making ad hoc, descriptive use a secular discipline without losing proper theological control.37


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