Practice

As writers born and raised in the modern world, we had to resist the temptation to begin this chapter with a theoretical definition of the general philosophical characteristics of Anglo-American postmodern theology. We began instead with examples and historical narrative. At this point, though,

42 2nd edn (Grand Rapids, MI and Carlisle, UK: Eerdmans and Paternoster Press, 1994).

43 John Howard Yoder, "The Otherness of the Church," in Michael G. Cartwright, ed., The Royal Priesthood: Essays Ecclesiological and Ecumenical (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), PP. 53-64

14 John Howard Yoder, The Original Revolution (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1971), pp. 148-82.

45 Toulmin, Cosmopolis, p. 167.

an overview is in order. We suggested an understanding of "post"-modern as that which dissolves longstanding modern dilemmas by escaping the bewitchment of pictures or images that have shaped them. We concentrated here on the image of the Cartesian theater because we see it as most powerful, but there are others: knowledge as a building, language itself as a picture (representation) of a world divorced from it, physical reality as a series of levels of complex wholes all reducing without remainder to their simplest parts.46

In the centuries since Descartes a cosmopolitan European philosophical community has become divided - one now has to specify "Anglo-American" or "Continental" tradition - but this is a distinction of style rather than geography. A number of Anglo-American philosophers, since the mid-twentieth century, have contributed to the dissolution of modern problems. We can mention here only some of the most significant. Gilbert Ryle47 and Richard Rorty48 have joined Wittgenstein in his critique of the Cartesian mind. W. V. O. Quine provided a picture of knowledge as a web or net to replace Descartes's building image.49 J. L. Austin showed how the social and practical aspects of language take precedence over reference and representation.50 Thomas Kuhn emphasized the role of communal practice in science.51 Alas-dair Maclntyre emphasized the social embodiment and historical rooted-ness of all human reasoning, both theoretical and moral.52

We count as postmodern, then, theologians who either explicitly appropriate these philosophical developments or who have arrived at similar positions by alternate routes. Some representatives: David Burrell and Rowan Williams, obviously indebted to Wittgenstein; the Yale School and its fellow travelers, who acknowledge debts to Wittgenstein, Austin, and Quine; fames Wm. McClendon, Jr. and Stanley Hauerwas, who acknowledge debts to Austin and Wittgenstein but, as did Yoder, arrived at similar conclusions by disparate routes.

Despite risk of over-simplification, we can describe all of these as sharing a concept of mind that is irreducibly linguistic in texture and thus already actively entangled with reality. There is no general problem of knowledge or

46 Nancey Murphy and James Wm. McClendon, Jr., "Distinguishing Modern and Postmodern Theologies," Modem Theology 5 (1989), 191-214.

47 Gilbert Ryle, The Concept of Mind (University of Chicago, 1949).

48 Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature.

49 W. V. O. Quine, "Two Dogmas of Empiricism," Philosophical Review 60:1 (1951), 20-43.

50 J. L. Austin, How to do Things with Words, ed. J. 0. Urmson and G. J. Warnock (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962).

51 Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd edn (University of Chicago Press, 1970).

52 Alasdair Maclntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (University of Notre Dame Press, reference or representation. Rather, there are specific problems of meaning and knowledge and practice germane to various disciplines at particular points in their development. Theology has its own particular epistemologi-cal and linguistic and practical problems. Theologians do not have to wait for an adequate philosophical foundation before they begin; they are already a part of a tradition of inquiry and thus the task is not to begin from scratch but to pick up where their predecessors left off.

So for postmodern theologians there is no general question of whether or how theology is possible - many do it before breakfast! There is no need to answer the question, "does the word 'God' refer?" The question is instead, "what is our God really like?" There is no need for them to begin with the question, "is Christianity true?" The question is rather, "are there good reasons to be a Christian, to engage in this form of life?" and this is as much a moral question as an epistemological one.

But why be postmodern? We have emphasized the role of pictures in shaping the thought of an historical era. Is one picture (the old one) not as good as another? An answer to this question requires some reflection on how philosophical change comes about. We suggest that pictures generate philosophical theories and programs. But sometimes the philosophical programs run into obstacles; the theories succumb to repeated critique (for example, foundationalism). When a new picture is offered (for example, Quine's web), it not only provides an alternative and a fresh set of resources, but also shows why the older program failed, and was bound to fail, exactly where it did. So there is no going back.

Further reading

Kallenberg, Brad J., Ethics as Grammar: Changing the Postmodern Subject (University of Notre Dame Press, 2001}. Kerr, Fergus, Theology after Wittgenstein (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986). Lash, Nicholas, Theology on the Way to Emmaus (London: SCM, 1986). Murphy, Nancey, Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism {Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1996). Anglo-American Postmodernity: Philosophical Perspectives on Science, Religion, and Ethics (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1997). Placher, William C., Unapologetic Theology (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1989).

Rorty, Richard, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton University Press, 1979)-

Toulmin, Stephen, Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity (University of

Chicago Press, 1990). Wittgenstein, Ludwig, Philosophical Investigations, trans. G. E, M. Anscombe (New

York: Macmillan, 1958). Yoder, John Howard, The Politics of Jesus, 2nd edn (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994).

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