Sunday, August 1, 2010


Recently I was invited to highlight, on this blog, a discussion of Brian McLaren's postliberalism. However, the discussion tended to treat postliberalism as liberalism, and this, in my view, does not make a good fit. Being registered as a postgraduate student at a postliberal seminary, I’ll give the question a go: What is postliberalism (or narrative theology)? To simplify in the extreme (I’m trying to make it understood), it may be summarised in two points. 1. Postliberalism considers that the value of Christianity cannot be founded or demonstrated -- much as someone might ask you: "What do you see in that?" and you reply: "Well, it can't really be explained. Just come along and see!" Postliberalism, therefore, has been called non-foundationalism (says George Hunsinger). This is a well-known philosophy, of which the chief proponent is Ludwig Wittgenstein. Therefore 2. instead of being founded or demonstrated, the value of Christianity is discovered as one becomes absorbed in the language and practices of the Church. Again, this is like "Just come along and see!" -- then you wake up one day to realise that you have been quite taken up by it all, and now you do the same things and speak the same words as "those guys". Thus postliberalism holds that one is drawn into the narrative and formed by it (says Paul Ballard). With all this in mind, postliberalism is sometimes referred to as a neutral theory of religion (says George Lindbeck), as it doesn't ask destructive questions like the liberals, nor does it construct rational proofs like the conservatives (Lindbeck describes these as experiential-expressive religion vs. cognitive-propositional). Postliberalism is a very big movement, being espoused by major seminaries the world over. OBSERVATION: However, by stating up front that becoming a Christian is to be drawn into the narrative, one tends to reject the kind of Christianity which has been described as "an encounter with the Holy" (says George Malek). Postliberalism tends to reject the idea that faith comes "straight down from above -- through the skylight, as we might say" (says Lesslie Newbigin). Therefore on the crucial issue of conversion, it tends to see this as enculturation rather than miracle (Newbigin famously spoke of “no privatised eschatology”). It also tends to disavow an “interventionist God”. To the untrained person, postliberalism is hard to spot, as it tends to "talk the talk" – however, it has many catchwords or phrases, among them community, reign of God, shalom. My post Emergent Church is related.