Will All The Real Post-liberals Please Stand Up!

Kevin Vanhoozer (speaking as a post-conservative theologian) in one of his essays in 2000 ①, says,

« A number of  evangelical theologians have discarded propositionalist theology only to take up the cause of « post-liberal » theology. In this view, the meaning and the truth of Christian faith are to be found neither in the cognitive information conveyed by Scripture (as theological conservatives maintain), nor in personal disclosures or religious experience behind the text (as theological liberals maintain), but the rather in the life and language–the practices– of the believing community. After all, as the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein advised, if you want the meaning, look to the term’s use. » (77)

① Vanhoozer, Kevin. « The Voice and Actor:A Dramatic Proposal about the Ministry and

fresco at the Karlskirche in vienna (by Johann...
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the Minstrelsy of Theology », Evangelical Futures, John G. Stackhouse Jr. ed., Vancouver, BC: Regent College, 2000, 61-106

As someone who has recently taken a firm stance in Neo-Barthian post-liberal tradition (if it had ever become a ‘tradition’), I would like to suggest the following post-liberal understanding of the ‘formal as well as material principle’ of Christianity, on which the thought of Hans Frei and Hans Urs von Balthasar might be said of having more bearing than the cultural-linguistic approach of George Lindbeck, as an alternative to the post-conservative canonical-linguistic approach proposed by Vanhoozer:

  1. The Church (hence the Christian believing community) begins with
    the direct divine calling of Jesus Christ, represented first by the 12
    apostles invigorated by the Pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Its marker of apostolic witness should above all be recognized as substantial among the four church pillars.The gospel of Jesus Christ takes shape first in the narrative form of human existence (in Ricoeur’s sense) as a living act in the actual spacio-temporal cosmic place.
  2. The Scripture testifies to this first point in a divinely communicative way, while humanly participation is purely discernable. The Scripture is written by and for people that belong to the believing community under the Providence of the Holy Spirit, hence also a collective asset of the Church in the actual history of human civilization. No individual or sectarian group is going to develop a contextual reading [scheme] of the Scripture without first recognizing it is to be connected to the one body of Christ in the drama of redemption. (Answering to Dr. Vanhoozer’s concern that if a post-liberal ecclésiology/hermeneutics is opening door for readers’ free appropriation— and possibly to the distortion— of those once ecclesiastically dogmatized/conventionalized theological notions such as ‘God’, ‘grace’, and ‘salvation’.)
  3. The Scripture is like a script, written by God, and based on which the drama of redemption has been lived out by the original [biblical] characters, while whoever holds and reads the script today is also recruited as His performing artist and is commanded to live it out again, in fresh ways and in their socio-cultural DaSein.
  4. The drama of redemption, then, understandably, is acting out its full potential substance through and in the praxis of the believing community—the performance, rather than [the recital of] the script. This is where, as I so hope, a Christian ‘everyday theology’ could find its source strength, as well as the locus where the development of a full-blown ecclesiology intersects with a Pneumatology that has a genuinely ecumenical mind.


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