Selections from postmodern Christian Mailbase discussions showing my stance. Others' comments are stripped out to in effect produce a summary of my views.


Postliberal theology is an excuse for fossilising religious faith without the reason to do it. If we assume that religion is like a language with rules of grammar, then you cannot take some sort of ecumenical now position and apply it as given and say this gets us away from individualism and instead fosters a group identity. If religion is like language then other languages continue to affect it, and it continues to change, and it has dialects which inevitably lead off into new languages over time. In other words, it evolves. That is how Christianity in all its variations got to where it is now, heavily influenced by reactions towards and against the dominant intellectual language of humanism, once formed out of Christianity but now its master in terms of ordinary working ways of thinking. Yale postliberalism is, I suggest, an attempt to escape this, by a form of retreat. But language is more pervasive than this, and so some Christian intellectuals will continue to relate their faith more in terms of humanism and also other spiritualities, whilst there will continue to be the sectarian reactions against that are becoming so common now in churches as they marginalise.


Er, is this a private discussion? Are you asking if one person has read The Nature of Doctrine or anyone on the list. I have read it, and indeed I have got the book, and my posting of some days ago was based on my reading of it. The book is an unsustainable argument because language is actually fluid and flexible and changing, and secondly it implies an agreed ecumenical stance which does not exist. It is a way of maintaining a doctrinal whole long after the basis of maintenance is lost. John Milbank, it seems to me, has a far more sustainable argument for the maintenance of doctrine in postmodern circumstances, with horrendous consequences.


John Milbank is someone whose position I obviously oppose, whilst accepting that the logical basis of it is sounder than that of Lindbeck, both of whom want to protect the Christian tradition in total and bring the world to its narrative rather than the other way around. Lindbeck is making the association between Christianity and practice, where Christianity is a drama carried out by a community according to a set of grammatical rules. Those rules are doctrine, unsupported by anything other than the drama of their being carried out. The reasoning is that they are a form of language, but my point is that no language is fixed, or frozen or is simply a source. Language is two way, and changes, and will always be fluid. A community makes a language as well as language making a community, and language is affected by other languages and creates dialects.

On the other hand, Milbank's logic is solidly institutional where like Lindbeck he is against adapting to the world, but the difference is that Milbank thinks that the church is a city of ontological peace, a stance from which one inside is able to criticise all other human societies and cultures. His is a mettanarrative, a premodern island framed by and beyond which there is a postmodern condition and so there is no external court of reason. It is just within, but powerful and true within - it being the judge of itself and judger of what is outside, such as the limitation from its perspective of secular reasoning. Secular reasoning is itself a theology, and is wrong theology.

Well the logic is there but the consequences are horrendous. It is a position that needs opposing by anyone who realises why the world rejected so much of the Christian cosmology and experience of the Christian ethic. This is for those who wish to develop a reasonable Christianity. Secondly the premodern nature of it leaks out into the postmodern world. It has to be, in the end, imperialistic, and in that he is setting up a countermodernity I would say there is also a counter-postmodernity too - in that it is anti-pluralistic, not just within but outside the church walls. I think a church which searches, is unsure, and thinks about the changing nature of things, is one far more peaceable than something that is Augustinian and fixed in stone.

All Milbank does is take the credal nature of Christiainty to its logical conclusion, and there is a sound matching there; but is something which I and many people think is against the negotiation and resolution of difference around the world communities. So I think it is horrendous in its consequences and is powerplay.


That someone is a metaphor confirmed by its own metaphor, or that the metaphor reveals the awesome power of worship, etc., is the premodern statement wrapped in the postmodern setting, which however is ultimately imperialistic by making claims over others and subsumes everything into it.


Lindbeck does with doctrine what Hans Frei did with the bible and that was an attempted method drawing upon Karl Barth.

...Lindbeck is making a comparison with grammar and language, and these are two way. His method is bad analogy.

Yes I do not believe that there is a God or Being and other objective conditions of same, and that this is a postmodern situation, God dead and absorbed into text sort of thing. Although it is more basic than this. I think it is a human invention. However, religious language does relate to aspects of human spirituality, ethics and behaviour. I think cultures wrapped up these concerns in kinds of God languages, and so there is a residual use for religious language. There is also the point that in ritual one can create a space for going out in order to come back in. There are also concepts among the religions of use - self-giving, mind emptying for clarity, thinking again, and so on.

I'm not completely postmodern. There are language games that are very postmodern, like arts and religion, and those more modern, like science. I'd regard myself as something like 50% humanist, 30% Western Buddhist and 20% Christian! Meaning that the overall understanding day to day and intellectual is humanist, that my basic understanding of spirituality is Buddhist, but there are Christian concepts that work with the humanism, overlap with the Buddhism, plus I can happily attend either form of worshipping. I also have a long contact with Unitarianism, but in Britain Unitarianism is both too stuck in conservative manners (sclerotic, I call it) as well as dying away.

There are some religious bits on my website in Learning/ Religion and Learning/Academic. I have a Ph.D in Sociology of Religion, MA in Theological Understanding of Contemporary Society as well as a social sciences BA, and religious contacts with Methodists, Bahais, Anglicans, Unitarians & Friends of the Western Buddhist Order.


...The whole postliberal approach I would have thought is unattractive to conservatives because it does knock away the objectivity of God. Yet at the same time it is unattractive to liberals simply because it is a fossilising method, and one that is flawed because language is two-way and not one way. It is unlikely to gain hold for these reasons. I agree, however, that postmodernism has its conservative and liberal sides, but that Yale postliberalism is conservative and not some half-way house. Far better, I think, in plurality, ethically, and in tolerance, is the approach of someone like David Tracy, and the secular Richard Rorty, and also a postmodern extraction of Jurgen Habermas, who recognise and engage with a pluriform world, whatever one's ideological stance is, in a spirit of conversation. Yale postliberalism is a kind of lump it and like it statement of texts that are to be followed as they are, a ridiculous position when there is so much in the world to learn from and change towards.


Regarding the loss of God and the loss of any authority or basis of human goodwill.

None of these issues arise with no God, as any good humanist will state - you simply need empathy for the other person because we are people. We know pain, we choose to avoid it or go through it to get to the other side. I repeat that postmodernism itself gets rid of the objective God, so I'm afraid the branch on which you are sitting is already cut.

As for the listing of degrees it was only to show that I have done some theology and sociology of religion and my view is not from a position of ignorance, but is a position where I have rejected the dogmatic scheme of Christianity in whichever way one wants to dress it up. In other words I have read Milbank and Tracy and Lindbeck and so on and on. It is unnecessary to have Christianity whole in a pursuit of freedom, though it provides some insights in parts to the human condition because it was made by humans in cultures in response to the human condition....


There are a huge range of meanings in society and a huge set of constraints to action, many built up through law and many as the result of consensus. Language itself is a collective agency. There are economic and social power structures distorting debate. I find that there is a struggle for individualism, not against, and we are in need of more cultural freedom not less. Conservative approaches to postmodernity are attempts to straightjacket without even a trial taking place, groundless reasonings almost for constraint. For me postmodernity is the position where intellectual liberalism has brought us to a point where no objective meaning discernable,and so we work through the range of meanings that exist. Clearly any one group works through one set of meanings more than another, as Christians, or Buddhists, or humanists do, but the fact is we are far more exposed via postmodernity to doubt and to contact, and so matters are bound to be more fluid. Conservative postmodernity, like Lindbeck, is a form of trick, a last gasp. As I have said, I think Milbank is sounder, and all the more worrying.


Well I thought liberalism as a position was one where there is still an "out there" and it is rather difficult to pinpoint, thus lots of different faith positions all groping around after the truth, whereas the postmodern position is saying that there is a change where text is what it is, and cannot go beyond, because beyond is a duality now given up. That is the point of Lindbeck and Frei, after all, that there is no objective condition, the space for God, that there was. This is why conservative postmodernism, as in the postliberal form, is an attempt to put this Humpty Dumpty back together again in this most curious of ways, and simply is a less than paper thin way of carrying on the old scheme.

The old liberal position within mainstream Christianity was well the creeds are human documents, written by men, so is the Bible, but all point to the mystery of God and something about what Jesus represented and so on. This is dispensed with in the postmodern position - it all is instead text, text and more text, and there is no beyond or before. And that is why the branch you sit on is cut off.


Sorry that the tone seems to have lowered in recent postings. I've no desire to knock people's faith sentiments or personal leanings. However, the Lindbeck book is part of the academic world, and certainly we discussed it in the MA theology class, and the Christians of various kinds and myself found it very lacking. I think it is "ridiculous" to engage in this self-restriction when it is so lacking in foundation, when there are these other religious languages to learn from. I think it should be open to the full force of criticism. This is different from, I think, individuals who feel motivated by faith or whatever to adopt a position which seems natural to them, or may use it in a process of moving from one position to another.

There is incidentally a non-Yale postliberalism, which also refers to texts in the same way, but is far more fluid about how they come to be and where they may go.


The question is when does commitment to faith cease to be commitment to Christianity. When certain details of the creeds are no longer believed objectively? When certain details of the creeds are no longer believed to be important? In my view, postmodernism strips away the first condition altogether, and for many Christians that is not acceptable in itself. However, something like postliberalism attempts to maintain the importance of the doctrinal scheme despite losing its objectivity. As for Milbank, well he just shrinks the objective world down to itself, which is why it retains its imperialism. Then what about when extra beliefs overshadow one set of beliefs?

My own take on Christianity is to do with peaceful self-sacrifice, but I'm persuaded by the argument to do with the moral importance of reciprocity (well argued, as it happens, by Dan Cohn-Sherbok in the latest Sea of Faith Magazine), and by some of the parable stories. There is also an attractive world affirming sense at the heart of judaeo-Christianity.

But this is not a lot is it. I have no further interest in speculations regarding resurrection, seeing it as a myth of the time repackaged, and indeed the birth narratives are all mythological from virginity to the effect of any census. The teachings themselves are to be compared with humanistic morality.

And against this comes a preference for a Western Buddhist soteriology, that is the link between the clarity of the mind and a better inner happiness and renewal, and a criticism of craving as a slippery slope to misery. This has to be combined with a care for the world and all its parts, and as Judaeo-Christianity suggests, it is in this world that we make our way forward. However, one must never lose sight, as in Buddhism, that the world is transient, it is not going towards some final wonderful state.

I think Pagansim is also important for its ecology, the sense that the world can be a magical place, if fleeting, and the place of ritual in creating space for reflection and dance.

...I impose no boundaries upon myself. There are no religion-police anymore in the Western world at least, though when these are proposed I am ready to oppose.


By me

Perhaps the reason scripture says, if it does, that God cannot be proved by reason is because there isn't one that can be so found, and thus you end up not demonstrating it. This is not to assume any kind of intellectual certainty, only that something that cannot be demonstrated in that way is not to take up too much of one's time because it is never going to be of any importance (as it cannot be demonstrated in life). As for trying to find the round world with flat terminology, it is when the flat terminology becomes inadequate that you adopt the round terminology, and then you live in the round.

Indeed it is quite the other way around. We have had flat earth terminologies for too long. So why be depressed, it is joyful that after centuries of institutions pushing their religion, and keeping us all hemmed in with world views that are inadequate, that now is the round world chance. But just as the actual round world we know keeps elements of flat earth phrases for convenience, so can the function of religion be useful. Religion as text, and space, and ways to consider where we are and where we are going. Joyful I'd say, religion with a function within a round earth view.


...There is some debate whether postmodernity is high modernity anyway, whether it is continuous with modernity or discontinuous. This is unresolved, as are all the definitions. It looks like there is an attempt to decide who is "in" and who is "out" of the club. My view remains that as many should be in a club as possible, being the toleration of pluralism - accepting difference and the other but not trying to conform.


...Even [a liberal contributor] it seems has some falling into line to do in order to be considered a member of the club. Well I accept his is a valid search within a tradition, keeping within the boundaries, and nothing wrong in that; I just prefer to ignore them and go in and out where I please.



...One point - Jesus did have the beliefs of the Jews and their inter-Testament expectations, which he picked up and developed; he was not, of course, a Christian as he would not have understood the term.


...The postmodernist position is that culture is in flux and there is no sense that we all feel different parts of the same element or that our knowledge of the same elephant is partial and limited. Because in the past there was not the same elephant revealed nor was the same elephant the meaning that people took from the encounter, then postmodernity says make the best of what you feel and read what it means to you or your group. Remember that it may not be an elephant - if you think it is, that's postmodern projection, if you think it is a rubbery thing, which it may be, then that's just as good.

I have never felt an elephant.


...Postmodernity particularly involves

  • Fragmentation
  • Death of metanarrative
  • Polyculturalism (each of us moving between a number of cultures as part of our lives)

But then there are the economic aspects:

  • Just in time supplies
  • end of mass markets
  • end of mass labour force
  • niche marketing
  • specialised labour production line replaced by group work
  • decentred management
  • systemic and human relations authority in business

The latter also applies intellectually too, if we think of theology then authority ceases to be hierarchical because specialists are scattered througout different levels and "managers" (churches, whatever) have to come to them for their theology, thus a tension between official doctrines and what is believed intellectually today.


I'm saying the "don't know whether there is an elephant or not" has been surpassed by a postmodern position that the question is exhausted or out of bounds. Rather the reader (or toucher of the elephant) makes of it what he or she will. That then becomes the "reality" like being in a drama.

I'm a relativist in religion... My relativity is in that there are no boundaries, I recognise that they have dissolved, and I pass between them rather than stay on any traditional home turf. It is liberal not in comparison with me but with most Christian institutions.

A bishop said of some of my Anglican similar-thinkers on its payroll that occasionally those people in the castle (the centre of faith) need to call its priests who inhabit the boundaries back to the castle. But I just cross over the boundaries several times a day (but then so do many of these priests I'm referring to!).


Yes I know the irony of my situation, in having zeal about apparent relativity. Criticism taken and in fact accepted.