Narrative and Ideology

The Promises and Pitfalls of Postliberal Theology

in Religion and Theology
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With its focus on “narrative” and theology as an ethnographic enterprise, the “postliberalism” of Hans W. Frei and George A. Lindbeck sought to incorporate insights from the linguistic turn in modern thought. However, it has faced criticisms ranging from sectarianism to concern with its overly static and homogeneous conceptions of “narrative” and “Christian community” that fail to recognize the church’s participation in many overlapping communities of discourse. In this essay, I explore such criticisms and their recognition of the varied narratives and discursive practices by which Christian communities are formed, in ways both recognized and unrecognized. I then examine the work of Ugandan Catholic theologian Emmanuel Katongole which gives due attention to “narrative” and ideology, and in doing so, demonstrates “postliberal” theology’s insights while also compensating for its weaknesses.

Narrative and Ideology

The Promises and Pitfalls of Postliberal Theology

in Religion and Theology




James M. Gustafson“The Sectarian Temptation: Reflections on Theology, the Church, and the University,” Proceedings of the Catholic Theological Society 40 (1985): 93–94.


Christopher J. Ashley“Liberation and Postliberalism,” Union Seminary Quarterly 64 no. 2–3 (2013): 119–120. For more see Ochs Another Reformation: Postliberal Christianity and the Jews (Grand Rapids MI: Baker Academic 2011); Eugene F. Rogers Jr. Sexuality and the Christian Body: Their Way into the Triune God (Oxford: Blackwell 1999); and J. Kameron Carter Race: A Theological Account (New York NY: Oxford University Press 2008).


Hans W. Frei“The ‘Literal Reading’ of Biblical Narrative in the Christian Tradition: Does It Stretch or Will It Break?” The Bible and the Narrative Traditioned. Frank McConnell (New York NY: Oxford University Press 1986) 67.


Kevin J. VanhoozerBiblical Narrative in the Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur: A Study in Hermeneutics and Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press1990) 162.


LindbeckNature of Doctrine3–4.


LindbeckNature of Doctrine2.


LindbeckNature of Doctrine33. Lindbeck includes Bernard Lonergan Karl Rahner and David Tracy in this list of “experiential-expressivists” who speak of a “common human experience” so that religious language and symbols more or less adequately “re-present” and reaffirm this basic experience which is fundamental to self-consciousness Lindbeck 17–18 30. Tracy contends that his alternative to Lindbeck’s “cultural-linguistic” model is not the “experiential-expressive” one attacked but rather his own “hermeneutical-political model.” See David Tracy “Lindbeck’s New Program for Theology” Thomist 49 (1985): 464–468.


LindbeckNature of Doctrine18. Speaking of those who have influenced his own “cultural-linguistic” approach to religion Lindbeck writes “Although [the ‘cultural-linguistic’ alternative’s] roots go back on the cultural side to Marx Weber and Durkheim and on the linguistic side to Wittgenstein it is only rarely and recently that it has become a programmatic approach to the study of religion as for instance in the philosopher Peter Winch and the anthropologist Clifford Geertz [sic.] Other authors who have contributed to the understanding in this book of a cultural and/or linguistic outlook on religion … are the sociologist of knowledge Peter Berger and the critical philosophers of religion Ninian Smart and William Christian …” Lindbeck Nature of Doctrine 6. Later in the Notes section of Chapter One he states that as a result of these thinkers just mentioned he came to see that “[r]eligion whatever else it may be or do provides an overarching integrating and legitimating frame of reference for the socially constructed worlds that human beings inhabit” Lindbeck Nature of Doctrine 13 n. 10. His mention of the Weberian notion of religion as “legitimating” would seem to open up space for exploration and analysis of the ways that theological grammars or vocabularies have been used to instantiate and maintain oppressive beliefs and practices.


LindbeckNature of Doctrine19.


LindbeckNature of Doctrine101. This might be a good time to recall Talal Asad’s critique of Geertz a critique which in some ways presages those critical observations of Lindbeck’s “cultural-linguistic” theory of religion we will look at later in the essay. Asad not only brings attention to the tendency in Geertz’s thought toward a unilateral understanding of the relationship between a cultural system and those beliefs external to it so “that the religious world (or perspective) is never affected by the commonsense world …”; he also exposes the ways in which Geertz’s definition of religion with its focus on symbols moods and motivations foregrounds interior belief at the expense of exterior forms of discipline practice and community Talal Asad Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press 1993) 52 (and chapter one more generally as it presents a critical assessment of Geertz’s definition of religion).


Amy Plantinga Pauw“The Word is Near You: A Feminist Conversation with Lindbeck,” Theology Today 50 (1993): 49.


Miroslav Volf“Theology, Meaning, and Power,” The Future of Theology: Essays in Honor of Jürgen Moltmanned. Miroslave Volf Carmen Krieg and Thomas Kucharz (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans 1996) 100.


Volf“Theology Meaning and Power” 101.


Volf quoting Foucault“Theology Meaning and Power” 105–106.


Volf“Theology Meaning and Power” 106. For a similar critique offered of Lindbeck’s “cultural-linguistic” theory of religion and “rule” theory of doctrine see Hugh Nicholson “The Political Nature of Doctrine: A Critique of Lindbeck in Light of Recent Scholarship” Heythrop Journal 48 no. 6 (2007): 858–877.


TannerTheories of Culture108–109.


TannerTheories of Culture109.


TannerTheories of Culture108.


TannerTheories of Culture119.


TannerTheories of Culture119.


Pauw“The Word is Near You: A Feminist Conversation with Lindbeck” 49.


Pauw“The Word is Near You” 49.


Pauw“The Word is Near You” 49.


KatongoleA Future for Africaxvi.


KatongoleThe Sacrifice of Africa21.


KatongoleThe Sacrifice of Africa7–8. For more on this see Katongole “Hauerwasian Hooks and the Christian Social Imagination” GodTruth and Witness: Engaging Stanley Hauerwas ed. L. Gregory Jones Reinhard Hütter and C. Rosalee Velloso Ewell (Grand Rapids MI: Brazos Press 2005) 131–152.


KatongoleFuture for Africa88–89.


KatongoleFuture for Africa171–172.


KatongoleFuture for Africa152. For a discussion of and critical engagement with the other paradigms of African theology and practice prevalent today see Katongole Future for Africa 153–172; and Katongole The Sacrifice of Africa 29–40.


KatongoleThe Sacrifice of Africa9.


KatongoleThe Sacrifice of Africa12.


KatongoleThe Sacrifice of Africa21.


KatongoleA Future for Africa96.


KatongoleA Future for Africa97.


KatongoleA Future for Africa98.


KatongoleA Future for Africa99.


KatongoleA Future for Africa100.


KatongoleA Future for Africa98.


KatongoleThe Sacrifice of Africa47.


KatongoleA Future for Africa109.


William T. Cavanaugh“The Church in the Streets: Eucharist and Politics,” Modern Theology 30 no. 2 (2014): 401.


Cavanaugh“The Church in the Streets: Eucharist and Politics” 401.


Katongole“ ‘A Blood Thicker Than the Blood of Tribalism’” 321.


Kiess“Social Imagination” 418.


Kiess“Social Imagination” 419.


Emmanuel Katongole“The Sacrifice of Africa: Ecclesial Radiances of ‘A Different World Right Here’: A Response to Anne Arabome, Elias Bongmba, and John Kiess,” Modern Theology 30 no. 2 (2014): 425.


Katongole“The Sacrifice of Africa: Ecclesial Radiances” 426.

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