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Meaning to be human: Conversations with George Lindbeck‘s The Nature of Doctrine

Fletcher, DouglasORCID: 0000-0003-4731-1845 (2010) Meaning to be human: Conversations with George Lindbeck‘s The Nature of Doctrine. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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In his The Nature of Doctrine (1984), George Lindbeck offered a culture-theoretical approach to doctrine over against liberal and conservative approaches. Respondents to Lindbeck objected that he had misunderstood his opponents, but they displayed their own misunderstandings of his argument. I seek a more fruitful engagement with Lindbeck‘s work, proceeding by way of constructed 'conversations' between Lindbeck and some of those who made substantial responses to his work from liberal and conservative perspectives. Some underlying issues are clarified with the help of the older voices of F.D.E. Schleiermacher and Karl Barth.

A recurring theme in these conversations is the nature of particularity and its implications for theology. Lindbeck criticises liberal theology on this point, yet he, like Schleiermacher, defines Christian particularity in terms of a 'pretheological' social anthropology and on this basis asserts that Christianity is a comprehensive faith. To avoid such incoherence, theological accounts of particularity must attend to Christianity‘s own account of what its particularity is.

Though labelled 'conservative' by some, Lindbeck‘s theory of doctrine relies on philosophical argument rather than the usual conservative grounds in tradition and/or scripture. Yet all such foundations are problematic insofar as they ignore the priority of the Christian confession and its witness to the intrinsic vulnerability of tradition and its sources. Lindbeck‘s theory, and some conservative proposals, harbour ideological intrusions alien to the Christian confession, thereby illustrating that critique is needed precisely because of, and for the sake of, that confession.

The key issues emerging from these conversations with The Nature of Doctrine are the comprehensiveness of religious claims and the vulnerability of human discourse. To these I respond with a 'confessional and therefore critical' theological hermeneutic: confession of Jesus Christ as Lord implicates its confessors, and therefore the confession itself, in the vulnerability of human finitude and fallenness, from which Christian tradition and scripture are not excepted. This hermeneutic avoids problems noted in the various proposals offered by Lindbeck and his respondents, and poses challenges for future theorists of religion and doctrine.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Supervisor(s): Jensen, Alexander
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