Realist Christian Theology in a Postmodern Age
Tanner, Kathryn, Anglican Theological Review
Realist Christian Theology in a Postmodern Age. By Sue Patterson. Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine Series. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. viii + 175 pp. $18.95 (paper).
This book is not clearly written, well argued, or reliable in its interpretation of others' texts. Non-academic readers, especially, will find it hard going and be justified in wondering whether the effort is worthwhile. Nevertheless, the book's proposals are interesting ones, on topics fundamental to contemporary theology. Readers able and willing to winnow out the intellectually stimulating bits may want to give it a go.
Christians believe they are in touch with a God beyond themselves yet do not have access to God independent of their historically contingent and linguistically shaped views. Christians claim a "master narrative" of sorts but have to admit their views expand and are corrected over time. The first clauses of each of these statements are "realist" (in a very broad sense) and are essential to Christianity; the second clauses are postmodern, at least in a weak sense compatible with realism. Christianity therefore upholds a theological version of a more general critical realism in which truth is "outside" us though we actively construct it in some sense, and in which we claim to have the truth despite the fact that our understandings of it remain provisional. Patterson is arguing that specifically Christian claims about Trinity, Church, and incarnation (especially) are crucial for understanding how Christianity can be both realist and postmodern; and that these claims are required for the coherence of critical realism generally. …