Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Postliberalism, Religious Diversity, and Interreligious Dialogue: A Critical Analysis of George Lindbeck's Fiduciary Interests

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Postliberalism, Religious Diversity, and Interreligious Dialogue: A Critical Analysis of George Lindbeck's Fiduciary Interests

Article excerpt

Various theologians are unhappy with the classical theology of religions and its threefold typology of exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism. There is recent literature on the challenges of religious plurality that presents an alternative model, which is intended to end the arguments for openness at the expense of religious particularity. Because it sets out to "sav[e] the particulars," (1) I call it "particularism." (2) Paul Knitter claims that this model relies on "the groundbreaking and foundation-laying work of George Lindbeck, who launched this model and soon attracted a wide following of other theologians and ordinary Christian believers." (3) Lindbeck developed a cultural-linguistic theory that focuses on the particularity of the religions and the seriousness of religious commitments. (4) The insight into the particularity of religions is an important correction of classical theological models. Postliberalism rightly directs attention to the point that openness begins with recognizing the irreducibility of religions. Still, one wonders if postliberal intratextual theology does not end again in a form of exclusivism, thus sealing the end of interreligious dialogue. If this is indeed the case, it seems to be a heavy price to pay for the recognition of the particularity of those of other faiths and a limitation of God's activity and God's universal will that all be saved.

I will analyze whether this theory of religion and the postliberal theology associated with it are theologically acceptable. The reason for this theological starting point is the following. Lindbeck claims that his theory of religion is theologically "neutral" and rests solely on philosophical and social-scientific approaches: The argument for intratextuality, untranslatability, and incommensurability is said to be informed purely by the premises of the cultural-linguistic theory of religion that explains how religion functions. But, I question this "theological neutrality," suspecting that the cultural-linguistic theory of religion rests on specific theological presuppositions. I will need to substantiate this suspicion by exposing the specific theological premises of the cultural-linguistic model. If I succeed in this, I can then analyze the extent to which these premises are theologically convincing and acceptable.

I. Postliberalism, Religious Particularity, and Truth

According to the cultural-linguistic approach, religion is a "comprehensive interpretive scheme usually embodied in myths or narratives and heavily ritualized, which [structure] human experience and understanding of self and world." (6) Two characteristics determine the religious character of an interpretation scheme: the orientation to the ultimately important, and its claim to all-comprehensiveness. Precisely because of the religious orientation to what is ultimately important, the comparison between language/culture on the one hand and religion on the other does not apply completely. People can learn two or more languages, but they cannot belong to several religions: "[Religion] is not like glasses people can take off. Rather, it should be compared to eyes or to the optical receivers of the brain. To suppress them would be to become blind. Religions are--more than the cultures and languages they resemble--abodes that people cannot abandon without changing identity." (7)

The cultural-linguistic approach to religion emphasizes especially how experiences are formed, molded, and even created by cultural and linguistic forms. Only when people are trained in religion and acquire religious skills does the possibility exist for them to have religious experiences. "To become a Christian involves learning the story of Israel and of Jesus well enough to interpret and experience oneself and one's world in its terms. A religion is above all an external word, a verbum externum, that molds and shapes the self and its world, rather than an expression or thematization of a preexisting self or of preconceptual experience. …

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