Postmodernity: Christian Identity in a Fragmented Age / Essays in Postfoundationalist Theology

By Webb, Stephen H. | Anglican Theological Review, Winter 1999 | Go to article overview

Postmodernity: Christian Identity in a Fragmented Age / Essays in Postfoundationalist Theology


Webb, Stephen H., Anglican Theological Review


Postmodernity: Christian Identity in a Fragmented Age. By Paul Lakeland. Guides to Theological Inquiry. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1997. xiv + 130 pp. $14.00 (paper).

Essays in Postfoundationalist Theology. By J. Wentzel van Huyssteen. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1997. x + 285 pp. $35.00 (paper).

Theologians, as they peer over the edge at the next millennium, have two basic options in dealing with the twilight of the Enlightenment: postmodernism and postfoundationalism. Both of these schools give up the metaphysical search for a clear and certain foundation for religious beliefs, yet they diverge in their implications for the practice of Christian faith. Postmodernity likes to leave religious faith suspended in the air of indeterminacy and undecidability, with the faint suggestion that such treatment is good for faith anyway. Postfoundationalism, on the other hand, tends to reassure Christians by showing how the lack of a philosophical foundation puts faith on an equal footing with other worldviews.

Perhaps the most significant difference between these two schools is the milieu from which each arises. Postmodernist theology emerges from literary culture, while postfoundationalist theology is essentially related to science and logic. Postmodernist theology treats faith as analogous to the art of literary interpretation, while postfoundationalism thinks about belief in terms of the rules of probability and warrantability.

Where these two schools converge is with a non-nostalgic return to traditional Christian beliefs. At their best, neither is anxious to prove Christianity by abandoning central Christian claims. Both take advantage of our current epistemological confusions to reassert forms of faith that are traditional in the best sense of that term.

Paul Lakeland's Postmodernity demonstrates the sheer complexity of dealing with this slippery philosophical movement. Postmodernism can mean anything, as this book amply proves. His opening chapter is more about the culture than the philosophy of postmodernity. His characterization of postmodernity is sufficiently general to lead him to argue that Victor Frankl, an old-fashioned existentialist, is a prime example of postmodern concerns. Lakeland is most interested in sorting through the various responses to postmodernity, so that he talks about late moderns and countermoderns as well as postmoderns (he oddly includes Adorno as an example of what he calls a postmodernism of nostalgia).

The rest of the book provides an interesting overview of contemporary theology, but it is not a helpful introduction to postmodern theology. This book prompted me to make a list of postmodern theologians: Mark C. Taylor, Walt Lowe, Robert Scharlemann, Jean-Luc Marion, Kevin Hart, Carl Raschke, John Caputo, Edith Wyschogrod, Charles Winquist, and Graham Ward came to mind. Of those, Lakeland briefly discusses only Taylor and Marion. He does creatively criticize James Gustafson and Gordon Kaufman, but they can hardly be thought of as postmodern theologians. Lakeland is really interested not in postmodern theology but theologies that respond to our postmodern condition, which includes, of course, all theologies.

When it comes to his own constructive proposal, Lakeland draws more from Habermas than Derrida, who is barely mentioned here. Lakeland proposes that postmodernity problematizes anthropocentrism in theology, without noting that problems with anthropocentrism have plagued theology long before postmodernism. In the end, Lakeland defends a standard theological liberalism. He wants an open-ended, pluralistic, and pragmatic theology. He agrees with Gustafson that God must be thought of as concerned with the whole of the cosmos, not just humans, but then he later argues that Jesus Christ shows how God is really concerned with humans after all. He thinks that theology must be apologetical without being pushy, and he discusses Christian love as "the compassionate outpouring of realistic affirmation" (p. …

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