Posts by Jesse Gentile

In life not everyone can be in first place. That position is for Jesus Christ. Perhaps you can have 2nd place and I can be 3rd or 4th. I am a PhD student at Fuller Seminary with interests in analytic theology, theological anthropology, epistemology, and hermeneutics. Equally important I fellowship and teach regularly in open Plymouth Brethren congregations in the LA Area and at conferences throughout N. America. I have been married for 14 years to a wonderful woman of industry and wisdom who works as a wills and trusts attorney. We have two young children. At home there are plenty of legos, crafting messes and things to laugh about. I have MA's in Biblical studies (Dallas Seminary, 2003) Instructional Design (Florida State Unviersity, 2008), and Philosophy (Talbot School of Theology, 2016). Fresh out of undergrad I taught social studies as a public school teacher. I've done piles of web and IT work. I'm a jack of all trades according to some. I enjoy working on cars, refurbishing old furniture, hatching ideas, and collecting books. I am an ENTP per the Myers Briggs type indicator. So I enjoy charting out ideas more than implementing them.

Key Ideas from George Lindbeck’s The Nature of Doctrine.

[ As I prepare for comps, I am generating a few pages of notes on various topics. Here is one set of notes covering George Lindbeck’s The Nature of Doctrine. I have attempted to focus on many, but not all, key concepts in his work. I am posting them online because I have been helped by others works and would like to help others comments and  would like to help others in the same way.Kindly pardon truncated sections or the lack of citation here and there. These are merely personal notes shared to help others and nothing more. There are endnotes. If you come across quotations without an endnote, it likely came out of one of the references in the endnotes. If you find a mistake here and would like to correct something PLEASE do add a comment.  ]

George Lindbeck’s Background

  • Born 1923-2018 – son of Lutheran missionaries from America, working in China – the start of his ecumenical awareness is here. . 
  • Gustavus Adolphus college (rooted in Swedish heritage). Got his BA in 1940’s and then went to Yale in the 1946. Lindbeck did his PhD on Medieval studies (on Duns Scotus and the concept of being) and completed it in 1955. He remained at Yale until retirement in 1993. george_lindbeck
  • Shortly after being hired at Yale, he was elected to be a representative of the Lutheran World Federation as an observer at the 2nd Vatican council. He lived in Rome with his family the year of the council. This experience changed his life.  After his return to Yale he continued to work on ecumenics – particularly Lutheran/Catholic dialogue. 
  • His ecumenical influences: China, Vatican 2, and Lutheran-Catholic dialogue.
    • Bruce Marshall says that at Yale Lindbeck taught a class on  “Comparative Doctrine,” which focused on the historic doctrinal disagreements among Christians. The Second Vatican Council featured heavily in the course.”
    • R.R. Reno says that while he was in class with Lindbeck, the latter was not keen on pronouncing who was wrong or right when studying certain leaders in church history.  This seems to be reflected still in the Nature of Doctrine. 
  • After Vatican 2 Lindbeck was on the hunt for a theological approach more effective in ecumenical work. 
    • He witnessed a polarization between “right” and “left” in both Protestantism and Catholicism along with a decline of any mediating center rooted in “pre-modern communal traditions.”
    • C.C. Pecknold highlights what Lindbeck more cryptically notes in ND,

      “that “ecumenical Christians were beginning to claim doctrinal reconciliation without making any apparent doctrinal capitulations  – significant changes were being made but changes that vaguely claimed to be maintaining continuity with the unchanging truth of Christian faith. Ancient issues of permanence and change were raised by these ‘anomalies’ of apparent sudden doctrinal agreement after centuries of genuine, long-standing disagreements. At the theological level, difficult questions about what true reconciliation entails were being asked. Lindbeck’s book was, in part, trying to answer these very particular problems or ‘anomalies’ of the ecumenical movement.” [1] 
  • Lindbeck sought a way for both sides to achieve unity without losing what made them unique. A famous line from ND reflecting this goal is “Unity without doctrinal capitulation.” His solution was to reach for a theory (what we now called the Cultural Linguistic theory) used in the social sciences, that he could apply to doctrine. He looked at religion non-theologically and suggests that our theory of religion and doctrine can’t be ecumenically useful if it is implausible in more general non-ecumenical settings.  
  • Work with the Cultural-Linguistic theory of religion/doctrine eventually blossomed into the e The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age (1984). The book was intended as a prolegomena to a larger work (the latter work was never written)

Two Major Approaches/Poles  to Religion/Doctrine:  In terms of book organization, Lindbeck suggests the chapters in ND don’t need to be in the particular order they are in. More important than chapter order, however, is the three-fold  typology he offers for theories of doctrine. Lindbeck suggests that prior to his own day doctrine had been looked at in two major ways (i.e. cognitive-propositionalist & experiential-expressivist) with a few heroic but unconvincing third method that attempted to blend both (e.g. Bernard Longergan). Lidnbeck describes these options and then follows with his own (#3 below) middle way: 

  1. Cognitive Propositionalist theory of religion – (objective pole)  approaches to theology involves propositions that correspond to reality. “emphasizes the cognitive aspects of religion and stresses the ways in church doctrines function as informative propositions or truth claims about objective realities” These are evaluated cognitively. (16) Truth, falsity, assent, etc.. eg. Aquinas 
  2. Experiential Expressive theory of religion (subjective pole)  theology/ religion is an outward manifestation of inner spiritual experiences. This is liberalism – “universal feeling about the ultimate.” Expressivism “interprets doctrines as noninformative and nondiscursive symbols of inner feelings, attitudes, or existential orientations” (16). Here the inner takes priority.  E.g. Schleiermacher2 (Fits more with our individualistic culture keen to respect diversity, self realization, self expression)

    2.5 Blended approach. A few heroic efforts were made to blend the above two. Lindbeck finds these unconvincing. 

  3. Cultural Linguistic Approach. This is Lindberg’s major alternative  to approaches 1 and 2 above. Religions/doctrine can be looked at as neither truth claims (way 1) or so many expressions of subjective experience (way 2) but as rules for how to speak and act in a religious community. This method steps outside of any ontological description and instead gives a functional description.  Lindbeck is primarily concerned with how religion functions in communities – and is less interested in whether it captures what is real.  (More on this later)

    Keeping his three-fold taxonomy in view is essential to not getting lost while reading The Nature of Doctrine. 

Terminology: Post-Liberal Theology (postliberal is somewhat of a catchall term for Lindbeck’s project/method of applying the cultural-linguistic approach to Religion and Doctrine. Again it is Lindbeck’s proposal to push beyond the deadlock of the previous two methods. Lindbeck notes that postliberal could equally be referred to as postmodern, post-revisionist, or post-neo-orthodox.3 It is postmodern in that it harmonizes with other movements in the late 20th century that eschewed metanarratives / foundationalism and instead opened up a space for the equal value of multiple perspectives. Postliberalism is sometimes called narrative theology or The Yale School. Hunsinger (in his Cambridge Companion chapter to Postmodern Theology)  implies that its really not clear who fits into the “Yale School” category other than Frei and Lindbeck. Other books note a Chicago vs Yale debate that waged over postliberalism in the late 1980s. Less disputed is the fit between Frei’s work on Biblical narrative and Lindbeck’s postliberalism. 

The term “postliberalism,” according to George Hunsinger, first showed up in Hans Frei’s (1956) dissertation as a way to describe Barth’s shift from liberal to post liberal. Postliberal means (after liberal) in the sense of (a) modernism followed by Enlightenments attacks leading to (b) liberalism which gave way in the 20th century to (c)  post-liberalism which supplanted Liberalism. Lindbeck is not the first to seek  a middle way between liberalism and conservativism. Consider the following:

    1. Mid 19th century “Mediating theology” (tied confessional, pietistic and liberal elements)
    2. Barths’ neo-orthodoxy sought to avoid biblical literalism and liberalism of Schleiermacher and Von Harnack who were guilty of “the plain destruction of Protestant theology and the Protestant church.” 
      1. Emil Brunner’s “theology of crisis” similarly held that liberalism/conservativism had betrayed certain key Reformation principles (e.g. God’s sovereignty and the freedom of the Word.)
      2. Reinhold Niebur argued that fundamentalism made Christian myths into literal realities but liberalism failed to take Christian myths seriously. Both were hopeless. 

George Hunsinger says that Lindbeck’s Cultural linguistic theory is really three theories:  a theory of religion, a theory of doctrine, and a theory of truth. The theory of religion is “cultural” the theory of doctrine is “regulative,” and the theory of truth is “pragmatist.” [4 ] I will insert between the 2nd and 3rd…  a statement about the relationship between experience and language because it helps to understand what he means by “categorical” view of truth. So we will have four key concepts rather than Hunsinger’s three. 

[1] Cultural-Linguistic Theory of Religion – Religions are  “comprehensive interpretive schemes,  (Geertz’s term) usually embodied in myths or narratives and heavily ritualized, which structure human experience and understanding of self and world” (ND, 32). So how is this like a language? Becoming religious is like learning a language. Linbeck suggests that  when one acquires a culture or language they interiorize “outlooks that others have created” and they master “skills that others have honed.” In terms of Narrative theology, religious groups speak and live a “narrative” over time. 

Lindbeck drew on a variety of sources from the social sciences and philosophy as he constructed his cultural linguistic thinking. These included:  

  • (a) Clifford Geertz’s anthropology work and application of this idea to religion. It had deeper roots in Marx, Weber and Durkeim. Says Grant Miller Francisco (1999) [5]
  • (b)  The later Wittgenstein’s – especially his concept of language games helped to formulate the rule theory of doctrine:  
    • In Philosophical Investigations – Wittgenstein introduces the idea of “language games.” The meaning of language depends on the rule/game being played. Words don’t have substantive meaning in themselves. They derive meaning from the game/context. So for Wittgenstein, a goal of communication analysis is to look at the game being played. [6]
    • Similarly for Lindbeck the linguistic “rules” of the game would be carried over into the way doctrine and religion were conceptualized. In a cultural linguistic framework,  doctrines function “not as (a) expressive symbols or (b) truth claims, but as communally authoritative rules of discourse, attitude, and action” (Nature of Doctrine, 18) 
    • We all have contexts (in a postmodern reality) that we speak from – so – a metanarrative is hard to swallow. 

[2] Rule Theory of Doctrine – If becoming religious is like learning a language, then doctrine can be likened to the rules of grammar for that language. You can’t do whatever you want with the words of a language.  Languages need rules to work properly. Likewise religions need rules (i.e. doctrines) to work.  Doctrines are the communally authoritative rules that govern thoughts, actions, emotions. (ND 18) They are second order, not first order. Remember that for Wittgenstein, the meaning of words in language do not latch directly onto reality in a first order way. One must first determine what language games (this is not a pejorative term) a person is involved in before they can know what words mean. Similarly doctrines do not latch directly onto reality in a first order way. Actually Lindbeck is not denying that they can; but his theory is heavily occupied with role that doctrine plays in a second order way.

Therefore, doctrines, like confessing the Nicene creed, do not serve to make “first order truth claims” (ND 19). “Doctrines regulate truth claims by excluding some [claims] and permitting others but the logic of their communally authoritative use . . . prevents them from specifying positively what is to be affirmed.” (ND 19) The key is that whatever we say or doctrinally, we need to make sure we don’t contradict how Nicea says we have to speak about God.

  • Doctrines are not first-order statements about, for example, God, or Christ, or the Church; rather, they are second-order statements which provide the rules for speaking about God, Christ, Church, etc. As such, they make intrasystematic, not ontological, truth-claims (80). Just as the grammatical rules of a language only make claims about how the language in fact works and not about extra-linguistic reality, so doctrines have to do with the correct usage of theological statements without making ontological claims.” Fransisco (see article below) 
  • Grammar doesn’t tell you what “I love God means” it just tells you you can’t say “I God love”. 

[3] The Inner vs Outer Relationship Between Language and Experiences. Does experience come before language or do we have to have language first to genuinely have experience. Lindbeck is keen to defeat the Experiential-Expressivist view of the relationship between language and experience. The latter group held experience to be primary, and subsequently expressed in a variety of religious experiences. Lindbeck gets at this issue by talking about “inner” and “outer” or “interior” and “exterior.”  

  • Interior – Exterior Reversal 
      • Experiential/Expressivism sees religion as an external/outer  expression/ordering of  a shared internal human experience. The experience is pre-linguistic and internal. It is externally expressed by language. 
      • Cultural-Linguistic approach to religion sees inner experience as deriving from outer/exterior religious systems. We can not genuinely have an experience that we do not have words to express. To be religious is to “interiorize a set of skills [developed by the community through] practice and training.” (ND, 35)
  • The key idea here is that it is our acquired language/religion that shapes the experiences we have of reality and not vice versa. 
  • Jay Wesley Richards puts it this way:

    “A recurring sub-theme is a polemic against experiential-expressivism’s priority of experience over language (a priority he often attributes to modern ism generally). He notes that much recent scholarship has revealed the importance of the acquisition of language for the very possibility of experience: ‘[I]t is necessary to have the means for expressing an experience in order to have it.’ He presupposes the work of scholars like Geertz and Noam Chomsky for support for this claim. Although he admits a dialectical relation of language and experience, he is usually insistent about the priority of the former for the latter: ‘Thus language, it seems, shapes domains of human existence and action that are preexperiential.” [7]
  • Liberalism says: Religions are just different words/language, different expressions for our common spiritual experience of the divine. Religion is a purely personal “sentiment.” 
    • Post-Liberalism says: No,  religions are cultural-linguistic frameworks. They provide the conceptual categories and words that make experiences, in the way we experience them, possible. It is not necessarily possible for people in different religions to have the same experiences. It is not necessarily possible for people who share different mother tongues to have exactly the same experiences.  This means liberalism’s universal inner experience of the divine is no longer possible (ND 40) 
    • p 340 “To become Christian involves learning the story of Israel and Jesus well enough to interpret and experience oneself and one’s world in its terms.” 
  • This brings us to Postliberalism’s relationship to Postfoundationalism – C.C. Pecknold calls it a postfoundational approach, by suggesting that cognitive propositional and experiential-expressive are two different forms of foundationalism. [8] Expressions find their truth by being grounded foundationally in reality or a real universal religious experience.  

[4] Lindbeck’s Pragmatic Theory of Truth – pragmatism tends to assess concepts in terms of their effects or consequences in life. [9]

  • Hunsinger and C.C. Pecknold say that Lindbeck’s view of truth was a pragmatic view of truth while, in contrast, Hans Frei “quietly aligned himself” with  moderate propositionalism.” 10  Lindbeck calls his view of religion a “non-theogical” theory which avoids adjudicating between which religion is more more – but at the same time feels required to make sense of these sorts of claims religions make to “unsurpasibility.” (ND, 46). Lindbeck must obviously deal with truth if he is to succeed in ecumenical work.  Most interreligious dialogue is often dialogue over competing truth claims and thus Lindbeck needed a way around this problem. He opens chapter three of ND by suggesting we might evaluate the “truth” of religions in three ways. Depending on which sense of “true” you go with… will affect what it means for a religion’s claim to be “unsurpassable.” The three options are:

    • Cognitively/Propositionally
    • Symbolic Efficacy 
    • Categorical Adequacy  
  • [1] Cognitive/Propositional Truth – this is the correspondence view of truth;  what is true is what corresponds to reality through first-order propositions. (ND 63, 69) This is the Orthodox approach to truth. Religion is here  evaluated in terms of how isomorphic it is to reality (or not). (ND 47) Here then, a religion’s claim to be “unsurpassable” religion would be that it most accurately corresponds to reality. The idea is “propositional inerrancy.” (ND 49) Christianity often claims this position.
  • [2] Symbolic Efficacy. This is the view used by experiential-expressive models of religion. Here truth is more a matter of degree. How well does this this or that religion effectively express/symbolize/capture that one universal inner experience of the divine that is the source of all religion when compared to other religions? Unsurpassibility on this view of truth is harder to express. It’s like asking which painting is unsurpassably beautiful. Something more beautiful could come along. Technically the unsurpassable religion in this sense would be that religion which offered the greatest experience of the divine by the time history ended so that no other faith could come along and offer more symbolically efficacious experience of the divine.  
  • [3] Categorical Adequacy – this is the view Lindbeck prefers. It is much harder to capture because we are dealing with adequacy. It helps to start by realizing that views (1) and (2) above can be used to compare religions. We could attempt to say which religion is more effective at symbolizing the inner experience of the real (see view 2). Likewise someone could try to say which faith claims more adequately correspond to reality (1). This is not possible with a categorical adequacy view of truth.  This is probably why Hunsinger suggests this is like comparing two bananas to an apple. [11 ] Here religions are all in different working with completely different categories as they try to capture what they take to be ultimate. Different religions are like different languages. Certain concepts and categories are completely out of place in a different religion. They are incommensurable and can’t be compared.   Religions live out narratives/stories.   They are different ways of describing what those groups take to be most real.

    It is almost as if Lindbeck is saying that a religion is true to the extent that its community lives out what they claim to be ultimate and real. He suggests that a religion “as actually lived… may be pictured as one giant proposition.” that is true if people embody the objectives (a vague word to be sure) of their religion in live them out in a way that expresses what that religion holds to be true. The best map or most true map is the map that best helps you get where you are going – regardless of how accurate it is.  

    Pecknold says “Truth for Lindbeck cannot adequately be expressed in either propositional or experiential terms. Lindbeck supposes that truth is best thought of analogically, as an organically ‘lived’ reality. Truth is used in three senses (see below) [12]  The Result of Lindbecks Theory of Truth – Regarding truth: The “cultural-linguistic” model constituted a genuine third way because it claimed that coherentist and correspondence theories of truth need not oppose each other, since a coherentist thesis could eventually be said to correspond to reality as a kind of lived proposition.” [13]

Lindbeck doesn’t want to rule out the possibility of propositional truth but he finds a way to make it secondary and dependent upon the other two concepts of truth.  

  • Ontological Truth-  correspondence theory of truth – truth that corresponds to reality through first-order propositions. (ND 63, 69)  Often used by the cognitivist view of religion.
  • Intrasystematic Truth- coherence view of truth – coherence among the parts of the system. “[I]ntrasystematic truth or falsity is fundamental in the sense that it is a necessary though not sufficient condition for … ontological correspondence. A statement … cannot be ontologically true unless it is intrasystematically true, but intrasystematic truth is quite possible without ontological truth. (ND, 64)
  • Categorical Truth – the adequacy of an ordered set of categories to construe reality and order life. This is like “grammar” or “language game” in Wittgensteinian terms. Bruce Marshal writes that  “Categorical, and intrasystematic truth together are the necessary and sufficient conditions of ontological truth.” (Marshall, 1989, 366)

Regarding Truth, Lindbeck Isn’t Opting for Relativism

V. M. Karkkainen (from personal doctoral seminar notes) states. “Let me say something about correspondence… in response to an earlier comment where one of you suggested that ‘If there is no correspondence can I just pick any view I want.” Let me try to defend Lindbeck a bit. He is against hyper individualism of our culture that makes even truth, let alone lifestyle, a matter of your own choice. He instead says it is the community [that plays a key role in the question of truth] .

Second he’s against allowing experience to dominate religious dialogue because this makes the whole idea of religion some sort of non-discursive, non-thematic thing like Schleiermacher’s feeling of ultimate dependence. He says this is bad for ecumenical dialogue. It is empty.  It merely just accommodates modernity. Lindbeck is looking for a way to ground the NATURE of the doctrine, like the title says, but also the USE of doctrine. He wants to anchor it in the life and practice of the community which necessarily links doctrine with tradition. His proposal is more nuanced than you might first think. One of the liabilities of the book is that it says very little about tradition. You wouldn’t have any religion or practicing community unless there is a tradition. He talks instead of narrative and the story. He speaks of religion as a communal practice of that story.”

Doctrine and Religious Texts: Intertextual vs Extratextual. 

  • Doctrines are rules about communal religious life, but they are ultimately sourced in texts like the Bible. What is the relationship between doctrine and text and text then? Does the Biblical text absorb the world OR is the text absorbed by the world? Lindbeck wants the former to occur. Although confusing at first, these two phrases are rather simple: 
  • World Absorbs Text: Here we understand what the Bible, or Koran, “means” by adjusting that meaning to beliefs in the modern day world (i.e. the world absorbs the text). Creation science does this with Genesis. Genesis must mean what we understand modern science to be telling us. This sounds like Bultmann’s call to demythologize scripture. You can see how doctrinal meaning would radically change as the world changes or inner experience changes. 
  • Text Absorbs the World. Here we step inside the world of the scripture and take it on its own terms. We let it establish its own facts, values, events, etc… and then having inhabited that mindset, we see our world and think about our world with these lenses on. Augustine struggled mightily to do this. Lindbeck suggests this requires a sensitivity to a sort of literal reading of the text (sensus literalis) What is the plain sense of the text taken on its own terms. Pecknold helpfully writes “This is the view scripture as a nonfictional novel, as realistic narrative (‘history-like’). [16]  
    • This latter text-absorbs-world approach gives doctrine needed stability: “It is the intertextual norm of this realistic narrative which counts as faithfulness in matters of doctrinal (or metaphysics, etc) dispute. (Pecknold, 31) 
  • Extra-Textual-Meaning: Both Cognitive-Propositional and Experiential-expressivist models of religion locate the meaning of the text externally in the world (outside the text or semiotic system) in personal religious experience or accurate correspondence to the real world. We would not, for example, attempt to force upon a novel contemporary cultural or scientific ideas… if they were foreign to the world presented in the novel. 
  • Intratextual-Meaning. Intratextual theology redescribes reality within the scriptural framework rather than translating Scripture into extrascriptural categories. It is the text, so to speak, which absorbs the world, rather than the world the text (ND 118) This idea probably comes from Hans Frei’s Eclipse of Biblical Narrative (1974). Frei had argued that Liberal handling of the Bible had, in all its form/source/text criticism lost sight of (i.e. eclipsed) the basic contained story of the Biblical narrative. 
    • Mark Mann writes “Primacy is given to the scriptural “narrative” (Hans Frei): the Bible is unified by a complex but coherent narrative which centers on the personal agent Jesus, the Bible should not be read by attempting to impose a foreign or independent interpretive framework upon it (remythologizing?); it should be read self-referentially in order to construct a comprehensive vision of life and reality” [17]
    • David Tracy “The hands may be the hands of Wittgenstein and Geertz but the voice is the voice of Karl Barth.” (Tracy, 465)

Lindbeck on Doctrines. In Lindbecks work, “doctrine” and “theology” are not synonymous terms as is normally the case. Furthermore, not all doctrines are treated the same. Communities may have beliefs that seem to fit the profile of doctrines but aren’t actually written anywhere.  Lindbeck recognizes two types of doctrine via a Official/Operational Distinction

  • Official Doctrines: doctrines that are proclaimed to be valid. These may or may not play an actual role in who fits and does not fit within the community.
  • Operational Doctrines: beliefs/doctrines that play a role in deciding who is in/out of the community.  
      • For example a church group may not claim to hold officially to the Niceanum. They may claim to have no creed but the Bible. However, they would reject from the community anyone who doesn’t hold to the deity of Christ (i.e. true God from true God, begotten not made). The doctrine is still operational even though not official. 
  • How do doctrines stay the same while changing over time? There is a fixed-yet-flexible nature of doctrine. As long as the regulative principles at the heart of a doctrine stay the same, the words and concepts that express those regulative principles could theoretically change without loss of the doctrine. Lindbeck suggests that the Nicene creed could, at some subsequent point in history, have been re-written with completely different wording, provided that those words adhered to three regulative principles that Lindbeck (following Lonergan) sees coming out of Nicea: (a) ‘monotheistic principle” (there is only one God) (b) “principle of historical specificity (Jesus was a  real historical person) (c ) principle of “chirstological maximalism” (that ascribes every conceivable importance to Jesus without breaking the first two rules).14 Pecknold writes “these logical rules are what are permanent, not their terminology or concepts in which they are formulated at any given point in history.” He goes on to quote Lindbeck as saying, “the terminology and concepts… may be absent, but if the same rules that guided the formation of the original paradigms are operative in the construction of the new formulations, they express one and the same doctrine … .There may, on this reading a complete faithfulness to classical Trinitarianism and Christology even when the imagery and language of Nicea and Chalcedon have disappeared from the theology and ordinary worship, preaching, and devotion. [15]

    Furthermore, the conditions in which a doctrine is held, may change. If our belief on human constitution changes (e.g. body-soul dualism vs monism) then the doctrine of the immortality of the soul 

      • Unconditionally Necessary Doctrines – “the law of love”, love one another.  It always applies, Christianity is not what it is without it. 
      • Conditionally Essential Doctrines – doctrines that are essential at some times but not others (e.g. pacifism). 

The Lasting Impact of Lindbeck. (more needed)

    • Bruce Marshall was his most famous student.
    • While certain works have been written that make use of postliberalism, C.C. Pecknold says, early on in his monograph, that if there ever was a postliberal school of theology it is gone now. This strikes me as a rather strong claim. Similarly George Hunsinger says “Lindbeck’s ‘rule theory’ of doctrine has not had many takers, nor is it likely to do so.”[18] It seems that writers like Hunsinger and Pcknold have taken and modified Postliberal theology to what they see as more accurate formats. 




  1. C. C. Pecknold, Transforming Postliberal Theology (London: T&T Clark, 2005), 17. 
  2. “thinkers of this tradition all locate ultimately significant contact with whatever is finally important to religion in the prereflective experiential depths of the self and regard the public or outer features of religion as expressive and evocative objectifications (i.e. nondiscursive symbols) of internal experience” (ND 21).
  3. See: George Lindbeck, 1984, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion & Theology in a Postliberal Age, Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 113, fn. 1).
  4. George Hunsinger, “Postliberal Theology,” in Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology, edited by Kevin Vanhoozer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 44. 
  6. See
  7. Richards, Jay Wesley. “Truth and Meaning in George Lindbeck’s “The Nature of Doctrine”.” Religious Studies 33, no. 1 (1997): 33-53.
  8. C.C. Peckhold, Transforming Postliberal Theology, (New York: T&T Clark. 2005), 3-4.
  9. C. C. Peckhold, Transforming Postliberal Theology, 25. 
  10. George Hunsinger, “Postliberal theology” in Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology, ed. By Kevin Vanhoozer (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 43. 
  11. Hunsginger, “Postliberal Theology”, in The Cambridge, Companion to Theology, edited by Kevin Vanhoozer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 45.
  12. This is according to Joas Adiprasetya, 2005 at
  13. Ibid.
  14. C. C. Pecknold, Transforming Postliberal Theology, 29.
  15. Pecknold, Transforming Postliberal Theology, 29. 
  16. Pecknold, Transforming Postliberal Theology, 31. 
  17. See the same link 
  18. George Hunsinger, “Postliberal Theology,” in The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 50. 

Theology is as simple as the oceans.

Recently I post, on social media, what I thought was a clever quip by Karl Barth.

“There is a story of the astronomer who, after Karl Barth’s sermon, said: ‘I’m an astronomer, you know, and as far as I am concerned, the whole of Christianity can be summed up by saying: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”’ Barth’s retort: ‘I am just a humble theologian, and as far as I am concerned the whole of astronomy can be summed up by saying “Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are.”

From Adam Johnson’s Atonement a Guide for the Perplexed, p 13. Johnson is citing John D. Godsey, “Reminiscences of Karl Barth”, The Princeton Seminary Bulletin (2002), 321.

I attempted to do more than paste the quote without context and so I preceded it with the comment: “Some might wonder why theology can’t be simple and straightforward.” I believe that this was Johnson’s context for including the quote.
A few readers assumed that I was genuinely asking why theology wasn’t more simple. Others took issue with my suggestion that theology was not simple. One person assured me that theology was simple and that we didn’t need books – merely the help of the Holy Spirit. Another suggested that theologians make things complicated – all we need is childlike faith.  Truth be told there were only two or three people making these sorts of comments but I suspect they represent a larger group within the church. History and personal experience have revealed that their tribe is not small. It’s all really very simple – we would be better off with the “theologians.” In response to this I want to offer the following analogy.  

Thinking theologically is like exploring the oceans.

Is theology simple? Theology is simple in the sense that the ocean has shallow shores that a child can wade out into. The ocean is “simple” in that sense. Walk out a little ways and you are in over your head. The fact that a child can wade in the shallows of the Pacific does not mean that we do not need massive ocean liners to cross, or specialized subs to explore its depths. A child can discover that the ocean is composed of water; salty water. There are waves, there are fish. The ocean is blue. It is deep. What more need we say? In a similar way, a child can conclude that God is there, and there is one God, and God is love, God is righteous, etc.. We can read these things straightforwardly from scripture. What more need we say? 
There are simple aspects to thinking about God, but even the simplest of things lead quickly to the depths. The shallows of the ocean shore—physically and conceptually— drop off quickly in many places. It is not a long stretch from observing the waves (a simple thing) to asking “Why are there waves? What is a wave? Why is the ocean blue? What does it mean to see something as blue? Why is the ocean salty? How does the ocean affect life on the planet?” In a similar way one might ask – what does it mean to say that God is love? Dare I mention the Holocaust? What do we mean when we say God exists? What does it mean to exist? What does it mean to say that God underwent incarnation? How is God omnipresent without a body – what is there of God to be located anywhere? Does the incarnation affect omnipresence? 
We might think the ocean is a straightforward thing; after all it is only water and fish. Boats float, maps direct us… if the weather is good we can make it across; why make it difficult?

We stand on the shoulders of maritime giants when it comes to our knowledge of the sea. So it is with theology. What seems “simple and obvious” today – was not always so simple and obvious. We know what we know about ocean navigation and shipbuilding because tens of thousands of men and women have taken their lives into their hands to navigate it, chart it, sound its depths, catch its fish and brave its waves. Thousands of seagoing vessels have been tested upon the sea and thousands lost. Long before this began, whole civilizations feared the sea. They were ignorant of how to navigate its deeps, and so sailors hugged the shores. Things were not always so obvious. It is a privilege to be able to pick up a book and browse the diagrams, charts, explanations, and images of the sea. What seems as simple as flipping through a book was gained at great effort and cost.  

Likewise there are things that seem straightforward theologically – because – for nearly every Christian, someone taught them how to understand the Scriptures and how to think about God. For many this occured from the earliest days of their youth.  A basic theology is as familiar to them as their own cultural worldview.  They, and we,  were taught how to put the sections of the Bible together into a coherent whole. Over the years we forget our teachers and wrongly assume that, “these things are just obvious.” This is not so. Thousands have gone before us, and by God’s help, have put pieces together for us.   They  have translated the scriptures diligently for us into our own language. With every word we read… merely reading before doing theology… we are being helped along by a translator who went before us. Some teacher taught our forebearers, and they taught our parents, and others in turn taught us.

Theological truth seems straightforward because we have reaped the accumulated efforts of generations of teachers – the same sorts of teachers who we take to be complicating things today. 
The Holy Spirit is certainly our guide, our helper, beckoning us to the shore to launch our craft. Somehow the Spirit points some and not others to certain insights. The Spirit did not see fit, however, to allow the church to conclude everything in a single generation. Therefore I assume that likewise, on our little lonesome—with the help of the Spirit—we would not reach the theological understandings that we possess … were we to go it on our own, without those meddlesome theologians. Similarly,  we could not scarcely reinvent  all of the maritime discoveries in a single lifetime. 
Even with all that we know about the ocean, there is much that we still do not know. There are depths of the ocean that can crush our subs. There are waves that can sink our ships. Anyone can easily get lost at sea.  Yes, there are shallows. Yes, we can make our way along by hugging the shore, but the shallows connect to the deeps. In unguarded moments of confidence or neglect… a skiff can be swept out into the depths and lost.  
Here, the analogy breaks down. The ocean is finite; God is not. We would do better to switch to talk of exploring space for an analogy that gives us the sense of exploring the infinite. Even with all that we know about the Lord God… theology is not simple. God is the God of infinities. We are dealing with the God who utters the universe into existence. In our theology we speak and think about a God who holds all of the subatomic particles of the billions of clusters of stars and galaxies together. We speak of a being who knows the location of every grain of sand, on every planet, in every solar system, in every galaxy  littered across the mind bending expanses of the cosmos. And that God could move all of those grains as easily as you blink your eyes. This is the God with whom we have to do. We do well to remember the end of Job’s story. 
Job 38:2 Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?

The evidence is mounting that working on a PhD leads to mental health problems: here is some of that evidence.

Its seems that every week I come across an article about how unhealthy pursuing a PhD can be. I’m not talking about how “sitting is the new smoking” – that would be a problem for academics as well. Instead, I’m referring to the mounting evidence that PhD work leads to mental health problems for startling numbers of students – much higher than other segments of society.   After seeing enough of these articles I thought it was time to assemble a few of these resources into one spot for others to access.   Let me put this in arresting terms for those who may not make it past the first paragraph. Based on the statistics below, it seems that in your institution something like 1 in 4, if not 1 in 3 students is struggling with a mental health issue or is on the verge of something like it. You should also assume that they are hiding it.

Too much too soon? Let’s start again on a positive note. Our society is as sensitive as ever to mental health issues and so it seems that some are taking action on this problem already. This is good news. Earlier this year, 2019, Nature magazine included an announcement that the first international conference on mental health and wellbeing of postgraduate researchers was taking place in Brighton, UK. See “Being a PhD student shouldn’t be bad for your health.”  It may take years however for concern and action to translate into institutional change. Institutions embody cultures – and cultures by nature resist change. Still, it is good to see people take action.  Now that we’ve gotten the good news out of the way, what exactly is the problem with PhD students world over such that an international conference is called for? It seems that the culture, demands, outlook, nature, prospects, administration—insert other nouns here—surrounding PhD work is breaking an alarming number of students.  Maybe these students are just not cut out for this sort of work? Maybe they are weak? I think there is more to the story than an oversimplified generalization.

Don’t believe me?  Let’s start with a story. After all, facts teach, but stories “reach.”  Most of the articles below tackle this crisis in terms of factoids. However, Bob Henderson has written a moving autobiographical account of his unsuccessful attempts at becoming a theoretical physicist. Every student has a story – but Bob has managed to translate his experience into a narrative that others can feel and follow. This piece is begging to be put into an anthology. Read it and multiply Bob (as a representative) by tens of thousands for each of the students statistically represented in the articles below.  If you don’t have time to read anything else in this list make time for Bob’s story:  “What does any of this have to do with physics?” Students working outside of theoretical physics will find plenty in common with his experiences. I certainly did.

For the Twitter crowd, the  eleven words of this blog title do the job:  “I don’t think there is anything darker than doing a PhD.” The web is full of individual stories of the darkness, like this one here.

A 2016 article from the Economist covers some of the drop-out stats on PhD programs, explains how the interests of students and institutions are misaligned, repeats the the well known paucity of jobs, and suggests that the earning potential for many PhD’s is barely better than that of students who grab a quick MA degree. See, “Why doing a PhD is often a waste of time.” While this article has nothing to say directly about mental health, it sketches some of the landscape that PhD students become aware of during their work; a landscape that contributes to their struggles.

More to the point, this article in the Atlantic in 2016 paints a picture of the dire job prospects for PhD’s. See : “The ever tightening job market for PhD’s.” Here are four charts from the Atlantic article that capture some of the discouraging landscape that students look out at… even as they put all of their eggs into a single basked labeled “PhD.” 

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In addition to the dire reports from the external world surrounding graduate students, there is the internal phenomenon of “imposter syndrome.” First identified in the 1970’s, it plagues academics, be they beginners or veterans. Five professors share their fears here.  It affects those in privileged social positions, and effects even more so those from minority groups.  In my own life it feels like deep guilt for receiving funding for a PhD program that someone else “deserves more and would do more more with were they given what I was given.”

The causes of mental illness seem to be varied. For example, those working in the humanities face loneliness and isolation whereas those working in the hard sciences face other challenges. See here: “Studying for a humanities degree can make you feel cut off from humanity.”  There is the additional problem in many research institutions where graduate students and postdocs seem to be a source of cheap labor for institutions. See: “Are PhD’s just cheap labor for universities?” If the causes of mental health are varied then the solutions will need to be varied.

Aetiologies aside, we are talking about PhD students here. This calls for research.  Here are five sources.

Research  from Belgium: Woven throughout most of the recent postings is a regular citation of one particular study coming out of Belgium. All the blog posts cite it. Researchers in Belgium found that one in two PhD students experienced some sort of psychological distress and one in three was at risk of a common psychiatric disorder. This research may become “that” piece of research that started the avalanche of work in a particular field by activating widespread latent suspicion. See: “Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students.” 

Research from the U.S. A 2015 study from Berkeley – the Graduate Student Happiness & Well-Being Report. The report states the alarming finding that, “About 47% of PhD students and 37% of Master’s and Professional students score as depressed. Students in the Arts & Humanities fare poorly on several indicators and 64% score as depressed.” The reports also offers predictors of wellbeing – such as the amount of sleep students were getting, how included they felt in the department, their living conditions and how they perceived their future career prospects.

Research from NatureBiotechnology. This Inside Higher Ed article from 2018 summarizes a study in NatureBiotechnology. It echos the finding of other research that there is a correlation between mental health problems and students struggling with a work-home-life balance. The research also suggests that dangers for mental health problems affect students working in fields beyond the hard sciences: “The survey’s 2,279 respondents were mostly Ph.D. candidates (90 percent), representing 26 countries and 234 institutions. Some 56 percent study humanities or social sciences, while 38 percent study the biological and physical sciences. Two percent are engineering students and 4 percent are enrolled in other fields.” This research cites, among other things, relationships between students and their supervisors as a key to the problem. (Here is a graphic taken from the Inside Higher Ed article, which in turn appears to be taken from the original study). Note the clarifications below the charts: 

Research from Harvard: here is a 2018 study of economics PhD students from Harvard. Here is the abstract: “We study the mental health of graduate students at Economics PhD programs in the U.S. Using clinically validated surveys, we find that 18% of graduate students experience moderate or severe symptoms of depression and anxiety – more than three times the population average – and 11% report suicidal ideation in a two-week period. The average PhD student reports greater feelings of loneliness than does the average retired American. Only 26% of Economics students report feeling that their work is useful always or most of the time, compared with 70% of Economics faculty and 63% of the working age population. Depression and symptoms of anxiety increase with time in the program: 25% of students in years 5+ of their programs experience moderate or severe symptoms of depression or anxiety compared with 14.5% of rst-year students. Many students with signicant symptoms of mental distress are not in treatment. We provide recommendations for students and faculty on ways to improve student work conditions, productivity, and mental health.” 

Here is Scientific American discussing the above research and other findings: “The Emotional Toll of Graduate School.” Every article, blog post, and comment adds to the picture.

Research out of Germany. This recent blog posting that reviews some of the above research also includes similar research of PhD students in Germany. The end of the article suggests changes that should/could occur at the administrative level to begin allaying some of these problems. See: “Addressing the mental health crisis among doctoral researchers.”

This 2017 posting from the American Association for the Advancement of the Sciences , likewise cites the Belgium study (and others). The posting cites an interesting line from the Belgium study – The greatest predictor for experiencing mental health challenges was having difficulty taking care of family needs due to conflicting work commitments. It also notes some of the things that supervisors might look out for and frames this as an ethical issue for institutions. Citing a spike in Twitter conversation on the issue, this article includes a comment from one conversation partner – “[I]t is a public secret that fear of stigma, retaliation or the expected negative impact on one’s future career often inhibits people suffering from mental health issues to make it public,” they write. This lack of visibility is problematic because feeling isolated can cause students’ mental health to deteriorate even further. It also means that there is less pressure on institutions and people in power to tackle the issue.” The speaker, wisely calls for action rather than demonization of academia. See “PhD students face significant mental health challenges.

The lists of links above should be enough to paint an initial picture of what is afoot. The articles and blog posts are legion. I tend to believe that realty is more complex than we take it to be and thus so  are solutions that will alleviate the problem. Note that I said the problems are complex not merely complicated – we are dealing with systems, cultures, and communities of agents here – not just layers in a network stack or parts of a battleship. Following the breadcrumbs will, I suspect, lead to social and institutional vices we don’t want to change—as students or institutions. That prospect calls for a separate blog post – a post I may not be qualified to write. Any sociologists in the house?

Dire predictions aside, let me leave off where I began. If you know PhD students, you know people struggling with mental health and hiding it. If you know  someone interested in going in getting a PhD (i.e. translate that as “interested in teaching at the college level”) there is a high probability that you know someone who will struggle with mental health in their future. One immediate thing that can be done is to scan some of the above articles for simpler concrete changes that can be made in the shortrun before systemic issues such —like economics and academic culture—can be addressed in the long run.



Learning Theological Latin

This page has a few of the thousands of Latin resources for those learning classical, Medieval, Neo-latin or (somewhere in all of those) ecclesiastical Latin for theological study.

Theological Latin

Many of the resources below are for Classical Latin. I’ve been told by some that at the beginners level it doesn’t really matter what sort of Latin textbook one uses; just get started. It is in the style and vocabulary that ecclesiastical Latin will differ from Classical (and of course from classical Latin poetry). Even within theological sources written in Latin, author’s can differ. Younger theologians who have done work that required them to learn Latin have remarked to me that the Vulgate is easy to read; Aquinas is easy to read; Augustine is more difficult due to the quality of his Latin and the Dun’s Scotus is very difficulty to read due to his poor quality Latin.

The textbooks I see students using to learn/teach Latin primarily include John Collins Ecclesiastical Latin and Wheelock. I am being tought latin in an intensive course using Moreland and Fleischer.

  • John Collins
  • Wheelock
  • Moreland and Fleischer
  • New Saint Andrews Latin Course Online – I’ve seen a few students talk about this resource. It is not free but it is an entire Latin course with high quality vocabulary cards and instructional videos.

Regarding Dictionaries. In class we were advised to purchase the Oxford Latin Desk Dictionary as a first time dictionary. I also found that the Collins Latin Concise dictionary (2nd ed) was nice and small with ample extra resources for a good all in one book. Both are quite affordable on Amazon and the size of a regular paperback rather than a large dictionary. The Dictionary of Ecclesiastical Latin by Leo Stelten was also recommended for those doing theological work and find the above to dictionaries insufficient in their definitions.

Handouts for Individual Grammatical Concepts

Latin Instructional Video’s

Classical Texts Online

  • The Latin Library – online texts of the books of 54 classical authors.
  • Downloadable Loebs You can download the entire Loeb Classics library in PDF format! (Scanned by Google)
  • Perseus Digital Library at Tufts
  • – The Aquinas Institute has been working on new translations of Aquinas’s works. They have put online a side by side Latin/English parallel of their translation. They’ve done most of the Summa, Contra Gentiles, and other works.

Vocabulary Resources

  • Diedrich-Lodge latin frequency vocab list. At the turn of the century it was calculated that this list of words showed up frequently in classical and medieval texts. Learning these words would allow one to recognize 85% of the words in most classical and medieval texts.

Dictionaries & Lexicons

  • See the theological Latin section above for info about the dictionaries we used in class.
  • This site has several links to dictionaries including Perseus.
  •   This is an excellent dictionary. Not only will it find Latin forms, it will give you a link that allows you to see the full paradigms and declensions for the word you’ve searched.
  • Whitaker’s Words is a magical little tool that teachers warn one not to use until they’ve gone through their course and learned the forms on their own. This is also found online here.

Latin Grammars & Textbooks

 Answer Keys

Is your Easter pagan? Cheapened? Or beyond comprehension?

(“Peter and John running to the tomb on the morning of the Resurrection”, by Eugene Bernand 1898)

It is not uncommon to hear people say – to Jesus followers – that Easter is Pagan.   Such talk is – vague. We would do well to ask people if they are referring to the origins of the word “Easter”, the commercialized eggs and rabbits, or the Christian remembrance of Christ’s resurrection. Christians, the world over, celebrate the resurrection of Jesus throughout the year, but especially on Easter, known more widely as Pascha. This practice goes back to the earliest days of the church… and its celebration at this time of year was connected with the timing of Passover, not Spring fertility festivals.

It is helpful here to look up the “Quartodeciman” controversy. This Scrabble dominating word comes from the Latin word for fourteen in Leviticus 23:5 (Lev 23:5 mense primo quartadecima die mensis ad vesperum phase Domini est) – On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the Lord’s Passover.  Early Christians like Polycarp reported that John had taught them to practice the annual remembrance of Jesus death, burial, and resurrection on 14 Nissan, the Jewish calendar day associated with Passover in Leviticus. Other Christians, from Rome, eventually insisted that Christians should celebrate the resurrection on the closest Sunday after this day. Nisan 14 did not always fall on a Sunday. Polycarp traveled to Rome in the 160’s and discussed this with a bishop there named Anicetus. They agreed to disagree on this occasion. Later, in good Christian fashion, subsequent believers over it.  Christians in the East who maintained their celebration on the 14th of Nisan were called something like fourteener’s or quartodecmians.
The point here is that Christians have always celebrated the Resurrection annually – around Mar/April – based on Passover timing. This was in complete independence of any German or Anglo-Saxon spring rituals. As the gospel spread and Christianity moved into various cultures, this dating no doubt intersected other festivals that were in fact, Pagan. The story there is less clear. Venerable Bede has a famous comment in the 8th century about the name Easter as a name/time having Pagan origins in the name of the month we call April. In a recent Christianity Today article Anthony McRoy gives the famous quote from Bede and puts a question mark over the accuracy of this story. See
It is helpful to distinguish between the practice of celebrating the resurrection of the Savior and the “word” used to label this date (i.e. Eastern, Resurrection Sunday, Pascha). Furthermore, there is always the obvious point that the name of the Easter celebration in non-Germanic languages is not Easter, but rather a cognate of the word Pascha… which relates to Aramaic/Hebrew words for Passover like pesach.
As to Eastern bunnies and painted eggs… well…. you can figure that one out.
The threat to followers of Jesus in this country is not that they might participate in a pagan ritual this Spring. That is a simplistic understanding of intentionality. It seems no more possible to do that than that you might honor the Norse gods by naming the days of the week after them (Thursday, Friday). No, the danger is more subtle. If a mother hands a child a chocolate bunny and some eggs to hide, the danger isn’t that somewhere inside the child’s heart is planted a desire to pay a little homage to the gods of fertility.
No, the danger is that the reality of what we confess happened in history – is cheapened by commercialization – candy, gifts, games, meals, new clothes. Funzies. The God beyond deep space, the maker of galaxies, took up a body to die for humans, for sin, for righteousness. This is mind bending. Yet it is, if not guarded, cheapened by our eagerness for Hershey chocolates and Bob’s Buffet.
In the cross and resurrection, we are reminded that the God who knows the locations of all the electrons in the cosmos – took flesh upon himself, that he might take your sin in his own body on the cross (1 Peter 2:24). This is profoundly personal; again it borders on unbelievable. God is like this?  It doesn’t seem right, but then again, God is not like us. His hunger for righteousness goes far deeper than ours. His pleasure in revelation. In touching hearts.  In the end, the cross and resurrection are not about us; not initially. It certainly is not about chocolate eggs and pastel colors. The cross and resurrection are first about God’s goodness. Because God is good, infinitely good, he comes to earth, takes our sin, dies our death for us.  But this is God in flesh. Death cannot hold the prince of life. He comes back from among the dead. In grace he takes believers with him; through grave, resurrection, and ascension to his throne. In his eyes we are already seated there (Ephesians 2:6). The age to come has broken in upon us, and in Christ, we have a foretaste of what is coming. [1]
At your home this year, what is Easter about? Probably not pagan gods. Hopefully not candy and bunnies. Something beyond comprehension has happened. The God of Passover (i.e. pascha) has done something greater still. He has come. He has died. He has risen. He has taken believers with him!
[1] Biblical eschatology portrays the ultimate future of Christ and the believer on a renewed earth, not a disembodied heaven. However we also have language about being seated in the heavenlies in Christ.

Science, Philosophy and Religion?

Last week I wrote a short piece the for the Fuller Analytic Theology blog. These are my thoughts on a recent talk that Dr. Hud Hudson gave during our weekly fuller Analytic Theology presentation. Hudson’s paper was titled “A Metaphysical Bridge.” It dealt with the interface that analytic philosophy can provide for dialogue between science and religion.

“Hud Hudson, professor of philosophy at Western Washington University, delivered the second of Fuller’s 2018 Analytic Theology lectures. Besides having a cool name, and a voice that our team deemed radio-ready, Hudson’s paper evinces a truly collegial spirit.  In his three-part paper, “A Metaphysical Bridge,” he suggests that analytic philosophy can play the role of a bridge (i.e., interface) between science and religion in dialogue…”

Read the rest here..

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