Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 29:3 (Sep 1986)
Article: Book Reviews
Author: Anonymous

Book Reviews

The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age. By George A. Lindbeck. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1984, 142 pp., $16.95/$9.95.

The Nature of Doctrine grew out of Lindbeck’s presentations in the St. Michael’s Lectures delivered in the fall of 1974 at Gonzaga University. It concerns itself particularly with defining and advocating what the author styles the “cultural-linguistic” understanding of religion. This model, found extensively in the current literature on anthropology, philosophy and sociology, offers a noncontent format for the ecumenical enterprise inasmuch as it concerns itself with faithfulness of doctrine rather than truthfulness of doctrine.

If(at least for the purposes of discussion) a religion is conceptualized after the analogy of a language, then the ecumenical task considers whether current teachings, rituals, or ethical imperatives in various sectors of Christendom break the grammatical rules by which Christianity operates when it organizes the world and speaks about life in it. “Lexicographically,” different Christian traditions could even affirm mutually exclusive ideas without breaking fellowship or capitulating to other fellowships, because in expressing these ideas neither side breaks the rules of Christian syntax. The approach buys time for discussion and lets opposing traditions recognize their common factors that make it possible for them even to contradict each other. Perhaps this exercise in formal analyses could occasion even substantive agreement by removing the competitive attitude that blocks mutual understanding.

Evangelicals will probably find the cultural-linguistic proposal helpful for providing a format for discussion, but they will see it as only minimally helpful because they most naturally subscribe to another view of Christianity as a religion—what Lindbeck styles the “informative propositional” viewpoint. In this latter perspective, Church doctrine makes truth claims about objective realities. Any ecumenical endeavor that does not structure for a potential meeting of minds on substantive issues does not suffice, even though much undesigned good indeed comes from any interaction between variant beliefs.

The traditional orthodox Christian will find helpful the critique of yet another definition of religion much in vogue among descendants of Schleiermacher. This “experiential-expressive” approach regards doctrines as nondiscursive symbols so that conceptual agreement is not part of the ecumenical agenda. To the experiential model Lindbeck offers in chaps. 1–2 a number of significant critiques.

Much of the value in a book like Lindbeck’s lies in matters beyond the specific purpose for writing it. The Nature...

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