Can There Be An “Orthodox” Postmodern Theology? -- By: Richard B. Davis
JETS 45:1 (March 2002) p. 111
Can There Be An “Orthodox” Postmodern Theology?
* Richard Davis is assistant professor of philosophy at Tyndale College, 25 Ballyconnor Court, Toronto, ON M2M-4B3.
In the editor’s introduction to Theology and the End of Modernity, a Festschrift in honor of Reginald Stackhouse, we are confronted with a somewhat startling claim: there is (or at least could be) such a thing as orthodox postmodern theology.1 This claim, I say, is rather surprising. According to Alvin Plantinga, for example, “various claims plausibly labeled ‘postmodern’ do indeed conflict with [orthodox] Christian belief.”2 And Douglas Groothuis goes perhaps still further, insisting that “postmodernism poses a plethora of challenges to Christian theology.”3 It is, of course, notoriously difficult to say just what postmodernism is in any definitive way. For present purposes, however, I shall take postmodern theology to include a rejection of the following: (a) the correspondence theory of truth; (b) the referential use of language; and (c) a person’s ability to access reality directly, unmediated by conceptual or linguistic schemes.4 Contrary to recent opinion,5 I shall argue that some of these postmodern elements do indeed put in an appearance in Stackhouse’s theology, and jointly lead to a most unexpected and unorthodox conclusion.
I. “Objectifying” God
1. Intellectual crisis. I begin with Reginald Stackhouse’s intellectual autobiography “More Than Thirty Years On.”6 In this frank and revealing piece, Stackhouse charts the course of his personal journey from modern to postmodern theology (though of course he does not describe it as such). His
JETS 45:1 (March 2002) p. 112
initial understanding of the task of the theological educator was both mainstream and conservative:
My years in theological education began with my being committed to theology as a corpus of objective knowledge which could be learned, believed and prac-tised … it was knowledge not essentially different from what I might have amassed had I continued my studies in political economy instead of entering theology. Both presupposed a body of truth which could be imparted from teacher to student and then applied to the so-called “real world.”7
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