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Postliberal theology began as a late 20th-century development in Christian Theology. It proposes that the Church's use of the Bible should focus on a narrative presentation of the faith as regulative for the development of a coherent systematic theology. Founded principally by George Lindbeck, Hans Wilhelm Frei and other scholars at Yale Divinity School it is sometime referred to as "the Yale school" or "narrative theology"[1].


History and Origins

Postliberal theology was inspired by a group of theologians at Yale Divinity School, many influenced theologically by Karl Barth, Thomas Aquinas and to some extent, the nouvelle théologie of French Catholics such as Henri de Lubac. The clear philosophical influence, however, was Ludwig Wittgenstein's philosophy of language, the moral philosophy of Alasdair MacIntyre, and the sociological insights of Clifford Geertz and Peter Berger on the nature of communities.

Theological Platform

Partly a reaction to the modern, individualist, rationalist and romantic trends of theological liberalism, important postliberal thinkers included George Lindbeck, Hans Wilhelm Frei, and Stanley Hauerwas; theologians in this camp were once concentrated at Yale Divinity School, but are now influential at a number of seminaries and divinity schools, notably Duke Divinity School (where Hauerwas teaches). This movement has provided much of the foundation for other movements, such as Radical orthodoxy, Scriptural Reasoning, paleo-orthodoxy, the emerging church movement, and postliberal versions of evangelicalism and Roman Catholicism. Its ecumenical spirit originates from George Lindbeck's work, which was partly animated by his involvement as a Lutheran observer at the Second Vatican Council.

In contrast to liberal individualism, postliberalism tends toward more tradition-constituted and communitarian accounts of human rationality and personhood. Theological rationality is not to be rooted in the authority of the individual (cogito ergo sum, "I think, therefore I am") but in the language and culture of a living tradition of communal life. The postliberals argue that the Christian faith be equated with neither the religious feelings of Romanticism nor the propositions of a Rationalist or fundamentalist approach to religion. Rather, the Christian faith is understood as a culture and a language, in which doctrines are likened to a second-order "grammar" upon the first-order language and culture (practices, skills, habits) generated by the scriptural narrative. Thus, in addition to a critique of theological liberalism, and an emphasis upon the narratives of scripture, there is also a stress upon tradition, and upon the language, culture and intelligibility intrinsic to the Christian community. As a result, postliberal theologies are often oriented around the scriptural narrative, liturgical action and descriptions of Christian practice as resources for critical inquiry (e.g. culture critique).

Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Postliberal Conversions

Some thinkers within the movement have abandoned the postliberal attempt to rehabilitate or repair modern theology and have opted to join the paleo-orthodox movement instead. The latter group insists more ardently on the priority of the pre-modern tradition, particularly patristic and/or medieval writings. The paleo-orthodox, unlike some Hauerwasian postliberals who advocate pacifism and a disengagement of the church from public life, usually espouse strongly conservative political views. Some have remained Protestants, others have become Orthodox or Catholic.

It is also noteworthy that in recent years a great number of prominent postliberal theologians have become Roman Catholics, such as R.R. Reno, and Paul Griffiths (both former Anglicans), as well as Bruce Marshall and Reinhard Huetter (both former Lutherans), in a manner similar to the followers of the Tractarian movement within mid-19th century Anglicanism, which also occurred during global economic change (see Industrial Revolution). Prominent postliberals becoming Catholic is especially notable because George Lindbeck's ecumenical work at Vatican II and beyond had no interest in individual conversions to the Catholic Church, but did suggest the need for the communal transformation of liberal Protestantism so that Protestant Christianity might begin to be more identifiable as a form of Catholic Christianity. Postliberalism partly arose in response to the crumbling of mainline Protestantism in America, in light of which evangelicalism and Catholicism were the only main sociological and theological alternatives.


Critics of postliberalism often have been concerned with its "post-foundational" aspects; debates have been centered on issues of incommensurability, sectarianism, fideism, relativism, truth and ontological reference. A number of works have sought to resolve these questions to various degrees of satisfaction [e.g. Pecknold 2005, Vanhoozer 2005, De Hart 2006], and the debates continue across the theological disciplines.


  • The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter (1981, ISBN 0-465-00427-X)
  • The Gospel in Parable: Metaphor, Narrative, and Theology in the Synoptic Gospels by John R. Donahue (1990, ISBN 0-8006-2480-7)
  • The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative : A Study in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Hermeneutics by Hans Frei (1980, ISBN 0-300-02602-1)
  • Theology and Narrative: A Critical Introduction by Michael Goldberg (1982, ISBN 1-56338-010-2)
  • A Community of Character by Stanley Hauerwas (1981, ISBN 0-268-00735-7)
  • Paul Among the Postliberals by Douglas Harink (2003, ISBN 1-58743-041-X)
  • Narrative Reading, Narrative Preaching edited by Joel Green & Michael Pasquarello (2003, ISBN 0-8010-2721-7)
  • Why Narrative? Readings in Narrative Theology, edited by Stanley Hauerwas & L. Gregory Jones (1989, ISBN 1-57910-065-1)
  • Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony by Stanley Hauerwas & William Willimon (1989, ISBN 0-687-36159-1)
  • Unleashing the Scripture: Freeing the Bible from Captivity to America by Stanley Hauerwas (1993, ISBN 0-687-31678-2)
  • Women and the Authority of Scripture: A Narrative Approach by Sarah Heaner Lancaster (2002, ISBN 1-56338-356-X)
  • The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age by George Lindbeck (1984, ISBN ISBN 0-664-24618-4)
  • The Story of God: Wesleyan Theology and Biblical Narrative by Michael Lodahl (1994, ISBN 0-8341-1479-8)
  • The Use and Abuse of the Bible: A Study of the Bible in an Age of Rapid Cultural Change by Dennis Nineham, (1976, ISBN 0-333-10489-7)
  • The Promise of Narrative Theology: Recovering the Gospel in the Church by George W. Stroup (1997, ISBN 1-57910-053-8)
  • The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder (1972, ISBN 0-8028-0734-8)
  • Transforming Postliberal Theology by C.C. Pecknold (2005, ISBN 0-567-03034-2)
  • The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-Linguistic Approach To Christian Theology by Kevin J. Vanhoozer (2005, ISBN 0-664-22327-3)
  • The Trial of Witnesses: The Rise and Decline of Postliberal Theology by Paul DeHart (2006)

See also


  1. ^ Placher, William C. (April 7, 1999). "Being Postliberal: A Response to James Gustafson". Christian Century 116 (11): 390–392. ISSN 0009-5281.  


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