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Introduction to Systematic Theology. NARRATIVE THEOLOGY. Theological movement that arose in the 1970s and has gained wide acceptance Sometimes called the “Yale School” It arose in the context of Yale Divinity School Key names include Hans Frei, George Lindbeck, Stanley Hauerwas

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narrative theology
NARRATIVE THEOLOGY
  • Theological movement that arose in the 1970s and has gained wide acceptance
    • Sometimes called the “Yale School”
      • It arose in the context of Yale Divinity School
      • Key names include Hans Frei, George Lindbeck, Stanley Hauerwas
    • Key texts associated with this movement:
      • Hans Frei, The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative (1974)
      • George Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine (1984)
    • “Narrative theology is based on the observation that the Bible tells stories about God.” McGrath, Christian Theology, 200

Intro to Systematic Theology 8

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NARRATIVE THEOLOGY
  • Narrative theology arose within circles that became critical of liberal Christianity
    • Post liberalism is critical of liberal Christianity’s efforts to determine a common or universal human experience of religion
    • For liberal Christianity, “the impulse, which is fundamentally apologetic in intent, is to find a common base for Christian theology and public discourse by a prior analysis of human knowledge, culture or experience.” McGrath, An Evangelical Evaluation of Post liberalism” in The Nature of Confession, 25

Intro to Systematic Theology 8

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NARRATIVE THEOLOGY
  • Post liberalism is critical of the rationalist structure (an Enlightenment legacy) that underlies liberal Christianity
    • This is often referred to as Foundationalism- the idea “that it is possible to base knowledge on some sort of absolute first principles.” Erickson, PTF, 17.
    • The Cognitivist approach has been out of fashion, at least since Kant, “For he helped clear the ground for its emergence (Experiential-Expressive approach) by demolishing the metaphysical and epistemological foundations of the earlier regnant cognitive-propositional views. . . .

Intro to Systematic Theology 8

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NARRATIVE THEOLOGY
  • That ground-clearing was later completed for most educated people by scientific development that increased the difficulties of accepting literalistic propositional interpretations of such biblical doctrines as creation, and by historical studies that implied the time-conditioned relativity of all doctrines.” Lindbeck, Nature of Doctrine, 20-21.
  • Postliberalism is critical of the notion that an individual’s experience may be “placed above or before the communal religion.” That is, it is in the community of faith that religious experience is shaped. McGrath, “Evaluation,” 27.

Intro to Systematic Theology 8

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NARRATIVE THEOLOGY
  • Narrative Theology offers telling criticisms of the Experiential-Expressive approach.
    • “The notion of ‘common human experience’ is now viewed as little more than an experiential fiction, in much the same way that ‘universal rationality’ is now seen as little more than the idle daydream of reason.” McGrath, “Evaluation,” 24.
    • “The principal objection to this theory is its obvious gross inaccuracy. As Lindbeck points out, the possibility of religious experience is shaped by religious expectation, so that ‘religious experience’ is conceptually derivative, if not vacuous.” McGrath, “Evaluation,” 26

Intro to Systematic Theology 8

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NARRATIVE THEOLOGY
  • Postliberalism is critical of liberal Christianity’s evacuation of the particularity of Christianity, considering non-particular versions of Christianity to be unwarranted constructs
    • “Ideas such as ‘religion’ and ‘culture,’ which an earlier generation of liberal writers happily appealed to as constituting universal foundations of nonparticularist forms of Christianity, are now seen to be fictitious constructs, generally reflecting a specifically Westerns set of presuppositions.” McGrath, “Evaluation,” 24

Intro to Systematic Theology 8

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NARRATIVE THEOLOGY
  • William Placher identifies three factors that contributed to the rise of Narrative Theology at Yale. “Post liberal Theology” in David Ford, ed., The Modern Theologians, 2d ed., 344.
    • There was an atmosphere conducive to “thinking about the particularities of individual religious traditions”
    • There was a focus on “the biblical texts as we have them” (think of Brevard Childs and his canonical approach to Scripture
    • There was interest in “the relations of biblical texts to the communities that read them.”

Intro to Systematic Theology 8

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NARRATIVE THEOLOGY
  • According to William Placher’s summary, Narrative Theology has three major characteristics. (As quoted by McGrath, “Evaluation,” 23-4).
    • “The primacy of narrative as an interpretative category for the Bible
    • The hermeneutical primacy of the world created by the biblical narratives over the world of human experience
    • The primacy of language over experience”

Intro to Systematic Theology 8

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NARRATIVE THEOLOGY
  • Lindbeck’s Typology seeks to divide “theological theories of religion and doctrine . . . into three types.” The Nature of Doctrine, 16.
    • Cognitive/Propositionalist, or the Traditional Way, which emphasizes cognitive aspects, truth as captured in propositions
    • Experiential/Expressive, or Expressively Symbolic, which focuses on feelings, attitudes, experience- not propositions
    • Hybrid, combines above two methods listed above; replaced by the
    • Cultural Linguistic or Regulative approach which emphasizes the role of the community in the formation of rules and church doctrine

Intro to Systematic Theology 8

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NARRATIVE THEOLOGY
  • The Cognitive-Propositionalist: This type “emphasizes the cognitive aspects of religion and stresses the ways in which church doctrines function as informative propositions or truth claims about objective realities.” NOD, 16.
    • Treats religion “as similar to philosophy”
    • “The approach of traditional orthodoxies”
    • “If a doctrine is once true, it is always true”
    • Representative theologians: Charles Hodge, Wayne Grudem

Intro to Systematic Theology 8

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NARRATIVE THEOLOGY
  • The Experiential-Expressivist: Type “interprets doctrines as noninformative and nondiscursive symbols of inner feelings, attitudes, or existential orientations.” NOD, 16
    • “Highlights the resemblances of religions to aesthetics enterprises”
    • “Particularly congenial to the liberal theologies influenced by . . . Schleiermacher”
    • “Insofar as doctrines function as nondiscursive symbols, they are polyvalent in import and therefore subject to changes or meaning or even to a total loss of meaningfulness”
    • Representative Theologians: F.D.W. Schleiermacher, Paul Tillich

Intro to Systematic Theology 8

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NARRATIVE THEOLOGY
  • The Hybrid: This type makes use of “both cognitivist and experiential-expressive perspectives.”
    • “Equipped to account more fully than can the first two types for both variable and invariable aspects of religious traditions”
    • “They resort to complicated intellectual gymnastics and to that extent are unpersuasive”
    • Representative Theologians: Karl Rahner, Bernard Lonergan

Intro to Systematic Theology 8

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NARRATIVE THEOLOGY
  • The “Cultural-Linguistic” or “regulative” approach
    • “The function of church doctrines that becomes most prominent in this perspective is their use, not as expressive symbols or as truth claims, but as communally authoritative rules of discourse, attitude, and action. This general way of conceptualizing religion will be called in what follows a ‘cultural -linguistic’ approach, and the implied view of church doctrine will be referred to as a ‘regulative’ or ‘rule’ theory.” NOD, 18

Intro to Systematic Theology 8

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NARRATIVE THEOLOGY
  • “Rules, unlike propositions or expressive symbols, retain an invariant meaning under changing conditions of compatibility and conflict. For example, the rules ‘Drive on the left’ and ‘Drive on the right’ are unequivocal in meaning and unequivocally opposed, yet both may be biding: one in Britain and the other in the United States, . . . ” NOD, 18

Intro to Systematic Theology 8

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NARRATIVE THEOLOGY
  • “This stress on the code, rather than the (e.g. propositionally) encoded, enables a cultural-linguistic approach to accommodate the experiential concern for the unreflective dimensions of human existence far better that is possible in a cognitivist outlook. Religion cannot be pictured in the cognitivist (and voluntarist) manner as primarily a matter of deliberately choosing to believe or follow explicitly known propositions or directives. Rather, to become religious- no less than to become culturally or linguistically competent- is to interiorize a set of skills by practice and training.” NOD, 35

Intro to Systematic Theology 8

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NARRATIVE THEOLOGY
  • “In the Christian case the system is constituted, not in purely intellectual terms by axioms, definitions, and corollaries, but by a set of stories used in specifiable ways to interpret and live in the world. The mistake of a primarily cognitive-propositional theory of religion, from a cultural-linguistic perspective, is to overlook this difference.” NOD, 64.

Intro to Systematic Theology 8

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NARRATIVE THEOLOGY
  • Is there any room for propositional truth?
    • Lindbeck’s evaluation of the Cognitivist-Propositional approach at times sounds like a caricature and not an accurate representation. Concerning the cognitivist embracing of “sets of objectively and immutably true propositions” he says that “perhaps only those among whom the sects chiefly recruit who combine unusual insecurity with naiveté can easily manage to do this.” NOD, 21.

Intro to Systematic Theology 8

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NARRATIVE THEOLOGY
  • As McGrath puts it, “to caricature Christian doctrine as mere wordplay or as an attempt to reduce the mystery of God to propositions is to neglect to appreciate the manner in which words serve us. In order for my experience to be communicated to another person, it demands statement in cognitive forms.” McGrath, “Evaluation,” 32.

Intro to Systematic Theology 8

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NARRATIVE THEOLOGY
  • Is anybody out there?
    • “Lindbeck believes that theology is concerned with the articulation and exploration of the intrasystemic aspects of Christian faith.” McGrath, “Evaluation,” 35
    • That is, for Lindbeck, the question is not whether there is any external referent to which the words point or refer. Rather, the question terminates upon establishing the grammatical construct, or the rule.

Intro to Systematic Theology 8

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NARRATIVE THEOLOGY
  • “The issue is a narrow one. Rule Theory does not prohibit speculations on the possible correspondence of the Trinitarian pattern of Christian language to the metaphysical structure of the Godhead, but simply says that these are not doctrinally necessary and cannot be binding. . . . and, similarly, ontological interpretations of the trinity do not, nor should not, be made communally normative for the way Christians live and think.” NOD, 106
  • Here he appears to embrace the postmodern denial of the correspondence view of reality and the referent theory of language

Intro to Systematic Theology 8

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NARRATIVE THEOLOGY
  • Yea, hath God said?
    • “Throughout his analysis, there seems to be a studied evasion of the central question of revelation- in other words, whether the Christian idiom, articulated in Scripture and hence in the Christian tradition, emerges from accumulated human insight or from the self-disclosure of God in the Christ-event.” McGrath, “Evaluation,” 34

Intro to Systematic Theology 8

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NARRATIVE THEOLOGY
  • Whom do men say that I am?
    • Who is Jesus Christ for Lindbeck? If according to Narrative Theology we are only interested with the meaning of the text, how does this enable us to escape a functional Christology, (e.g., Ritschl) or the flatness of Bultmann’s Christology?

Intro to Systematic Theology 8

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NARRATIVE THEOLOGY
  • Positively
    • Lindbeck offers types of theology that, for the evangelical, should be mutually supportive and informative. Neither a strictly rationalist set of propositions, nor an ambiguous ill-defined “experience” is sufficient as a foundation for Christian living. Likewise, the importance of the faith community in forming our thinking and framing our language is a needed corrective to the independent minded late-twentieth century evangelical. “You cannot have God for your Father unless you have the Church for your Mother.” -Cyprian

Intro to Systematic Theology 8