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Evangelicals and Postliberals Together

"The Nature of Confession: Evangelicals and Postliberals in Conversation"

Edited by Timothy R. Phillips and Dennis L. Okholm


216 pp.; $15.99, paper

What is postliberalism, and why should anyone outside the admittedly influential but small group of theologians who occasionally call themselves "postliberal" care?

Like most intellectual movements, postliberalism's exact date of inception cannot be pinpointed. Perhaps 1974 is as good a date as any. That is the year Yale theologian Hans Frei published his magisterial "The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative." In great historical detail and with formidable erudition, Frei argued that modernity had misled the church in its use of the Bible. The Enlightenment motivated skeptics and Christians alike to read Scripture with the aim of trying to get at what lay behind the text, asking questions such as "How much of the real [i.e., historical] Jesus do we get in the Gospels?" and "Can scientifically informed people really believe the Bible's account of Creation?"

Frei contended that, by way of contrast, Christians before modernity did not read the Bible to get behind the text so much as they read it to get at the truth in the text. For them, the Bible absorbed and redefined the world on biblical terms. Frei hoped that modern Christians (he wrote before "post" was a prefix to every other academically uttered word) might, for their own day and in their own way, recover such a premodern strategy of reading Scripture. He later indicated possible directions of such an attempt in "The Identity of Jesus Christ" (1975).

But it fell to a colleague to coalesce the movement and take it to a new stage. George Lindbeck taught alongside and conversed intensely with Frei for decades. Significantly, he also immersed himself in anthropology (especially the work of Clifford Geertz) and kept up with philosophical arguments in the pivotal contemporary field of epistemology. In 1984 Lindbeck published "The Nature of Doctrine." With this book he gave ...

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