Navigating the Divide between Liberal and Postliberal Theology
The concluding chapter connects the concerns of liberals and postliberals with their respective positions on religious and theological language. Liberal theology is driven to a descriptivist or truth-conditional understanding of meaning by its concern to defend the truth of religious or theological assertions via criteria that are truly public. Conversely, postliberal embrace of the later Wittgenstein is driven by the concern to vindicate the particularity of God’s self-revelation in Jesus, thus avoiding vulnerability to Feuerbach’s critique. Such concerns are frustrated by the Hobson’s choice between descriptivism and Wittgenstein. The chapter thus points to developments in philosophy of language that can move theology past the liberal/postliberal impasse. These include the development of theories of meaning-as-use, by philosophers like William Alston that incorporate a Kripkean view of direct or causal reference. The chapter describes how such developments could be put to use in correcting liberal and postliberal shortcomings in theological method. The chapter closes by suggesting areas in which further work could be done on meaning, reference, interpretation and truth—the four elements of theological method mentioned in the introduction. In all these areas, recent analytic philosophy could prove to be a fruitful conversation partner.
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