Read a book of over six hundred pages? The best and the brightest would be put off. But they would indeed have missed something. This Louvain Monograph is the publication of the doctoral thesis of Jeffrey Choo-Kee Goh, lecturer of dogmatic theology and sacramentology at St. Peter's College, Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia, and a judge of the Ecclesiastical Tribunal of the Archdiocese of Kuching.
The name of George Lindbeck brings to mind the bitterly controversial issues of anti-foundationalism, relativism, fideism, sectarianism, apologetics, the use of experience in theology, the so called "deadly delimma," and the hermeneutical impasse between the Yale and Chicago schools in theology(15). These issues touch on not only critical areas in systematic theology, but also in biblical interpretation. George Lindbeck is someone to attend to, and attend to him Goh does indeed.
It is how Goh attends to Lindbeck and others in this study that I would like to comment on first. Some theologians approach the work of a colleague with saber ready. They cut and slash and when the colleague is in a heap on the floor, the critic turns expectantly for cheers from the crowd. Goh approaches his work differently. Chapter by chapter, this carefully planned analysis walks the more difficult tightrope of balanced respect and sound critique. The reader will get not only solid analysis of the issues at stake, but the real contribution Lindbeck makes to the discipline of theology and its role in the world.
Why does Goh write? I have already dispensed with the motive of dismembering a colleague. Goh writes, I believe, because he has a deep concern for the issues addressed by Lindbeck and the retrieval project of the Yale school (7). How are Christians made in a (post) modern liberal culture (6)? How do they "become competent speakers of their particular religious heritage (9)?" How does one do theology in the face of the loss of a once universal classic hermeneutical framework (7) one which unashamedly betrays a concern to defend and promote the Christian faith (11)? Goh writes to dialogue with Lindbeck, to do a critical analysis of his perspective and the many scholarly responses to his work. Goh writes to clarify Lindbeck's work in its lasting significance. What then is Goh's take on all of this? I'm convinced Goh's point is to uncover the dialectical nature of truth and revelation and show the need to complement Lindbeck's distinct hermeneutical orientation with this valid view. In Goh's own words,"Our thesis is that the theological task is a hermeneutical task, and hermeneutical work is possible only because truth is revealed in a dialectical way (13)." Goh then sets himself four criteria to dialogue with and indeed assess Lindbeck's work: its faithfulness to the tradition, its intelligibility, its choherence in argumentation, and the adequacy of its hermeneutical approach to the theological task (13-14).
With chapter one Goh begins to shape his argument. The chapter sets the context with a keen discussion of Tradition and Authority in our time. The importance of the work of Gadamer, Habermas, Ricoeur, and MacIntyre set the stage for the dialectical bedrock that is Goh's own dialectical position. With chapter two, Lindbeck and the concerns that drive his project are introduced with deft clarity. The transition into this chapter is effected by presenting Lindbeck's postliberal "three clusters:" intratexual particularity, his views on religion, and the nature and function of church doctrine (126). This chapter indeed reveals Lindbeck's chief practical concern: "to cultivate the distinctive Christian culture, language and practice (178)." The bottom line for Lindbeck becomes starkly clear: "...a trenchant denial of the liberal theologian's reliance on allegedly neutral, universal criteria to underpin theology's intellectual discourse (180)."
With chapter three the analysis and critique begins. With the deftness and care of a surgeon Goh uncovers the strengths and weaknesses of Lindbeck's approach. Into clear relief comes Lindbeck's stance: at the end of the day he would want everything, the entire universe and all the theologians in it, to be absorbed into the text (319). Goh lays bare the inadequacy of Lindbeck's approach and the need for supplementation by questioning three areas: the adequacy of narrative alone to meet the tasks to which Lindbeck puts it, the validity of nonfoundationalism as a background principle for his intratextual arguments, and the adequacy of confining revelation to the written Scritpure texts (316).
With Lindbeck's basic premises fully exposed in chapter three, Goh addresses the theological red herring of experience in chapter four. Lindbeck's trenchant denial of a place for experience is critical to other issues (376). "It is the sources of Christianity, namely, its culture and language, that informs and nurtures religious experience, never the other way around (446)." Using the image of Ochham's razor, Goh suggests Lindbeck has effected a "crew cut" regarding experience (390). The powerful rhetoric of the postliberals is seen as resolving matters too easily (448).
With the final chapter of this thorough study we learn that for Lindbeck doctrines generally are second order statements that make "intrasytematic" rather than ontological truth claims (459) Goh lays out the playing field: preliberals understand doctrines as propositions that express revealed and therefore unchanging truths; liberals understand doctrines as symbolic expressions of universal and unchanging religious experiences; and postliberals understand doctrines as "rules" that reflect the "grammar" of specific religious traditions. Opposed to the perceived liberal accommodation to the "acids of modernity," postliberals tend to be more critical of the liberals than of the preliberals (460).
"What Lindbeck has not done, is to provide more clearly for an underlying framework of truth to which theological realism can appeal without retreating into fideism (511-512)." With these words Goh begins to close his argument. Lindbeck is convinced that Christianity in the modern world is threatened with the loss of its identity (570-571). What then is the Church to do in times of progressive dechristianization (573)? Lindbeck is confident that those who are "steeped" in the authoritative text of the Bible and use this text as their sole interpretive framework will find that "no text is more real" for them than the world of that text (575). Goh concludes that Lindbeck has contributed much to calling attention to one side of the equation of the dialectical revelation of truth (594). Lindbeck elevates the objective pole and silences the subjective pole of the human relationship with God. He hesitates, Goh concludes, to stand upon the ability of the Christian Tradition to use both its resources and resilience to establish and profit from "points of contact" between the Church and other communities (594).
Do I recommend a read? Indeed. This is a serious text for systematicians and biblical scholars alike. It will take perseverence, but will reward the reader with a marvelous balanced view of not only Lindbeck but of the other theologians introduced who support and contrast with his perspective.