John WRIGHT. Postliberal Theology and the Catholic Church: Conversations with George Lindbeck, David Burrell and Stanley Hauerwas. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic 2012, 159 pages. ISBN 978080103982 9.
Reviewed by Richard Rymarz, St Joseph’s College, University of Alberta

There is much to appreciate in the format of this book skilfully edited by John Wright. It places three eminent contemporary American theologians in conversation around a focus topic, namely, the relationship between postliberal theology and the Catholic Church. Such a format allows for a range of complex issues to emerge in a way that encourages the reader to go further and as such provides excellent scaffolding for future learning. The book is based on a series of interviews, conducted by the author, where he asked the three theologians to reflect on their lives, their academic work, and their friendship. The interviews delved, in particular, into how the Second Vatican Council impacted on their lives and their thought. In addition to interviews with each theologian, Wright also poses to all three common questions such as their attitude to the “new fragmentation of the Church” or “ecumenism and recapturing the Jewish roots of the messianic people of God.”

For Lindbeck the term postliberal theology is presented as a counterpoint to what he calls propositional-expressivist theological approaches. These place in Lindbeck’s view too much emphasis on experiential theological methods. What is needed in contemporary discourse is a reversion to the normative historical sources of the faith, what he calls evocatively, the theology of the Great Church. Indeed, this postliberal approach has brought with it some success especially in the ecumenical field. A good example of this is the joint statement by the Catholic Church and the World Lutheran Confederation on the Doctrine of Justification which has reconciled centuries old divisions.

Hauerwas' major contribution to postliberal theology has been in his integration of the themes of the Great Church espoused by Lindbeck with a narrative approach to theology. This seeks to integrate the craft of the theologian with the relational world of the individual. Hauerwas notes, very significantly, that one of the consequences of the Council is that it encouraged Catholic theologians to make common cause with a central concern of postliberal theology, that is, in recovering what he calls the Christological heart of the church. In this way a theological ganglion of the great Church and the concerns of post conciliar Catholicism have become aligned. Hauerwas credits Pope John Paul II for this shift in Catholic theology. One of the features of the interview format of the book is how Wright is able to present aspects of the thinking of the three theologians which are not apparent in their own writings. Hauerwas, for instance, acknowledges the great influence that Alasdair MacIntyre has had on his own thinking.

Burrell is not a theologian who is normally associated with postliberal theology. His inclusion here is for his expertise in the interface between Thomistic thought and contemporary theology, especially in its ecumenical dimension. Burrell also has made a significant contribution to incorporating the insights of analytical philosophy to theological discourse. His story is a living testimony to the impact of the Council. Burrell’s account of his life as a priest, his pastoral ministry, studies in Rome and the United States and his later teaching career are a generational leitmotif for those whose lives straddled the Council. In particular, he nominates his early career at Notre Dame under the leadership of Theodore Hesburgh as shaping his understanding of the Council. Burrell brings his contribution to a fitting conclusion when he notes his agreement with Lindbeck, Ratzinger, Yoder and Hauerwas that the primary task of a Christian is to follow Jesus.

This volume is a very welcome addition to the ongoing discussion about postliberal theology and Catholicism.

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