The Origins of Postliberalism

So I’m putzing about on the interwebs this morning (not doing my homework as I specifcally woke up early on a Saturday to do!) and happened upon this article. It discusses the relatively modern development of “Postliberal Theology”—a stream that has influenced much of the thought on this blog.

I believe it’s a fair introduction that highlights the notable strengths and challenges of the Postliberal position. I present this here for our reference and to help those commenters who might find some our Christian ideas unusual at times.

I can’t even say I’ve read all the scholars mentioned in this article particularly extensively—but I simply can’t deny my affinity for some of their ideas. Thus, please don’t think I’m setting up this movement as some sort of standard or label for me or anyone else who writes on theophiliacs. This is just one more voice in the ongoing RSS feed of our lives (blegh! what a disgustingly cheesy metaphor).


  1. It’s a really interesting article. Without having heard of most of the theologians described, I do feel a certain affinity to some of their ideas. In particular the idea that biblical truth stands beyond the confines of historicity; that history is too narrow a category to contain biblical truth. Good stuff. Now get to work, Reed! :-]


  2. I’ve long identified with post-liberal theology and even have Linbeck’s classic for review. I think that the next step is for post-liberal theology to shake it’s bindings from a Barthinian “sitting loose” to questions of philosophy and metaphysics.

    I’ve seen this in my readings of, for instance, Rowan Williams, who takes on the critical study of Scripture and philosophy with more rigour than Barth ever did.

    Then again, I’m partly speaking through my ass, but I am at least going off of the critiques that I have read and the small bits of Barth and others that I’ve read.


  3. The problem is avoiding “labels” when “labels” are what help us to organize thoughts.

    So I don’t like to say that “I am post-liberal” or “I am Radically Orthodox” or “I am a Hauerwasian” or what have you. Not because they aren’t true in their own way, but I just want to DO theology. I don’t want to do “post-liberal” theology even though the Wittgensteinian and Phenomenological arguments are part of the foundation from which I work.

    Ah the shifty world of reality, it can be such a bitch.


  4. After reading your link I have a headache. I don’t have a clue what the middle ground that is trying to be achieved.

    Personally I think there is more scriptural understanding in the design and art of cathedral’s then in the written bible today. The former ability to read what a church building teaches is lost on most everyone today and since in this country we are now 85% urban and the majority of the stories of the bible are crafted for a agrarian society the message is missed due to lack of lived experience.


  5. quickbeam,

    I’ve continually found the idea of a “middle” or “third” way to be contentless. Everybody imagines their position a “middle way” through what they perceive of as theologies to their right and left. And this coming from an Anglican! Poor Hookers phrase has gotten worn out.

    Could you elaborate a bit further what you mean on the building? I am interested and think that it makes sense. You could even consider doing a guest contribution to the site on it, though you shouldn’t feel any pressure to do so.


  6. Thanx, it was helpful.
    I am still trying to figure this stuff out.
    I must say, I like much of the approach.
    I wonder, could I create a Post-Liberal Atheism?


  7. Sabio,

    Have you heard of Slavoj Zizek and Alain Badiou? They’s ‘fightin’ ” atheists with a metaphysical (in the proper philosophical sense of the word) leaning that has them creating “materialist theology.”

    Zizek is famous for his interpretations of the psychoanalyst Lacan and Badiou uses a lot of geometry and math with his philosophy.


  8. I’ve heard of Zizek — Peter Rollin likes him and I have Rollin’s books on my Amazon list — I like his style. He is unique and free thinking. And his explanations of philosophy seem clear and simple. Where would you start with Zizek?


    1. These books comes to mind:

      Slavoj Zizek: A Critical Introduction (Modern European Thinkers)

      Zizek: A Critical Introduction (Key Contemporary Thinkers)

      Zizek: A (Very) Critical Introduction

      The last one would be especially intriguing for you as it is done by someone coming from a “Radical Orthodox – Post-modern” perspective. Rollins is certainly more sympathetic to Zizek than RO tends to be. But then again, Rollins is very much in the so-called “liberal” post-modern camp with Caputo and Derrida and other such voices.


  9. Tony,
    Thanx for the work gathering the links.
    I notice that they are all critical — it is like trying to learn about Buddhism by reading only polemics of apologists (which is the case for most my Christian friends).
    The last (your favorite) is cheapest, I may go with that — I am trying to learn the post-modern thing.
    But I must say, I am anything but Marxist, so that part ought to be interesting. And I am certainly am empiricist. But on a personal (Buddhist) level, my thinking may be more flexible.
    So thanks for recommendations, any others you have are always appreciated.
    No primary works?


    1. Sabio,

      “Critical” need not mean polemical. The last one I recommended even has an afterward by Zizek himself!

      To recommend primary works is difficult for several reasons:

      1) I am no Zizek expert


      2) He has written a TON of books and so it is difficult to narrow it down. This would be a great place to start but he has written so widely on everything from politics to ontology and “death of god” so nothing but an “Intro” can introduce you to the breadth of his thought.

      I also just found this “Non Critical” intro to Zizek

      “The Parallax View” is considered his “magnum opus” of sorts.


  10. Thanx James — I am ordering

    For PostModern Emphasis
    (1) Parallax by Zizek
    (2) The Very critical Introduction by Pound
    (3) The Orthodox Heretic by Peter Rollin

    For PostLiberal stream of PostModern (Radical Orthodoxy)
    (4) Intro to Radical Orthodoxy by Smith

    This “narrative theology” does sound interesting and unique. So, is it possible to be a non-marxist atheist postmodern? What would I have to embrace?
    Categories are so confusing ! This should be fun.
    I will have a great testimony if I reconvert. But wait, lots of Christians consider post-modernism the spawn of the devil. Man, you can’t win !

    Seriously, thanks again gentlemen.
    It will be fun to see how ideas are strung together to make the organic whole for these folks.

    Can you tell me, where do most PoMos hang out — what denominations — and do they try to keep their profiles low? More in Europe, I suppose.


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