Skip to main content

Lindbeck's Typology

I am currently reading George Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine, in its 2009 25th anniversary edition.  It is a very important book and is one of the seminal works of the "Yale School" of theology.  I intend to review it properly after I have read it, but long before reading it I have encoutered and used Lindbeck's typology of theories of religion.  Like all typologies its usefulness comes from the ease with which you can use it to categorise the things you come across, but also, again like all typologies, you have to be careful to realise that it is not in itself neutral but comes with its own implicit assumptions and agenda.  For Lindbeck you can approach religion (or doctrine) in one of three ways (although you can also combine two or more of these ways to different extents):

1  The congnitive-propositional

This first approach assumes that religious language is concerned primarily with propositions of "fact". This tends to treat religion much like a philosophy or a science.  This is the default setting, i think, for most evangelical theology if not for practice.

2 The experiential-expressivist

This approach is (a part of) the legacy of Schleiermacher who understood the essence of religion to be "religious experience."  As such religion and doctrine are purely symbols which we use to make sense of and organise inner feelings.  If a Buddhist and a Christian have exactly the same experience they will describe it very differently, using the symbols of their respective religions but they will still be actually having the same experience.  Thus under this model you can argue (but you don't have to) that all religions are essentially differing attempts to give expression to the same reality.  This is of course the default setting for much liberal theology (e.g. Tillich).

3 The cultural-linguistic

This approach (and this is the one that Lindbeck will champion in the book) instead aims to treat religions as a culture or a language.  In this model doctrines are neither propositional truth claims (model 1) or arbitrary symbols (model 2) but instead rules or regulative principles for the discourse, attitudes and actions of the religious community.  This approach to religion is both an attack on liberalism (this model does not allow for all religions to be essentailly the same) but at the same time those used to more conservative patterns of thinking can'y help but feel that their presious doctrines are being shortchanged and relativised.  Probably the best know exponent of a cultural-linguistic approach to Christianity is NT Wright with his "Five act play" concept of biblical authority. 

As you can hopefully see, regardless of how you might feel about the validity of each model per se this is an extremely useful way of analysing what is going on behind different people's discussion of religion.  You may, for example, save yourself a lot of time and effort by realising that the person you are trying to engage on a cognitive-propositional level only considers it possible to talk about religion in  experiential-expressivist terms.  Most of us, i believe actually use a mixture of all three in our actual religious life, even if intellectually we tend to only allow one model primacy.

let me know what you think :-)


Popular posts from this blog

Why Dr Charles Stanley is not a biblical preacher

Unusually for me I was watching the tele early on Sunday morning and I caught an episode of Dr Charles Stanley preaching on his television program. Now I know this guy has come under some criticism for his personal life, and that is not unimportant, but it is also not something i can comment on, not knowing the facts. His preaching is however something I can comment on, at least the one sermon I did watch.

He started off by reading 2 Timothy 1:3-7. Which is a passage from the Bible, so far so good. He then spent the next 30 minutes or so talking about his mum and what a great example of a Christian mother she was. Now nothing he said or suggested was wrong, but none of it actually came from scripture, least of all the scripture he read from at the beginning. It was a lovely talk on how Stanley's mother raised him as a Christian despite considerable difficulties and it contained many useful nuggets of advice on raising Christian kids. All very nice, it might have made a nice…

That one time Jesus got the Bible wrong

It's so typical isn't it? You are preaching all day long, training your disciples, sparring with the Pharisees, encouraging the poor and down trodden, healing the sick and casting out demons, all day, day after day, and even when you go up a mountain to get a rest the crowds hunt you down and follow you up, and then the one time you get a bit muddled up with some of the details of a biblical text . . . that is the one they write down in the first gospel - verbatim. At least Matthew and Luke had the good sense to do some editing. But Mark, he always had his eye on giving the public the "historical Jesus" whoever that is supposed to be . . . warts and all. Thanks a lot Mark!

Some think I made the mistake on purpose, just to show the Pharisees up.

For some there is no mistake worth mentioning, only a slightly ambiguous turn of phrase.

Others think I am doing something tricky with Abiathar's name, getting him to figuratively stand in for the priesthood.

It really has…

The Addictive Power of End Times Speculation

The mighty Rhett Snell has picked up his blog again (I wonder how long he'll last this time), check out his theory on why people get so into annoyingly unbiblical end times nonsense.

I think that where codes-and-calendars end times theology is dangerous, is that it can give a sense of false growth. We read a theory online, or hear it from some bible teacher, and we come to think that we have mastered an area of our faith. A bit like levelling up in a computer game, or Popeye after he’s eaten some spinach. At worst, we begin to believe that we’ve taken a step that other Christians have not; that we’ve entered an elite class of Christianity.