Lindbeck on the catholicity of the church: The problem of foundationalism and antirealism in George A. Lindbeck's ecumenical methodology

Robert Charles Greer, Marquette University


This dissertation explores the hermeneutical substructure to George A. Lindbeck's notion of catholicity. With ecumenism serving as a major theme in Lindbeck's career as a theologian, he was preoccupied with the theological diversity within Christendom that has impeded reunification of the church. At mid-career, he took up the postmodern epistemology, believing that this may offer a way past the logjam in ecumenical research and provide a way towards a visible rejoining of the plethora of ecclesial bodies that constitute Christendom. By making this move, Lindbeck has been accused of taking up antirealism and reintroducing foundationalism into his new hermeneutical setting. Two theologians, Alister E. McGrath and Miroslav Volf, make this charge based on Lindbeck's principal literary work, The Nature of Doctrine (1984). McGrath argued that Lindbeck mis-characterized metaphysical realism by generating a strawman fallacy of the system (i.e., failing to give adequate consideration of the role of interpretative frameworks in his presentation of cognitive-propositionalism and experiential-expressivism and instead presenting them as systems of direct correspondence) and thereby concluding that metaphysical realism is hopelessly flawed. This, then, opened the door to metaphysical antirealism as the only viable prolegomena from which to theologize. McGrath, however, argues that metaphysical antirealism is the system that is hopelessly flawed and that the proper solution is a reassessment of metaphysical realism. McGrath's reassessment shows evidence of Kantian categories. Volf argued that Lindbeck's system is flawed on two counts. First, it maintains a foundationalistic premise in the way in which it treats the absorption of the contemporary world by the biblical world. Second, it has slipped into a version of antirealism where the Christian faith has no external (ontological) reference point. Though Volf does not use the term, it is nevertheless fair to characterize his understanding of Lindbeck's hermeneutic as a version of foundationalistic antirealism. Yet, an analysis of the entire Lindbeckian literary corpus, with The Nature of Doctrine understood within that broader context, yields a different conclusion. It demonstrates that (a) Lindbeck is committed to a theologia crucis construct which provides the hermeneutical controls to which, postmodernity has been incorporated, (b) his "new hermeneutical setting" is therefore neither a form of realism nor antirealism but a hybrid that incorporates both (a middle-distanced realism), and (c) his "new hermeneutical setting" successfully resists foundationalism. Lindbeck's The Nature of Doctrine points to these three characteristics of his new hermeneutic, though deficient in clear argumentations. Therefore, McGrath's and Volf's charges against Lindbeck are false. Lindbeck's "new hermeneutical setting" therefore possesses currency in contemporary ecumenical dialogue. It offers. away in which the differences between such broad ecclesial bodies (e.g., Catholicism and Protestantism) can be reconciled and reunited without violating the integrity of their individual and distinctive theologies. Two applications of Lindbeck's system is explored in this dissertation: (a) in the world of academia, and (b) in the world of ecumenical politics. In the world of academia, Lindbeck's system requires a restructuring of theological curricula that incorporates the balance of both particularity and pluralism where an unending dialectic of competing theologies is generated, (i.e., a version of complexio oppositorum ). In the world of academia, Lindbeck's system requires a unification of ecclesial traditions currently separated from one another. For such a unification to occur, however, key aspects of Christian theology needs to undergo a re-definition commensurate with Lindbeck's new hermeneutical setting.

Recommended Citation

Greer, Robert Charles, "Lindbeck on the catholicity of the church: The problem of foundationalism and antirealism in George A. Lindbeck's ecumenical methodology" (2000). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9991604.