Lindbeck’s Approach to Theological Interpretation
In his book, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age, Lindbeck introduces what he views as a more suitable approach to theology which he calls a cultural-linguistic approach to religion. For Lindbeck, this book came out of a growing dissatisfaction in the usual approaches to doctrine. The two approaches he was specifically dissatisfied with were the cognitive-propositional approach and the experiential-expressive approach.
Lindbeck presents his alternative to the two models that he calls the cultural-linguistic approach. Instead of approaching doctrine with either the lens of propositional truth or the religious experience, Lindbeck proposes that doctrine should be seen as a kind of language that provides a set of rules to help formulate truth and explain experience for the present generation. In other words doctrine must be understood within the context it was first given in order to then interpret it in the present context. It is important to learn the ‘language’ involving the Biblical narrative well enough to interpret and experience the Christian’s life and world in its terms.
I thought that Lindbeck was trying too hard to bring together the two poles of theology – the orthodox pole and the liberal pole. Lindbeck argues that by holding on to the cultural-linguistic approach, we avoid the pitfalls of the two polarizing views and become more accommodating. He says that holding on to doctrine as absolute truth has no credibility in a scientific world so the cognitive-proposition approach is not helpful to educated people. He also says that using the experiential-expressive approach is not helpful because it is not based on Scripture. So by arguing for the third approach he says that doctrine is not about truth claims, or human experience, but a set of rules to help us understand the Bible narrative and to apply it to one’s world. To me it seems like Lindbeck is trying to shape the liberal church by bringing it closer to the Bible narrative and he is shaping the orthodox church by causing it to see truth as relative. To me this is not an acceptable way to approach doctrine because it denies that absolute truth exists.
However in reading this book, I have come to appreciate what Lindbeck is trying to present. My conclusion is that our approach to doctrine should encompass all three approaches. We need to have a cognitive-approach to doctrine to understand truth that is universal and absolute and truth that is cultural; we need the experiential-expressive approach to understand how truth works in our lives and we need the cultural-linguistic approach to apply the truth to one’s life and behavior in the world we live in.