• To what extent is George Lindbeck’s ‘Postliberal’ approach to doctrine helpful for the resolution of contemporary Christian controversies?

      Fulford, Ben; Rodgers, Alasdair M. (University of Chester, 2019-01-15)
      The extensive critical response to George Lindbeck’s book, The Nature of Doctrine, has frequently overlooked the author’s own primary intent to propose an innovative ‘grammatical’ approach to the function of doctrine (or ‘rule theory’), which would explicate, and replicate, observed ecumenical instances of doctrinal ‘reconciliation without capitulation’. This current research evaluates and tests, in a way which has not previously been undertaken by either Lindbeck or his critics, the extent to which a regulative approach to doctrine can provide a fruitful model with which to approach current ecclesial conflicts. This will be achieved by applying a modified version of rule theory within the case study of a contemporary ecclesial conflict. Following a clarification and modification of Lindbeck’s rule theory, I undertook a qualitative analysis of Christian liturgies, autobiographical accounts and position statements in the context of a single controversy (Church of England debates concerning same-sex relationships), to assess the extent to which a modified version of rule theory would provide a useful model with which to approach similar contemporary ecclesial conflicts. An analysis of the beliefs and practices of representative groups (as evident within their liturgies, autobiographical accounts, and descriptions of ‘faithful discipleship’) was undertaken, to ascertain whether operative regulative principles, akin to ‘grammar’, could be identified, and to test whether a comparison of identified ‘grammars’ would prove reconciliatory. The research discovered that the operative ‘grammar’ of different representative groups could be identified and compared, and that the modified version of rule theory had the ability to: disentangle debates about apparently inexorably conflicted positions over particular practices or beliefs; and facilitate a deeper understanding of the regulative principles which shaped interlocutors’ practices and beliefs, which would make a valuable contribution to the debate, but not necessarily in an immediately reconciliatory way. Consequently, this research has discovered that a modified version of rule theory does provide a helpful model with which to approach contemporary controversies, offering the potential for both the discovery of ‘grammatical’ coherence where it is present, and the identification of the true location and extent of ‘grammatical’ differences if they are present. Therefore, the modified version of rule theory under consideration is shown to provide a basis for dialogue which may variously lead to: a recognition of previously obscured ‘grammatical’ coherence; a form of reconciled diversity; the identification of promising areas for the negotiation of a new shared ‘grammar’; or the recognition of the presence of irreconcilably divergent ‘grammars’, which may, in some instances, lead to a degree of ecclesial separation.