The New Christians

The New Christians

What Is Practical Theology? Part Five

How does one navigate the pluralism of our world today?

There’s a lot at stake in this question. Currently, there are only
a few options available to Christians in a
globalized/pluralistic/postmodern society: liberal accomodationism,
conservative retreatism, Hauerwasian sectarianism, and the newcomer:
Milbankian (Radical Orthodoxy) withdrawal into the liturgy.

I know, that’s a lot of “-isms,” but none of these options offers a
Christian the ability to maintain a “robust doctrine of God” (Steve’s
words) and a robust
understanding of pluralism. In other words, is there a way to negotiate
a healthy, dialectical relationship with culture and maintain an orthodox doctrine of God? Steve and I both think there must be, there has to be.


Among practical theologians, there have been a couple major avenues
for navigating these waters. Among the University of Chicago
theologians (Tillich, Tracy, Browning), there has been an evolving
“correlational” model in which theology and culture stand in a
dialectical relationship. Tillich said that culture asks the questions
and theology provides the answers; Tracy and Browning amended this by
saying that each asks questions and each provides answers — i.e.,
theology and culture stand in a mutually critical relationship.

Among the Barthians (Frei, D. Hunsinger, Loder), the response has
been more of what Steve alludes to in his posts: theology has a unique
ability to articulate issues of ultimacy, like God’s revelation, which
comes from outside of the created order. Thus theology trumps all other
disciplines when it comes to issues on which theology is uniquely


While I appreciate the former’s ability to take culture seriously,
it tends to reduce theological reflection to the terms of culture (and
can be a mask for natural theology, as Steve points out). The latter
maintains theology’s integrity, but stands in a position of
interdisciplinary domination, which I find unacceptable in a
pluralistic environment (it’s tough to convince someone to have a
conversation of mutual regard if you start out by stating that you will
inevitably win the argument!).

That’s why I’m attracted to the model of transversal rationality. I’ll flesh that out in the next post…

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posted March 24, 2009 at 5:41 pm

“…is there a way to negotiate a healthy, dialectical relationship with culture and maintain an orthodox doctrine of God? Steve and I both think there must be, there has to be.”
Pluralism and orthodoxy are simply not compatible. Sorry. You’re wrong. Not a single attempt in the past several decades to maintain the integrity of both of these positions when they are placed in a dialectical tension with one another has succeeded. It’s a no go. It’s like asking “can I believe the earth is round and flat at the same time?”

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posted March 24, 2009 at 6:35 pm

The earth is round and flat.
Globalization has eliminated the transportation, currency, communication and cultural boundaries that once existed – hence the round Earth is now flat.
So the question is, what has happened in the past 100 years to allow a dialectical relationship to exist between Pluralism and Orthodoxy? Postmodernity is part of the answer but not the complete picture…
Cultural progress is built upon Cultural change which is driven by conversation between opposing ideas, so my Orthodoxy spurs me to continue in this conversation out of a spirit of love, rather than a posture tolerance.

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Your Name

posted March 25, 2009 at 12:02 pm

“so my Orthodoxy spurs me to continue in this conversation out of a spirit of love, rather than a posture tolerance”
Right…so you love them enough not to tell them that they’re wrong and that you’re right. Very cool.
I especially appreciated the relevance of your statement about the earth being flat. Thanks so much.

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The Charismanglican

posted May 16, 2009 at 2:17 am

It’s so tired to accuse Millbank and Hauerwas of sectarian withdrawal (you distinguish…but they’re pretty much the same aren’t they?)
The question isn’t whether or not we can be of service to the world, but rather HOW to be of service. I think Hauerwas, Yoder, Cavanaugh, Millbank…they are dealing with who we are and how to think/feel/act christianly.
I wouldn’t consider the new monastics, Millbank’s engagement with Zizek, Hauerwas’ dialogue with just warriors and non-believing radical democrats, etc withdrawal. This looks an awful like ENGAGEMENT to me.
Are you sure you’re listening to what these guys have to say?

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