We live in our home, heedless of the carpenter who first gave it its frame. To live theologically in the late 20th C meant living in the post-liberal house build by George Lindbeck. Ephraim Radner gives a very sympathetic understanding of his project:
The point of his theory was to outline how religious communities might better understand other communities, such that dialogue might be fruitful. Lindbeck proposed a now well-known threefold typology that contrasted more conservative scholastic communities (at least in their self-understanding) with more liberal experientially oriented communities, commending finally a third type that was construed in a more “culturally” ordered fashion, in which language, social rules, and coherence provided the framework by which truth is identified. Doctrine, Lindbeck argued, functions differently in these three types of religious community. In the first it is a set of cognitive propositions regarding truth; in the second, it is the articulation expressive of some common religious experience; or finally, in the third “cultural-linguistic” understanding of a religious community, doctrine functions as a kind of ordering “grammar” for practical life with God, and truth is somehow evident in this coherent life.
Another very nice tribute can be found at the Christian Century, where Matt Fitzgerald explains how Lindbeck rescued his faith.
in my last semester, I was assigned The Nature of Doctrine. The force of Lindbeck’s argument overwhelmed me.
The book explained to me why God felt close when I slept on Noah’s Ark sheets, but utterly vague when I tried to be religious without the story I was raised on. If you learn a particular religion’s vocabulary—its strange, unique way of ordering existence—the Divine will become clear (or at least clearer). It is not possible to take a superior stance to a faith tradition and also experience the power it holds. In Lindbeck’s words: “One can no more hope to be religious in general than one can hope to speak language in general.”
As beguiling as the appeal to general knowledge, to the universalization, faith is only known (and practiced) in the particulars, the local, this place and time, this tradition.