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Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism: How Modern and Postmodern Philosophy Set the Theological Agenda (Rockwell Lecture) 1st Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1563381768
ISBN-10: 1563381761
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism placed 8th in the "Top 25 list" of the 1997 Christianity Today Book Awards" — Your Church (The Catholic Historical Review)

"This is a helpful book. Murphy writes clearly and summarizes a great deal of material...(a) bold effort to survey so much of where Christian theology has been and make proposals for where it should go next." —William C. Placher, Theology Today (Theology Today)

"This book...will be of particular in seminary theology courses." — Religious Studies Review, July 1997 (Religious Studies Review)

"The central question asked by Nancey Murphy's book is this: Why is it that conservative Christian theologians and liberal Christian theologians are so far apart that we can say they operate out of incompatible paradigms? Murphy offers a descriptive answer to this question along with a prescriptive recommendation for connecting the right and left wings together into one body." —Dialog, Fall 1997 (Dialog: A Journal Of Theology)

From the Back Cover

This book clarifies differences between the intellectual positions of the so-called two-party system of liberals and conservatives in American Protestant Christianity. Nancey Murphy advances the thesis that the philosophy of the modern period is largely responsible for the polarity of Protestant Christian thought. A second thesis is that the modern philosophical positions driving the division between liberals and conservatives have themselves been called into question. This, then, presents the opportunity to ask how theology ought to be done in a postmodern era and to envision a rapprochement between theologians of the left and right. The book concludes by speculating on the future and the likelihood that the compulsion to separate into two distinct camps will be precluded by the coexistence of a wide range of theological positions from left to right.
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Product Details

  • Series: Rockwell Lecture
  • Hardcover: 180 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury T&T Clark; 1 edition (October 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1563381761
  • ISBN-13: 978-1563381768
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #276,495 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Brent Wittmeier on October 5, 2004
Murphy's work is excellent.
And it's not because she makes any startling claims. The liberal/conservative divide in theology is obvious. It is no surprise that both are fundamentally different (in content and reasoning) but based on similar philosophical presuppositions. That these presuppositions are increasingly questionable in a "postmodern" era has been pointed out so many times nobody wants to hear it anymore.
What is great about this book is Murphy's clarity. Beyond the pedantry of liberals and the fearful diatribes of conservatives, Murphy speaks in a clean and hopeful manner. She uses "ideal types" to be sure, but with such gracefulness that they work beautifully and effectively.
Her constructive chapters, of course, will not settle everything definitively. But they don't really have to --- all Murphy has to do is prove that this is really a move beyond liberalism and fundamentalism. I think she does this effectively.
I recommend this book because it improves on some of the ambiguities of Lindbeck's The Nature of Doctrine. Like Lindbeck, it is concise and powerful. Unlike Lindbeck, however, Murphy clears up some of the ambiguity surrounding "experiential-expressivism" and "cognitive-propositionalism." Her positive proposal, unlike Lindbeck's "cultural-linguistic" approach, is sufficiently nuanced so as not to fall prey to the claims of "Barthianism" or "relativism."
Finally, since Murphy comes from Berkely/Pasadena, not from New Haven or Chicago, she is able to avoid the history of better established schools of theology.
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In this highly comprehensive work Nancey Murphy has single-handedly described where theology has come from, where it is now and where it is heading in the future. This is one of the best descriptions of the history of Western philosophic thought it's impact upon any theology. What is appreciated is how Dr. Murphy describes how our thought has emerged into what we know today as "Liberalism" and "Fundamentalism" (and Fundmentalism's child - evangelicalism) - but she does not leave us there. She moves then into a description of postmodern thought and it's impact upon theology. The rules have all changed! I did not understand "why" I thought and believed the way I do before reading this book as this was never explained in theological school - we just worked from various "a priori" assumptions. After reading this book, a different world opened up to me that has given me hope for a theology that is better informed for a postmodern world. The "wake-up" call is the fact that all the rules have changed. Those who hold onto the old rules of engagement will find this book threatening. Those who can see possibilities with the new rules of post-modern thought will find this book highly engaging and an accurate description of where theology is heading.
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If the postmodern movement (if indeed this is an adequate label for what is afoot in segments of academia) by definition is a movement still caught in the modern web, Murphy's effort amply demonstrates why this is so. She wants to point to a way out of the foundationalist dilemma but in the end demonstrates why this is so difficult to do. At bottom we want and need an answer to the age-old question "what is truth?" - and this is at bottom more than an epistemological question. The need for a solution to what she has defined as the second-order epistemological question seems in the end to lead us back to this very issue. It is difficult to see in the need to justify my framework among acknowledged competing frameworks as in any way moving significantly beyond foundationalism. If foundationalism as defined in her book is indeed the beast to be slain (and I strongly suspect it is) I do not see how the drive for justification among acknowledged competing systems can itself be justified. Have I not already formed fairly foundational conclusions prior to assessing such a need?
However, I digress. Murphy's book is perhaps foundational (sorry, I could not resist) as a more than adequate summary of key issues. Anyone remotely familiar with Nietzsche and Wittgenstein will recognize the attacks that have been launched upon modernity as philosophical and scientific systems. I do not know the end result of any of this, but I do suspect Murphy's book will at least serve as a measurement of where we are at as Christian theologians and how we got here (first part of her book). How we are going to get out, supposing that we want to get out, might depend on seriously wrestling with issues addressed in the second half of her work.
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I found Nancey Murphy's book to be enlightening, especially in its analysis of Christian theology within modernity -- the first half of the book. She does an excellent job of summarizing the two broad thrusts of the theology which some of us have been reading for the last 40 years. The theologians she has selected to use as illustrative ideal types are well chosen and include substantial thinkers on both sides of the divide; she has not selected ringers but thinkers with substance. (In fact, my appreciation for Alister McGrath --a theologian I would not normally identify with-- has grown significantly as a result of her use of him as an ideal type.)

So I decided to try an experiment. I am the pastor of a highly intelligent, well-read congregation. I decided to use Murphy's book as the basis for a local church class on the topic: Why Conservative and Liberal Christians Think Differently. I invited students to purchase and read the book.

I then set out to summarize her analysis and argument chapter by chapter and ask the class the question: Do the observations Murphy makes about the way fundamentalist/evangelical and liberal theologians think differently also apply to ordinary Christians in our churches? Does her analysis of theology help us understand the difference between us and our family members, co-workers and friends who are Christians like us but who seem to think so very differently about so many things?

Not all the students in my class find her writing easy going, but the basic concepts of her analysis are resulting in profound and significant conversation.
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