I checked out of the library last week an anthology of of George A. Lindbeck The Church in a Postliberal Age, edited by James J. Buckley(2002). I began reading it last night. And the reading is a pleasant surpise.
I first encountered Lindbeck in college shortly after I decided to double major in History and Religious Studies at California State University, Long Beach. One of the professors in the Religious Studies department Dr Tony Battaglia took me under his wing and one of the first books he gave me to read outside of any class work was The Nature of Doctrine:Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age (1984). I had been reading Bultmann and Karl Barth at the time and was in conflict with the leadership of a Covenant church in LA that had turned mostly fundamentalist. I don't rember what I thought of the book, though I am sure that Tony and I discussed the book. I didn't return to Lindbeck. I think the book sent me elswhere, plus at the time I was more interested in philsophy than theology proper, Neitzche, Hegel, Fauerbach, Heidegger, Witgenstein, Derrida, Foucault and Feyerabend all held the my attention and the attention of a group of friends half of whom were philosophy majors, one who even had taken a class from Feyerabend.
The point of this little reflection is that as I read the introduction by James Buckley and read the first essay, I felt like I was being re-introduced to an old friend. Also, I am finding it interesting the ways in which Lindbeck's The Nature of Doctrine situates me and my early intelectual and faith development as an adult. When the book was published I was in my sophmore year of high school. By the end of high school I had already become critical of the knee jerk reaction to "liberalism" in conservative evangelical circles, not so much because I agreed with "liberal" theology but because even before college the liberal/conservative dividing up of Christianity seemed irrelavant. Although I wouldn't have put it this way theologies that identified as "liberal" or "conservative" were seen as suspect. My debates with the conservative and then fundamentalist leadership of the church in LA while I was in college drove me to those"liberal theologians" by which the leadership meant Neo-Orthodox.
The other observations of a biographical nature were interesting intersections with my own history. Lindbeck is the son of Swedish-American Lutheran missionaries to China. My father is the son of German free Lutheran missionaries to China, Lindbeck is 13 years older than my father. There is also that the Evangelical Covenant church was still when I was a child basically a Swedish Lutheran Pietist denomination. There were other little intersections that I am not remembering as I write this. These intersections make me wonder what exactly it was that Tony Battaglia was thinking as he put the book into my hands.
I think I have been more influenced by Lindbeck than I have probably realized. I think he probably inoculated me agianst clasic liberal theology as I encountered it. I wonder if it also steeled my own resolve in my rejection of conservative evangelical theology that was dominant at my church at the time.
I find this all a little strange since as I said I read the book and moved on, never had a desire to read more Lindbeck, never consulted anything he wrote for any seminary paper I wrote. He did come up now and again in seminary, both at Fuller and North Park, but until last night I hadn't read any Lindbeck since about 1989/1990.