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Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism (Rockwell Lecture Series) [Hardcover]

By Nancey Murphy (Author)
Our Price $ 35.35  
Item Number 120421  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   176
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.29" Width: 6.2" Height: 0.69"
Weight:   0.9 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Oct 1, 1996
Publisher   Trinity Press International
ISBN  1563381761  
EAN  9781563381768  

Availability  131 units.
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Item Description...
American Protestant Christianity is often described as a two-party system divided into liberals and conservatives. This book clarifies differences between the intellectual positions of these two groups by advancing 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. It therefore becomes opportune to ask how theology ought to be done in a postmodern era, and to envision a rapprochement between theologians of the left and right. A concluding chapter speculates specifically on the era now dawning and the likelihood that the compulsion to separate the spectrum into two distinct camps will be precluded by the coexistence of a wide range of theological positions from left to right. Nancey C. Murphy is Associate Professor of Christian Philosophy at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, and the author of Reasoning and Rhetoric in Religion, also published by Trinity Press. Her book Theology in the Age of Scientific Reasoning earned the American Academy of Religion's Award for Excellence.

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More About Nancey Murphy

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Nancey C. Murphy is Associate Professor of Christian Philosophy at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, and the author of Reasoning and Rhetoric in Religion, also published by Trinity Press. Her book Theology in the Age of Scientific Reasoning earned the American Academy of Religion's Award for Excellence.

Nancey Murphy has an academic affiliation as follows - Fuller Theological Seminary, California.

Nancey Murphy has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Rockwell Lectures (Trinity Hardcover)
  2. Systematic Theology (Abingdon)
  3. Theology & the Sciences

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Useful resource for discussion about the liberal/conservative divide within the churches  Nov 16, 2007
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. While the students in my class are also interested in psychological and personality aspects of the difference between conservative and liberal Christians, and Murphy's book is strictly about ideas, I believe it has been very helpful in beginning to help us grasp some of the differences between ordinary, non-academic conservative and liberal Christians.

My church is in many ways a liberal church which also happens to have a deep appreciation for spirituality, prayer, and Scripture. We certainly do not have a problem critiquing the assumptions of fundamentalist/evangelical Christians about revelation, the meaning of religious language, and providence. One of the most helpful aspects of wrestling with Murphy's book is that it seems to help us sense some of the inadequacies of the liberal way of thinking that is our bias. It is certainly not a purely comfortable read for us.

I am not sure, however, that it leaves us with as much of a sense of hope for the future as Murphy articulates. For example, the most difficult issue currently dividing conservatives and liberals within our denomination is about the full inclusion or marginalization of lesbian and gay Christians. Is it okay to be gay or does a "biblical" understanding of a male/female order of creation make heterosexuality the only acceptable status? Murphy's analysis of theology within modernity helps clarify some of the possible reasons Christians think differently about this matter, but I am not sure her hopes for post-modernity shed much light on how new philosophical assumptions will get us past this ... or even how it will help get us past the division about inclusive language that she uses as a case study. Transcending the divide between science and traditional Christian understandings of providence may be easier, but other issues still seem to be quagmires to us. Perhaps we are just still too modern!

At any rate, I am very grateful for this work. Anything that helps us to understand our own assumptions and the assumptions of those with whom we seem to so severely disagree is precious.
Breath Modernistic Air No More!  Jul 8, 2007
In this fascinating and well organized study of how modern and postmodern philosophy shapes the theological agenda, Nancy Murphy sets out to explain and offer a new direction for the theological divide between conservatives and liberals.

Appropriate but not surprisingly, Murphy begins her study in part one by covering what has often been called, the Cartesian tragedy. Descartes' skeptical quest for certainty is clearly elucidated in that the philosophical foundational approach for knowledge eventually defined the nature of theological inquiry in the modern period.

However, this modern foundational approach, Murphy argues, leads to two competing positions on a theological continuum: the first is that conservatives rely on Scripture as their foundation, and the second is liberalisms' reliance on experience. At this point, Murphy's analysis is very good in that she demonstrates that both theological camps are left petulantly wanting due to the fact that they are both stuck in the modern foundationalist mindset. Additionally, her critique of this foundationalism leads her to articulate the two epistemological outcomes of the liberal "inside-out" and the conservative "outside-in" approach to theological method.

But where Murphy is excellent at tracing the history of these concepts, one wonders why she does not find it necessary to engage Karl Barth's perspective on the issue of theological liberalism and its Schleiermachian roots. A mere affirmation of his thought is in fact referenced as a good reason to reject experiential foundationalism, but it seems that a little more interaction of his thought could help Murphy's overall point.

Murphy's explanation of the nature of religious language and how it is used is also helpful for her overall thesis. She does a particularly good job at showing how language relates to the theological landscape of conservativism and liberalism. In fact, this is accomplished by a simple and yet helpful chart on page 37.

The second quality of Murphy's elucidation of religious language is in her description of the so-called, Vienna Circle. The section on Ayer is especially important due to his classifications of language for the ever dying logical positivist movement. Significantly, his three types of sentences are (1) "empirically meaningful," (2) tautologous, and (3) emotive. This point of bringing up Ayer's logical positivism is especially important to Murphy's later points of expressivist/liberal and propositional/conservative theories of language.

After making her points about conservative and liberal strands of religious language, Murphy moves on to the controversial topic of gender language when referring to God. The attention that Murphy includes on gender in this section is lacking, however. She glosses over the important nature of this topic by painting Bloesch as a propositionalist whom deviates from the biblical content of feminine language for God. At this point, Murphy's perspective is avoiding a much more complex subject with respect to the nature of language. One could argue that the nature of language as it relates to the "gender" of God is beyond a mere two and a half pages of content. Furthermore, to implicitly assert that Bloesch is even close to being a propositional foundationalist (in the fundamentalist sense) is at best unclear and at worst misrepresentative. Thus, this section is underdeveloped.

Murphy's overall point in the first part of the book is to demonstrate that "modern philosophy has been largely responsible for bifurcating Christian theology..." into two competing liberal and conservative strands. Murphy's perspective and attempt at showing this is effective for the reader. But within the second part of her book it seems that she delves even deeper into the subject of philosophical and theological methodology.

The explanation of postmodernity in its Anglo-American context with the help of Popper and Quine is compelling for Murphy's elucidation of epistemological holism. However, within this epistemological holism, which apparently rejects the perspective of foundationalism, Murphy points out the main dilemma for the holistic enterprise--relativism. However, Murphy argues that with the help of MacIntyre's Thomistic and Augustinian examples, the tenableness of relativism seems to be less of a problem for the holist. Murphy's analysis and perspective in this section of her work is convincing, but there seems to be two referential perspectives that may help to make her overall thesis a little stronger.

First, in her section about the problems with foundationalism, Murphy states a problem with the nature of philosophical justification as it relates to epistemology. My reservation, however, in this section is that she does not reference Alvin Plantinga's very important epistemological work on the nature of warrant and justification. Thus, the important concepts that Plantinga puts forth in his Warrant series (i.e., Current Debate and Proper Function; Warranted Christian Belief was not published yet) on the nature of the JTB theory could greatly enhance the roundedness of her position.

Second, at the end of her section on "Alasdair MacIntyre and Theological Method" (pp. 105-06), there seems to be a similarity, here, to the position that Karl Barth takes on the dynamic relationship between scriptural authority as well as the importance of experience. Barth's triadic theological method of revelation as the Word of God--Jesus Christ--as witnessed to by Scripture and proclaimed (experientially and subjectively) through the community of believers would be beneficial to propose in addition to MacIntyre's position. After all, the dichotomy between scripture and experience was something Barth had to seriously consider in his modernistic and theologically liberal context.

The third point refers to Murphy's analysis of the "Problems with Foundationalism" (93). In this section she makes the comment about how conservative theologians were "forced" to admit the errancy of the biblical text, but she does not provide any sources or footnotes to clarify the nature of this assertion. Instead, Murphy includes the autograph inerrancy perspective to make her point, which is also a fair one.

Chapters 5-6 and the concluding remarks are clearly the best and most thoughtful of Murphy's book. In addition, one can see Murphy's development of holistic (and physicalist) epistemology and how it influences theology in chapter 6, which obviously had an impact on her recently published book, Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies? Nevertheless, the reader of Murphy recognizes at this point that she is not flippantly suggesting a "paradigm/web" shift in theological method, but describing it as a necessary action for the progression of theology. Whether Murphy's analysis of modernistic philosophy as limiting the theological enterprise in the way she describes, only history will tell, but her perspectives must be seriously considered if theologians are to advance beyond the various nonviable foundations of modernism.

As it stands, Murphy's book makes a compelling case that theology and the theological craft cannot be limited to the modernistic philosophical landscape, and in this she seems to be correct. She also argues that the either/or perception of Christian theology as it relates to the conservative and liberal divide is no longer a reasonable option in light of postmodern developments in philosophy. One can hope that her optimism about the future is indeed warranted and will come to fruition.
A Lucid (if not original) Account  Oct 6, 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.

Excellent introduction to foundationalism and theology  Aug 15, 2004
Nancy Murphy's central thesis is that modern philosophy has created a situation where Liberal and Conservative theologians are, because of their foundationalist method, intractable in their relation to the other camp. The first half of the book examines this claim in respect of three opposing positions i) how we know God ii) the role and form of religious language and, iii) how God acts in the world. The second half argues that the intractability of the Liberal-Conservative positions is based on foundationalist methods and that with their apparent demise a postfoundationalist approach, such as those of Thiemann and Lindbeck, opens up a whole range of options that overcomes the Liberal-Conservative divide.

All this is done in a remarkably clear way and in a relatively small book. This book is an excellent introduction to contemporary changes in theological method that commonly come under the label of postmodern. From this basis theology will not be trapped in a pre-determined set of options as Murphy shows in reference to many areas of contemporary theology such as religion and science and the use of feminine language as a referent of God. Overall, this book will undoubtably make you think and question the way theology is done. My one major complaint is that while this book is an issue based book a more thorough exposition of the key theologians would have made this a more theologically important work.
Definitely Worth Reading  Mar 25, 2002
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. However, I am not at all certain many really want to get out, see the need to get out, or have a clue as to what getting out really entails or to what it would lead. I am certainly guilty on most accounts. My deepest suspicion is that Murphy has attempted to copy the works of Hawking (in physics) - that is, here is the current state of affairs, the issues involved, and some suggestions as to what might be done and what things might look like once they are done. If I am correct, it is an interesting approach, but in the end I don't know that she has really moved the discussion beyond where it was when I was in grad school 20 years ago. Reading her book was in many ways a blast from the past.

I do want to seriously react to one of her suggestions. I do not believe we as Christian thinkers need work too strenuously in our efforts to bring our theology up-to-date with current scientific theories. We should be aware of them, and we might even use them in certain ways, but any effort to wed theology and science will need to be rethought later. The history of science amply demonstrates that scientific theories rarely (if ever) contain the last word on any given subject. I understand that if we fail to address/use/incorporate current philosophical or scientific theories we leave ourselves with little to do as theologians. Yet, wedding ourselves to current scientific theories as though we have discovered or found some new truth has proven time and again to be just one more obstacle to overcome in another more "enlightened" scientific age. Yes, I write this with a smile, but you have been warned.

On the other hand, what we do with current movements in philosophy is much more interesting and possibly much more rewarding since typically philosophers are ahead of theologians in their use of scientific theories anyway. I enjoy reading quantum theory as much as the next person but I am not at all clear as to what I am supposed to make of it apart from its already significant place in philosophy. I suspect (may I say strongly suspect) most trained theologians currently attempting to incorporate current theories as to the nature of reality into their work are in reality using the works of popularizers (may I say philosophers) rather than the actual works of the physicists themselves. There are to be sure exceptions (at least I hope there are exceptions). When we incorporate these things based on secondhand accounts much of the real work has been done. Also, we are already behind what is really current in the sciences. I say all of this to make a point: the postmodern movement (if it can be called a movement) is in large part raking around in cesspools left by the waning of the modern. As theologians we certainly have a right (a task?) to join in the fun. Will it really produce a theology that in turn makes a significant contribution to a life that might be recognized as Christian? That is my question and I am not at all certain Murphy's book leads to a definitive answer. This is more of an observation rather than a criticism. I don't know that she intended to provide an answer. Again, I found her book very similar to several works on "modern" physics - an attempt at summary and "outlining what is required if we are to move forward." It is the latter part of the equation that reveals the author's agenda.


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