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The Postfoundationalist Task of Theology: Wolfhart Pannenberg and the New Theological Rationality [Paperback]

By F. LeRon Shults (Author) & Wolfhart Pannenberg (Foreword by)
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Item description for The Postfoundationalist Task of Theology: Wolfhart Pannenberg and the New Theological Rationality by F. LeRon Shults & Wolfhart Pannenberg...

In recent years the theological writings of Wolfhart Pannenberg have exerted considerable influence. However, Pannenberg's work has also been criticized for not taking seriously the postmodern challenge to traditional conceptions of rationality and truth. This volume by F. LeRon Shults argues that the popular "foundationalist" reading of Pannenberg is a misinterpretation of his methodology and shows that, in fact, the structural dynamics of Pannenberg's approach offer significant resources for the postfoundationalist task of theology in our postmodern culture. Shults begins by laying out the first comprehensive summary and interpretation of the emerging postfoundationalist model of theological rationality. He then revisits Pannenberg's theological method and finds the German theologian to be a surprising ally in the quest to reconstruct a theological rationality along postfoundationalist lines. In the course of his discussion, Shults challenges views that see the future, reason, or history as the central concept of Pannenberg's thought and offers instead a new interpretation of Pannenberg's basic theological principle as understanding and explaining all things sub ratione Dei (under the aspect of the relation to God)-an interpretation endorsed by Pannenberg himself in the book's foreword. Shults also focuses on Pannenberg's unique way of linking philosophical and systematic theology and demonstrates how the underlying reciprocity of this method can carry over into the postfoundational concern to link hermeneutics and epistemology in the postmodern context.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
Pages   270
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.02" Width: 6.03" Height: 0.59"
Weight:   0.86 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Mar 1, 2000
Publisher   Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
ISBN  0802846866  
ISBN13  9780802846860  

Availability  64 units.
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More About F. LeRon Shults & Wolfhart Pannenberg

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! F. LeRon Shults (Ph.D., Princeton University; Ph.D., Walden University) is professor of theology at Agder University in Kristiansand, Norway, and the author of several books, including Reforming the Doctrine of God and Reforming Theological Anthropology.
Steven J. Sandage (Ph.D., Virginia Commonwealth University), a licensed psychologist, is the Albert and Jessie Danielsen Professor of Pastoral Psychology and Theology at Boston University and director of the Danielsen Research Center at the Danielsen Institute. He coauthored To Forgive Is Human.
Shults and Sandage are the coauthors of The Faces of Forgiveness, winner of the Narramore Award from the Christian Association for Psychological Studies.

F. LeRon Shults currently resides in St. Paul, in the state of Minnesota. F. LeRon Shults has an academic affiliation as follows - University of Agder, Norway.

F. LeRon Shults has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Guides to Theology

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1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Protestantism > General
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Reviews - What do customers think about The Postfoundationalist Task of Theology?

An Unexpected Gem!   Jan 8, 2007
F. LeRon Shults is becoming increasingly well known for his efforts in inter-disciplinary dialogue between the contemporary sciences (e.g. anthropology, psychology, biology) and theological and philosophical themes that pervade Christian self-understanding. These themes are evident in his quickly increasing number of publications, including "Reforming the Doctrine of God,"; "Reforming theological anthropology"; "The Faces of Forgiveness" co-written with psychologist Steven Sandage, amongst a host of others. This is the book that started it all.

Whether or not one wants to start writing things like "the demise of foundationalism", or the "hope of contextualism," one cannot deny that the modern (meaning, I suppose, post-modern) thought is saturated with epistemological conflict. Indeed in some instances, a la Jacque Derrida, there has been something of an anti-epistemology, a deconstruction that denies solid starting points (in this case, a denial of the referential abilities of language to point to a supposedly exterior world) on which to create explanation. Also in the philosophical hermeneutics of Richard Rorty's pragmatism, which says all readings are a function of social convention, or similarly later Wittgenstein (and in a theological inference, George Lindbeck's semi-adoption of Wittgensteinian rule-theory) which understands language not as a vehicle for "factual" or "world-fitting" description, but as artifices of habitual and communal use, there is a decided suspicion of the modern concept of "truth" as "world-fit" or "correspondance." In most instances this is because the so called "correspondance" theory of truth generally presupposes in its epistemology a "foundationalist" method, whereby all truths and all methods are derived from a single, non-debatable element. It is no secret that Descartes instances an example of this, attempting to doubt all things until he reached the point of his own self existence, which he could not doubt, because to doubt he must exist (hence "cogito ergo sum"-- I think, therefore I am). All other conceptions, for Descartes, are derived from this so called "foundational" moment of his reflection. With the late (or post) modern turn to the contextual embeddedness of reason, those like Lyotard have questioned the validity of "meta-narratives" which are not just "grand stories," explaining the world in a unified theory, as is commonly misunderstood (especially in reactionary evangelical circles) but "grand narratives" that are legitimated by supposedly "neutral" reason or empiricism serving as an underived foundation for all subsequent theorizing. The result of this late-modern tendency has been the turn to coherentism, the idea that something is true if it fits in with a web of pre-established beliefs, generally the standardized beliefs of a particular community. The loss is, of course, any concept of actual "truth," or any hope of adjudicating between apparently contradictory claims.

F. LeRon Shults' book is written with the hope in mind to transcend and yet include within itself, this supposed dialectic of choice between foundationalism and non-foundationalist coherentism. To do this, Shults engages with Wolfhart Pannenberg's theology in the hopes to better explain and elucidate his own ideas on the subject. The result is a startling combination of Shult's own epistemology (which he terms "post-foundationalist," following, I believe, J. Wentzel van Huyssteen's similar use of the term) and a, quite frankly, spectacular evaluation of Wolfhart Pannenberg's methodology.

To begin with, Wolfhart Pannenberg, debatabley not only (one of) the greatest systematic theologians of the 20th century, but one of the greatest Christian thinkers of all time, has often been accused of falling prey to the modernist project of neutral, "indubitable" foundations, i.e. truth as "world fit," or "the-thing-in-itself." Ironically he has also, due to other statements in his overall theological program, been accused by conservatives as merely a "coherentist". Shults attempts to overcome these misunderstandings of Pannenbergs subtle and exhaustive theological system. Shults brilliantly outlines how Pannenberg uses neither rational or philosophical anthropological conceptions nor particular theological convictions as "foundationilist" starting points, but rather the two are paired to one another in a relationship Shults deems "bipolar asymetric relational unity." The compexity of Pannenberg's system is wonderfully elucidated by Shults (and is actually lauded by Pannenberg himself). While Pannenberg begins with general anthropological considerations (e.g. from biology, sociology, psychology, anthropology) this is not "foundational" in the sense that it "neutrally" assumes this data without theology, or that theology merely uncritically accepts modern scientific findings and alters itself accordingly. Nor is anthropological data from the sciences accepted or rejected because of presupposed theological convictions (e.g. the early fundamentalist rejection of evolution). Rather the "fundamental" moment of anthropology attempts to best explain the modern understanding of man with views to the potential implications in theological understanding. Theology then "sublates" (takes up into itself while transforming) the anthropological data with the concrete expressions of man as it is understood in theology. Hence ultimately it is a "bipolar" relationship (meaning the two movements need to not collapse into one another but remain distinct) that is ultimately unified (e.g. both sides, the fundamental or from below movement, and the systematic and from above theological movement, are both encompassing of the entire subject and hence do not exist as compartmentalized moments that somehow do not already rely on the other pole of the movement, even though they are distinct conceptions) and asymetric (in that the attempt of the relationship is meant to show that theology as an explanatory paradigm is ultimately the best explanatory model, over against, say naturalistic or atheistic models, and so the fundamental movement in theology is not totally equal to its systematic counterpart).

So, for a concrete example, in anthropology there is a fascination with what is known as "weltoffenheit" or world-openness, meaning mans' ability to always seek beyond his current situation, ultimately beyond all boundaries. This data is presented and then "sublated" in Pannenberg's argument, where Jesus is seens as the fulfillment of human world-openness, which is now understood theologically as "open-ness" to God (which Pannenberg also sublates, i.e. "brings up into" the discussion of the nature of the imago Dei). Hence anthropological considerations need a reality to explain their findings, while theology needs a presupposed "need" of which it is the fulfillment. But neither are left untouched by the other, as if theological or anthropological conceptions were merely what they were without the other, but rather each mutually modify the other in the course of the dialogue. This isn't like Tillich's method of correspondence where philosophical ontology asks existentially relevent questions that are answered by theology. The questions and the answers, according to Pannenberg and Shults, are not "outside" eachother but are part of the same overall task: neither the fundamental or "from below" moment nor the systematic or "from above" moment is a starting point that somehow does not initially include the other, as if they were two atomistic starting points (hence once again, they are bipolar in the sense that they cannot be collapsed into one, but are unified because they do not ever exist without modification from the other). For anthropology, claims Pannenberg, its concepts of the unity of human identity already presupposes in itself the unity of the world, and hence the unity of God, while theology already presupposes some model of anthropological reality. Like Calvin states at the beginning of his Institutes: To understand the self, one must understand God, to understand God one must understand the self. The two cannot be thought without the other." Indeed, it is as such that Pannenberg in his book on Anthropology can point out to the strong implications Christian theological considerations have had on supposedly "secular" anthropological concepts. But vice-versa, the concepts have themselves been modified by continued data and paradigm acquisition. Hence the method is "foundational" in the same sense of all epistemology, in that the task must start somewhere, but, as Shults takes great pains to emphasize, it is not "foundationalist" because it doesn't "hold-on-to" the starting point uncritically, unilaterally, or unmodified. (Please forgive the brevity and perhaps opacity of this presentation, which is certainly not a fault of the book, but of the limited time of this review. Don't let the quality of the review dissuade you from the book!)

All of this is done in interaction with Shults "post-foundationalist" epistemology. He creates four "couplets" which mutually modify eachother something akin to the process that Shults elaborates in Pannenberg:

I. Interpreted experience engenders and nourishes a web of beliefs, while the web of beleifs informs the interpretation of experience

II. The unity of truth is a presupposition for the intelligible search for knowledge, while the subjective multiplicity of knowledge indicates the fallibitly of truth claims

III.Rational judgement is the activity of socially situated individuals while the cultural community indeterminately mediates the criterion for rationality

IV. Explnation aims for universal, transcontextual understanding, while understanding arises out of particular contextualized explanations.

The first two couplets (I+II) Shults considers the "epistemological" side, while (III+IV) are the "hermeneutical" side of the procedure, with the "epistemological" and the "hermeneutical" also being dialectically paired to one-another, along with their sub-couplets. The entire book really serves as a continual unpacking of the specifics of Shults' program, and its potential implciations for interdisciplinary theological study. Shults then critiques Pannenberg in light of Shult's revision of the task. For example, he believes Pannenberg needed to be more sensitive to the so called "post modern" concern over the task of anthropology or hermeneutics, in that Pannenberg is still overly reliant on Popperian rationalism and never questions that a systematic ordering needs or can be done at all. Indeed, if one is to take Pannenberg's task seriously, now, Shults ammends, we need to show and justify the very idea of the unity of truth. Also, Pannenberg is critiqued by Shults again because he merely assumes that intersubjectively criticizable criteria and method exist, which is exactly what the broadly "post-modern" landscape calls into question.

Overall this book is simply fantastic. I can't really recommend this for the casually interested (though I really do think everyone should read this book) because of the technical aspects of the discussion. At the same time, though, Shults does a great job of providing a very layman-friendly exposition. This book does what great theological books should do (provide an engaging, spectrum wide assessment of its topic), and it does it TWICE -- once in relation to the field of Epistemological and Hermeneutical theory, and its relation to science and theology, and AGAIN in an amazing study of Pannenberg's methodological concerns (which is in itself astounding). As a source to understanding the broad scope of Pannenberg's system alone, I would recommend this book, and vice-versa as an interesting discussion piece for epistemology this book carries its own weight. It becomes all the more worth while when it does both. Highly recommended.
Shults' - A Contemporary Bellwether?  Oct 18, 2002
Shults' "Postfoundationalist Task of Theology" represents a foot-in-the-door to cutting edge theology today. As Pannenberg himself has expressed, Shults' scholarship is sound and offers his audience thorough research munificent with keen insights, and is constructively refreshing for those who wish to move beyond the traps yet remaining from an era of scholastic proliferation. Is Shults a contemporary bellwether? Well in some ways it appears that this may increasingly become the case. As opposed to the all-too-typical and soporific work published by some scholars which tends to simply repeat itself as a method of argumentation, Shults is just beginning to make a strong case at the outset of his budding career as a theologian in opting for the adoption of an interdisciplinarian methodology which seeks the input of a wide variety of fields of study. For this reason, his scholarship should have lasting significance as it engages a mosaic of intellectual disciplines, while seeking to integrate the vast array of intuitions found therein. Although Shults already deserves recognition as a prolific author relative to his age given his publications in journals, books chapters, etc., this is his first published book, but one which clearly portends promising and exciting scholarship to come.
This important theological work is one of the best interdisciplinary achievements that I have read in recent years. Shults argues forcefully for a public, interdisciplinary theology and in so doing links together the different domains of theological and philosophical reflection by moving on the cutting edge of contemporary theories of rationality.

Shults accomplishes this major task by taking on the theology of prominent German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg as a case study for dialogue with a very diverse and pluralist contemporary North American theology. In this dynamic process he creatively revisions the theology of Pannenberg and places it in a challenging postfoundationalist dialogue with theology in this country. Shults delivers a major contribution to postfoundationalist thought by carefully developing the idea that all theological thought is deeply embedded in tradition and interpreted experience, while at the same time reaching out to contemporary culture in interdisciplinary and transcultural conversation. In doing this Shults takes very seriously the challenge of constructive postmodernism as well as theology's enduring obligation to public withness, argument, and testimony.

This book is a must-read for all philosophical and systematic theologians: not only is the theology of Pannenberg revisioned to become a true dialogue partner for North American theologians, but the vitality of a postfoundationalist rethinking of the task of theology points to new and exciting developments for theology in this country. Very strongly recommended.


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