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Theology at the Void

Theology at the Void

The Retrieval of Experience

Thomas M. Kelly

Theology at the Void explores the intersection of three central questions: What is human being? What is language? What is theology? Drawing on the writings of five major intellectuals from various religious and academic traditions, Thomas Kelly seeks to answer these questions by tracing the emergence of a problem that arises when various modes of thought disagree on the relationship between experience, language, and theological inquiry.

Kelly begins the discussion with an analysis of Friedrich Schleiermacher’s understanding of human experience, language, and theology to articulate the Christian faith. Twentieth-century thinkers Wayne Proudfoot and George Lindbeck are introduced early in the text as critics of Schleiermacher’s approach, which, they maintain, is dependent upon a culturally limited theological anthropology. Kelly argues that contrary to Schleiermacher’s “turn to the subject” theological methodology, postmodern thinkers assign no priority to experience but rather assert that languages and cultural systems construct experience.

As one solution to the tension between these two camps, Kelly proposes two alternative approaches: George Steiner and Karl Rahner. In his book Real Presences, renowned literary critic George Steiner suggests a possibility for moving beyond the more radical anthropological elements of the postmodern critique. Karl Rahner offers a theological alternative that is sensitive both to the postmodern critique as well as to the nature of
Catholic theology. Kelly demonstrates how both of these great thinkers provide a viable resolution to a major problem facing systematic theology. In the end, Kelly finds Rahner’s resolution most persuasive.

Theology at the Void is an engaging assessment of the problem of whether one can formulate a theology using human experience as its fundamental principle.

ISBN: 978-0-268-03353-8
224 pages
Publication Year: 2002

Thomas S. Kelly is associate professor of theology at Creighton University.

“Based on sound scholarship, thoroughly documented, carefully argued, displaying sensitivity and balance in its interpretations . . . .” — The Heythrop Journal

“. . . Kelly’s book is a commendable work that is clearly written and thorough in its presentation of the contemporary postmodern debate about the relationship between language and experience. . . . Kelly’s fine text is one theologically viable response to the void that avoids mere posturing.” — Journal of the American Academy of Religion

“. . . a valuable contribution to the contemporary discussion.” — Religious Studies Review

“[A] timely contribution to a central issue in contemporary fundamental theology.” — Theological Studies

“. . . valuable in the urgent questions that it deals with and its often very lucid exposition of its main intellectuals.” — Journal of Theological Studies

“[T]he book nicely highlights limitations of postmodernist approaches, and it illustrates well significant differences and implications on the topics of religious experience, language, and doctrine.” — Catholic Studies: An On-Line Journal

“[I]nteresting for specialists who want to think about the theological implications relating to language and experience in the context of the post-modernist/deconstructionist debate.” — Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology

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Theology at the Void

The Retrieval of Experience

Thomas M. Kelly

 Theology at the Void: The Retrieval of Experience
Paper Edition

Theology at the Void explores the intersection of three central questions: What is human being? What is language? What is theology? Drawing on the writings of five major intellectuals from various religious and academic traditions, Thomas Kelly seeks to answer these questions by tracing the emergence of a problem that arises when various modes of thought disagree on the relationship between experience, language, and theological inquiry.

Kelly begins the discussion with an analysis of Friedrich Schleiermacher’s understanding of human experience, language, and theology to articulate the Christian faith. Twentieth-century thinkers Wayne Proudfoot and George Lindbeck are introduced early in the text as critics of Schleiermacher’s approach, which, they maintain, is dependent upon a culturally limited theological anthropology. Kelly argues that contrary to Schleiermacher’s “turn to the subject” theological methodology, postmodern thinkers assign no priority to experience but rather assert that languages and cultural systems construct experience.

As one solution to the tension between these two camps, Kelly proposes two alternative approaches: George Steiner and Karl Rahner. In his book Real Presences, renowned literary critic George Steiner suggests a possibility for moving beyond the more radical anthropological elements of the postmodern critique. Karl Rahner offers a theological alternative that is sensitive both to the postmodern critique as well as to the nature of
Catholic theology. Kelly demonstrates how both of these great thinkers provide a viable resolution to a major problem facing systematic theology. In the end, Kelly finds Rahner’s resolution most persuasive.

Theology at the Void is an engaging assessment of the problem of whether one can formulate a theology using human experience as its fundamental principle.

ISBN: 978-0-268-03353-8

224 pages

“Based on sound scholarship, thoroughly documented, carefully argued, displaying sensitivity and balance in its interpretations . . . .” — The Heythrop Journal

“. . . Kelly’s book is a commendable work that is clearly written and thorough in its presentation of the contemporary postmodern debate about the relationship between language and experience. . . . Kelly’s fine text is one theologically viable response to the void that avoids mere posturing.” — Journal of the American Academy of Religion

“. . . a valuable contribution to the contemporary discussion.” — Religious Studies Review

“[A] timely contribution to a central issue in contemporary fundamental theology.” — Theological Studies

“. . . valuable in the urgent questions that it deals with and its often very lucid exposition of its main intellectuals.” — Journal of Theological Studies

“[T]he book nicely highlights limitations of postmodernist approaches, and it illustrates well significant differences and implications on the topics of religious experience, language, and doctrine.” — Catholic Studies: An On-Line Journal

“[I]nteresting for specialists who want to think about the theological implications relating to language and experience in the context of the post-modernist/deconstructionist debate.” — Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology