A Postfoundational Theology

I believe there is a third way between the Scylla and Charybdis we face in the church today. It is a postfoundationalist theology for the missional church. The basis of the postfoundational theology is rooted in Keifert’s proposal that a reasonably adequate Christian theology is done in, with, under, against, and for the church. Kelsey explains how the modern theological school, following Schleiermacher, bifurcated practical theology from systematic theology. Systematic theology pursued the abstract, universal construct mentioned above, while practical theology trained the pastor to perform the technical duties of the civic function endemic to the office. Kelsey and Keifert, flowing from the stream of Hegel and Tillich, but moving beyond it, propose that God cannot be known directly, but only through the secondary phenomena of the particularities of the local congregation. Kelsey proposes that the theological task is a crossroads hamlet between the dialectical tension of the Athens tradition—inner spiritual development (Plato)—and the Berlin tradition—technical training, implementation and actualization (Aristotle). If one is to understand God truly, then one must investigate the concrete particularities of how the Spirit of God is drawing people together for worship and service in particular places in the world. [1]

Simpson draws upon the work of Paul Tillich and Jürgen Habermas to propose that the local congregation is a prophetic public companion.[2] Tillich taught that God cannot be known directly as an object in the universe, because God is the ground of being from which objects exist. Therefore, God is known through the experience and interaction of all things at work in the universe. The church is a sign, symbol, and prophetic voice to the world of God’s work toward peace in the world. Habermas, as briefly discussed above, saw society as constructed through communicative rationality. It is only through the church’s prophetic companionship with society that the lifeworlds of every person can be liberated from the oppressive economic and political systems that have colonized the lifeworlds throughout the modern era.[3]


[1] Kelsey, To Understand God Truly: What’s Theological About a Theological School; Patrick R. Keifert, Welcoming the Stranger: A Public Theology of Worship and Evangelism (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992); Patrick R. Keifert, We Are Here Now: A New Missional Era, a Missional Journey of Spiritual Discovery (Eagle, ID: Allelon Publishing, 2006); Patrick R. Keifert, Testing the Spirits: How Theology Informs the Study of Congregations (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2009).

[2] Simpson, Critical Social Theory: Prophetic Reason, Civil Society, and Christian Imagination, 144-145.

[3] Jürgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, 2 vols. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1984), 326; Jürgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures, Studies in Contemporary German Social Thought (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1987).