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Implications of MacIntyre’s epistemology in a Postmodern world

One of the biggest implications of MacIntyre’s epistemology is that there is no need for Christian theology to justify taking the Scriptures as authoritative for theology, since to do so means to be a Christian theologian.[1] As one tradition, it has its authority is the same for science as it is for theologizing. This understanding of a continual epistemological progression is an improvement of Quine’s web model of data-laden experience because it provides a place for Scripture and a place for experience. Further it means that experience must be taken into the study of the text itself. 

Another valuable implication of this epistemological model is that it allows one tradition’s truth claims to be tested against another’s. The majority objection of theology and ecclesiastical understanding to the Quine model was that it eventually led to relativism. The ability to test a tradition against another is yet another improvement to Quine’s model because he offered no way of reconciling one web over another. 

MacIntyre’s epistemology readily acknowledges what foundationalist theologians, pastors, and Christians have been denying about the place of Scripture. MacIntyre shows that in some sense Scripture as our authoritative text now is read through the lens of other authoritative texts, those of earlier theologians. This could be one or a number of theologians (from Augustine to Calvin) depending upon tradition. Now, here is the difference: MacIntyre’s model is more legitimate because it offers a method for attempting to overcome a tradition’s lens of experience, i.e. using one theologian lens over another, while foundationalist simply will ignore the bias and attempt to converse between each tradition with no hope of conclusion. 

MacIntyre’s model also helps theology and practice be realistic in their approach to dialoguing with other religions. His model solves the problem of ending the narrative too soon as is evident with Quine’s model. The “research project” is seen throughout time, so that inconsistencies in one religion maybe overcome in another. If the overcoming religion can be seen to simply explain how the epistemological crisis can be solved with their model, in a sense they have proved a logical superiority.

A crisis between Islam and Christianity for provide an illustrative example. It seems that in the future an epistemological crisis will occur within the religion of Islam, in which Christian dialogue will be beneficial for showing Muslims why Christianity is a better tradition.  This epistemological crisis will occur when logical/critical methods are introduced into Islamic nations and applied to the Koran. For the most part Christianity has overcome this; however, it does not seem that Islam will survive such a crisis without drastic changes. The reason that Islam will not survive is because textual criticism and methods like it are grounded in the understanding that the text is a human document and is able to be corruption and variants. Although Christians throughout time have held a high view of Scripture, they have also understood the means by which the texts came to be canonized.   As a result Scripture, although at times being critically dissected by even those trying to disprove the tradition of Christianity, has survived untouched because it is understood as humanity’s account of God’s work in the world. Here is the idea that the Spirit of God inspired the human writers but that he used them meant a possibility for some textual issues. The problem in this case with Islam is that their understanding of the means of the Koran’s transmission leaves no room for human error and would put all the error on Allah. Since Allah transmitted the Koran word by word to Muhammad, there is no process of canonization; the Koran is Allah’s word because Allah said it to Muhammad. Thus errors are Allah’s or Muhammad’s either of which causes all types of problems for using text critical methods. It seems that Muslims would have to come up with a new way the text was received or adopt a new faith. 

MacIntyre’s epistemology is also practically helpful for pastoral counseling because it enables counselors incorporate how a person may understand themselves within the context of Scripture throughout time. For example, perhaps a counselor is meeting with a single mother who has recently met a man in the church who she is going to marry. Let’s say that this person has about a year’s worth community college.  She confides in the counselor that she has trouble with even the idea of sex with her husband to be, because she feels sex is a sinful act. 

Understanding the model of MacIntyre’s epistemology, the counselor can readily back track the tradition of this idea from this single mother to a former pastor, who got the idea of original sin from a professor at a seminary. This professor learned about this idea from a professor when he was a student at a bible college. This bible college professor received the idea from reading a published copy of Augustine and so on and so forth. Here the tracing of a tradition or idea is helpful because it can be recontextualized and the counselor is able to communicate how the person received the idea and how the person’s own experience acted, weaving the idea onto the person’s psychological makeup. Thus epistemological tracking is helpful for integrating persons from one tradition to the next. 

Finally MacIntyre’s model helps reframe for Christians what meaningful community can mean as an evangelistic hermeneutic. Community then becomes a type of God-talk; a teaching ground to show non-Christian faiths and traditions what the Bible exactly looks like in real life. Community or fellowship regains importance in the intellectual dialogue in a way that simply has not been the case since the Enlightenment. Again tradition is the sum total of beliefs, institutions and actions of the community. If this is the case, Christian practice plays a role in how one tradition is more logically superior to another. In real practical sense, the question becomes: which community is more in the world because of its ability to tackle alternative ways of understanding the world and integrating them into how that community lives? Christian community has had a mixed proficiency at such integration in the past. How Christians handle it will be a determinative in the future of persons coming to faith. 

[1] Nancey Murphy, Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism, 104.