William Placher Dies

William C. Placher
1948 – 2008
It was a sad day for me this week to learn that William Placher died at the age of 60. Placher was a leader in the field of post-liberal theology. You can read about him here. I have enjoyed Dr. Placher’s A History of Christian Theology, which remains a constant reference, but even more so by his work Unapologetic Theology: A Christian Voice in a Pluralistic Conversation. This book has meant a lot to me as I try to navigate my way into theological discourse with integrity and love. I’m not found of labeling in general, but I have great affinity for the post-liberal school of theology. William Placher had a lot to do with that.

One of my favorite things about him is that he stayed in one place for basically his whole career. He had the respect and admiration of all who knew him, and that means a lot considering the circles he ran in.

Here are a few of my favorite lines from Unapologetic Theology:

“The scriptures tell a story about how the whole world has God as its creator, about how all of the world – matter as well as spirit – is intrinsically good, about how, for as long as there have been humans beings, we have distorted our relations with our creator and the world in which we live, In spite of all our sin, the story goes on, God did not give up on us but continued to watch over humankind, and in time established a special relation with the people of Israel, calling them to be a ‘light to the nation,’ a visible sign of God’s love of this world. Then God’s Word because incarnate in a human being, who died on a cross for our sins and was raised from the dead. In response to Christ’s life, ministry, and resurrection, the church came into existence as a witness through which the story could continue.” 132

“I will be maintaining that Christians ought to speak in their own voice and not worry about finding philosophical ‘foundations’ for their claims.” 13

(paraphrase) Post-liberal theology insists that theology should primarily be concerned with the internal logic of the Christian faith and thus theology doesn’t really need to defend its case according to universally accepted criteria. In fact they doubt the existence of such criteria in the first place. 19

“What we see is shaped by what we already know, by other things we see, and by what we expect. That uninterpreted bare impression proves an illusion.” 27

“The lack of any universal criteria of rationality…need not imply that there is no way to criticize the beliefs and practices of a particular tradition, if traditions contain within themselves reasons for questioning their own beliefs and practices and, in the natural course of things, encounter challenges from other traditions.” 74

“Christian theology, I propose, makes a claim about an emerging pattern. Christians will admit that the current evidence is ambiguous. They see a pattern in their own lives and the world around them, but they can understand that others do not. They believe, however, that at some future time this now ambiguous pattern will become clear.” 126

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