Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Real Method of Correlation

This recently occured to me, and I am a fool for just spilling it out on the net and not writing an article for some famous periodical on it.

I now why Tillich fell out of favour. It's David Tracy's fault.

See, every time I see a reference to correlation in theology these days, I always have the same feeling that there is something wrong. I always feel that what the writer is criticising has little resemblance to what Tillich intended with his correlation method.

Let me first describe what I feel is the usual notion of what the method of correlation does, then describe what Tillich really meant, and finally describe how this is the fault of poor Tracy.

It may all be down to a poor choice of term (English, as you know, was not one of Tillich's strengths). Usually people think that when using a correlation method in Theology you seek for similarities in the Christian tradition on the one hand, and for example (secular) philosophy on the other. In effect you would be saying something like "The Christian doctrine of sin is the same as Heidegger's notion of guilt". This method is correctly criticised for in effect using semi-religious language to re-tell the secular story.

However, this was not what Tillich meant with the method of correlation. For Tillich the point is to use philosophy, psychology, art and similar discourses to describe relevant questions in the present cultural situation. Theology then seeks to give answers to these questions, based on revelation (scripture, tradition and so on). Interestingly a few decades ago this idea was considered to be to give theology a to great role, believing that theology could actually provide answers to common human problems. Wouldn't it be better to just let Theology deal with religious problems?

I guess this is one of the reasons Tracy developed Tillichs method by adding the idea of the hermeneutic circle. No longer would Theology give answers to problems in the human situation but there would be a going back and forth where theology and the situation would interpret each other. This, however, seems to lead to a situation where theology looses its right to interpret itself by its own rules, which is what the method is usually criticised for.

Of course, Tracy is not completely wrong. What he describes does take place. But it is not a method for theology. What he describes is something that has to do with being a theologian, which is a slight but important difference.

Tillich's point was that Theology always has used the method of correlation and always will. And I still can't see how it could be otherwise if theology want to be relevant in any way. So, case in point. In the introduction of "Radical Orthodoxy - a New Theology" we read:

The present collection of essayes attempts to reclaim the world by situating its concerns and activities within a theological framework. Not simply returning in nostalgia to the premodern, it visits sites in which secularism has invested heavily - aesthetics, politics, sex, the body, personhood, visibility, space - and resituates them from a Christian standpoint; that is in terms of the Trinity, Christology, the Church and the Eucharist.

This is exactly what Tillich meant with correlation, to address concerns in the present world from a theological standpoint. Clearly, depending on what questions are asked, different aspects of the Christian tradition will be emphasized, but the fact that Tillich would put the focus on creation and salvation rather than Trinity and Christology is more down to him being Lutheran and not a (roman/anglo) catholic in an age where that mattered.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Radical Orthodoxy - a book review

Here's some thoughts on Radical Orthodoxy - A New Theology. I have to say that on the whole I am glad I read it. A few of the essay's are really good, and a few are quite bad, and a few are somewhere in between.

My faviorites are John Montag's essay on Revelation, and William T. Cavanaugh's text on the state. Montag's article for me cleared up why the reason-revelation dichotomy is false. That it is false i pretty obvious, but it was interesting to see how we got into that place.

Cavanaugh's text is my favorite of the bunch. I am actually discussing it more thoroughly in an article I'm writing at the moment. He shows how the state is a parody of the Church, that fails to deliver what both Church and State promises to deliver - peace. A Church that has given up this task (to bring peace) and delegated it to the secular state is to me a good definition of a State Church. We have a lot of those, and it really is a good question to ask if the can properly be called churches at all.

While I agree that the Eucharist should be the place where true peace is fostered, I wonder what we should do when it in practice clearly isn't to most. Most people that care about the Eucharist see it as some form of spiritual reload, and most, at least in Lutheran Finland, seem to see it as a nice coda after the sermon. These questions I discuss in my article...

But yeah, that bad ones. I already wrote on the one on Wittgenstein. I didn't understand a word of Catherine Pickstock's text on music. Graham Ward's text on the Body of Christ is interesting, but some of the themes hinted at there are quite disturbing... I am NOT sure if it is a good idea to explore Christ's relationship to Mary in terms of incest.

But the real rotten egg of the bunch is Philip Blond's essay on art. While he clearly knows way more about art than I do, I still feel he is in no position to lecture on what art should be like. I won't even go into why he makes these recommendations nor what they are, simply the idea that theology should somehow dictate art is preposterous. If that is his vision of a Christianity free from secular bonds, I'll go with the seculars, thank you. His vision of an art that correctly portays the real makes me think of Christian pop music, another disgusting concept.

Anyway, what I find inspiring with this book is that it covers such a wide area of themes, yet manages to keep one distinctive approach to them. This, I guess, is what has made Radical Orthodoxy so popular (for want of a better word). That, and the cool name. Although it is a bit ironic that a theology that carries a criticism of capitalism with it would make use of such a central capitalistic concept as the brand.

Next, I'll tackle the newer volume on Politics and Theology edited by Milbank.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Wittgensteinian metaphysics

I bet that header will get me a lot of google hits.

So, well, yeah, I am reading Radical Orthodoxy - a New Theology. The first two essay's I like. Millbank is doing his "I know how secularism came about" thing, and manages not to be very obnoxious... In the second essayJohn Montag traces the reason/revelation division back to Suárez, thus creating another theology bad guy. This is very good stuff.

But the third essay is much weaker. Here Conor Cunningham tries to show a few things. First that the "two Wittgensteins" are in fact rather close to each other, which is probably not very surprising. More importantly, Cunningham tries to show that Wittgenstein in spite of claims to the contrary, in fact builds his philosophy on (you guessed it) secular metaphysics. I do not find this convincing at all.

It is one thing to state that Wittgenstein in some sense stands in the tradition of Kant. This I can accept: there are clear parallels between Kant's critique of reason and Wittgenstein's "critique" of language. But when Cunningham tries to show that the (mostly later) Wittgenstein's ideas about language is a kind of undercover metaphysics the arguing becomes almost embarrassing.

Let me state first that I am no expert on Wittgenstein. The fact is I have read very little by him. But I do work in a very Wittgensteinian environment. Philosophy at my University is very much Wittgenstein so one tends to pick up a lot of Wittgensteinian influences by osmosis. (We actually have something of a tradition. Finland's greates philosopher, Georg Henrik von Wright, who succeeded Wittgentein as professor of Philosophy at Camebridge came here for the later part of his carreer. Besides being a close friend of Wittgentein he also oversaw the publication of most of the posthumous writings). Anyway, I do have some sense of what is usually considered to be themost central points in Wittgenstein's philosophy.

Cunnigham basically suggests that because Wittgenstein says that "language games" are given, this is to say that they have some kind of metaphysical status, analogous to Kant's categories. This seems to me to be to willfully misunderstand W's point. Cunnigham seems to think that Wittgenstein means that language game and the grammar of language games "exist" prior to the actually situation where they are put to use. This would indeed be some kind of covert metaphysics.

But what W means when he says that language games are given is rather that they are not constructed, that they are not "made up" and that they therefore could be in need of some kind of improvement by philosophers. They are the way they are. But it is absurd to read this as a kind of metaphysics. A language game does not exist prior to the life-form it functions in. When a new life-form arises (I guess by and by) a new language game arises with it. There is nothing mysterious about this. Language games are not like Kant's categories, they do not shape our use of language, the notion of language games just helps us describe how language functions.

I read this essay as a symptom of some kind of theological paranoia. A more generous approach would be to grant that Wittgenstein's philosophy accepts that various sorts of language, including Christian language does not have to measure up to some universal standard (reason, secular or otherwise), but functions according to its own logic. Isn't this pretty close to what RO is about?


I'm not sure if I feel ready to get back into theology-blogging, but maybe I'll give it a try. I'm reading theology again, and in the past blogging has been a good way for me to organize my reading.

First some updates, if anybody has wondered what I have been up to.

My thesis is more or less finished. Actually, It would have been finished already if a certain famous professor had not taken quite a bit more time than expected to read it and give it a go ahead...

As the last few posts showed, my interest in politics has lately overtaken my interest for theology... That may be changing at the moment, but as I say that is too soon to say. The combination of theology and politics is still my major area of interest.

If some of my more regular readers are still around, they will find this very ironic, but what I'm currently doing is trying to get a deeper understanding of, yep, postmodern theology. Particularly Radical Orthodoxy. I'm still not 100% convinced that it is worth while doing, but there are some aspects of it that intrigue me, and I have a hunch that my "expertise" on asceticism actually may have some value in this discussion... More about that later, maybe.

What I like about radical orthodoxy is that it shuns both conservative and liberal theology, although I do not at all agree with the image of 20th century theology that the foster. There seems to be a will to completely by-pass this century (and the 19th) among these writers. I don't think this is a valid way to be post-modern.

I am also intrigued my some of the political ideas around among these writers, but I'm still not sure about the way they fit together with the other ideas.

And I'm still to find a proper worked out radical orthodoxy ecclesiology - is there one? The entire concept points towards ecclesiology, but exactly what that ecclesiology is like seems to be difficult to articulate. But I may just have missed it. Suggestions welcome.

Anyway, I might post some on my continued reading of radical orthodoxy texts. Or not. Will see.