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.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hmm. Perhaps, then, a dictionary might help you read Pickstock's work. you can purchase one here: http://www.amazon.com/Merriam-Webster-Dictionary/dp/087779930X/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1211388536&sr=8-1
or here is a free one: http://www.dictionary.com

now that you can understand some words in Pickstock's book, maybe you'll be able to offer some more insightful critique than "it sucks, cause i didn't get it."

Patrik said...

I actually didn't say it sucked. I'm just saying that I understand it. And I very much doubt a dictionary would help.

dan said...

Any thoughts on Loughlin's essay?

Patrik said...

I kind of feel that the terms masculine and feminine is beyond saving for any serious discourse, but I liked that he pointed out the problems in Batlhasar, and the idea that theology should proceed from homosexual love as its paradigm is interesting.

markisapayne said...

Hi! Stumbled across your blog - hope you don't mind!

The lack of clarity with the Radical Orthodoxy crowd is a common complaint, it's kind of elitist in its language I find, making it inaccessible to many because of its wordiness. I'm just completing an MA in Graham Ward's department at Manchester, and he makes a lot more sense in person thankfully! Anonymous - if a theologian isn't doing all they can to make themselves coherent then they're doing something very wrong...

Did you find Radical Orthodoxy to be leaning towards totalitarianism?! Maybe that's unfair to it, but I wonder how relevant it is to people that simply say to them "I disagree." Quite Anglo-Catholic-centric.

Also, an off shoot of that, do you find people who actually buy into Radical Orthodoxy to be the most arrogant of all theologians? Very frustrating when you're trying to have a discussion/debate with them...

markisapayne said...

Cavanaugh's Torture and the Eucharist however, impressed me greatly!

Patrik said...

The Blond piece seems to have a totalitarian strain in it, but Cavanaugh is anarchist, and I think maybe the latter's position is more coherent.

I haven't had enough experience with RO-fans, but I suspect you may be right. I have this volume on RO edited by Rosemary Radforth Ruether. I haven't read it yet (next on my list), but the introduction complained about "young theologians" that find in RO a cause of some sort. I see how that could make you arrogant.

I find RO interesting for mainly two things: It articulates some of the promises of postmodernity for theology well (a theological theology if you will) AND it is clearly usable as an illustration of some of the problems.

Tyler Pearson said...

I'll go ahead and be the arrogant young guy who "buys in" to RO. It has given me some sense of a cause because I haven't found any other contemporary theological voice that takes Christianity as seriously as RO does on the level of metaphysics or ontology (though I certainly need to read more). I think Milbank and co. would say that the fact that their truth claims are more up front than most in liberal society does not make them any more totalitarian than any one else, it just makes them more honest. To use Patrik's phrase, the possibility of a "theological theology" is so attractive that it makes one wonder why Christians bothered with un-theological theologies for most of modernity.

Patrik said...

Tyler,

You have a point about RO's truth claims, honesty is definitely what is lacking in the liberal society.

But you ask the important question yourself: Why is it that theologians has had so much difficulty articulation a "theological theology"? As one who has been trained in "modern" theology and contextual theology, I would say that these writers have some very real concerns, and not all of them has to do wiht ontology. The problem with RO is that they disregards these problems. The one problem that strikes me the most is that if you look at history, the Church is in fact almost as often a force of destruction and oppression as a force for peaceful unity. I just don't think it is honest to disregard this fact and press hard on claiming an orthodoxy (without tkaing the resultant praxis into account).

Tyler Pearson said...

The Church's many failures are certainly a fair critique of RO. As an (ecclesially uncomfortable) evangelical one of my pet peeves with other evangelicals is that it seems they are always reacting to things they do not understand. As a more typical evangelical than I would like to think, I could certainly profit from a more substantial engagement with the "Modern" theologians I've (perhaps too quickly) reacted against.

One more note: I have noticed that what I know of RO can make me a bit haughty in conversation if I'm not careful, and that's surely not a good thing. One does get exasperated, however, because Milbank's critique is of a set of presumptions that are ubiquitous within contemporary experience in and outside the Church (nominalism, bifurcative modes of thinking, etc. ...) . Once you've rejected them it's easy to disregard every new theologian you read once they make these moves, though I usually do get more out of them than I originally thought I would.