Thursday, May 28, 2009

John Milbank: The Future of Love

If you, like me, have had a hard time to really understand what Milbank is really about, this is the book for you. What these essays do is really to clarify a lot of things that remains unclear in his other books. This happens in different ways. In the first section we get (mildly updated) versions of Milbanks really early eighties stuff, and this for me shows where he is coming from. These are readings of English theologians (!) that I have never heard of ( apart from Newman). These texts are mostly interesting to someone who wants to study Milbanks own development, but for the rest of us they are mainly interesting beacuase they are fairly ordinary. This is before TST, and he is not as well read as later (he mainly sticks to the writer at issue).

The fun begins with the TST era writings. There are two chapters (I think) must have been written while he was working on TST and here we see the Milbankisms starting to appear (sociology in inverted commas, references to nihilism and french philosophy by the truckloads). Then there are three chapters made up of responses to criticism of TST and these really help to answer some of the questions I had after reading it. In particular, Milbank really fleshes out his vision of the Church, the major flaw of TST, IMO. And obviously his politics is made much more explicit here.

But the most impressive part of the book is the three chapters under the header "Political Theology Today". Here Milbank uses his wide knowledge of western intellectual history to comment on current affairs, in he does this extremely well. In particular the essay on 9/11 is among the best I have read on the topic. As a critic of US policy he is defintiely on par with the chomsky's and Klein's of the world, and original too. I do not think I could say this about another theologian. Please correct me if I am wrong.

Then follows a part on theology and pluralism, and obviously this is much more problematic at least for me. If the "political theology" part is what attracts me to Milbank, this is what makes me hesitant. His stand on dialogue between religions goes beyond merely pointing out real problems in the field. His conclusion is bascially "convert!" and clearly this is a bit disappointing. I am not sure either that his rather fanatical view of theology as a field in academia is very helpful.

In the final part we find the superb "Postmodern Critical Augustinianism", which probably is the best text Milbank has written. Had I not chanced on this I would not have bothered reading a word more from him after TST. Why is it so good? Not only is it concise and well argued. It has a tone that is somewhat different from most of Milbanks writings, maybe because this is a rare moment where he is not polemicising against anyone (there are parts of "Being reconciled" that are similar in this sense). This feels like an important point to make, but I do not know what to make of it myself. It is clear that to be able to say what he says hear about Christianity and Theology would not be possible for him to say had he not first "liberated" himself from so much of the liberal and secular thinking he fights against elsewere.

All of these texts are published elsewere, so they can be dug up in the library. But the volume is really worth its price for anyone interested in political theology today.

1 comment:

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