Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Radical Orthodoxy

Radical Orthodoxy has come up in discussions lately. What is it?
According to Fr. Aidan Nichols, OP,

The Institute of Radical Orthodoxy is the brainchild of three Anglicans: John Milbank, who is moving from Cambridge to the University of Virginia; and two other people from Cambridge: Graham Ward, the Dean of Peterhouse, who is going to Manchester; and Catherine Pickstock, who is a Fellow of Emmanuel College. They have formed a definite school that has disciples.

Their line is that postmodernism is the natural result of the way that Western philosophy has developed. That is to say, the postmodernist critique of Western philosophy is irrefutable in terms of what it is attacking, but postmodernism itself is nothing but nihilism dressed up in fancy clothes. And therefore, the only remedy is the Holy Trinity!

They basically argue that all of the errors or false directions or insoluble problems in the Western philosophical tradition stem from misunderstandings of theology and of revelation. The only remedy is to go back to the source by renewal of a revelatory mode of thinking, which has the Holy Trinity as its center. That is the basic idea, roughly speaking, of Radical Orthodoxy, as I understand it.

It is an overwhelmingly Anglican movement. To be fair, it has been described as a theology in search of an ecclesiology. I would say it’s the first major theological movement in England since the South Bank school of John Robinson, which was a sort of warmed-up Tillich and so much less original.

Just in case that does not help, you can also check these out:

Radical Orthodoxy’s proponents, then, have constructive as well as critical ambitions, and in the long run the constructive ambitions are the more important. Milbank, Pickstock, and Ward hope to articulate an encompassing Christian perspective that will supersede and replace secularisms both modern and postmodern. Their goal is to uncover a "new theology," new because it renounces the mediations and compromises of so–called modern theology. Yet their positive achievement is uneven, and understanding the failures of Radical Orthodoxy should occasion some sobering thoughts about the way forward. A genuinely postmodern theology requires spiritual disciplines very alien to our terribly creative and rebellious late–modern souls.

However deeply invested Radical Orthodoxy might be in the vocabulary, thought forms, and literature of postmodernism, it rests on a different foundational assumption about what we might call the glue that holds the world together. It is Augustine’s vision of heavenly peace, made effective in the dynamic and binding power of divine purpose, that shapes Radical Orthodoxy’s reflections, not Nietzsche’s violence wrought by an omnipotent will–to–power. This difference allows Radical Orthodoxy to interpret postmodern thought without being drawn into its orbit, giving Milbank & Co. the perspective from which to expose the nakedness of postmodern nihilism.


Then there is this book review by Douglas A. Ollivant: "Thomism Unwhigged." It may not be an article on Radical Orthodoxy per se, but it does mention similar concerns.

And lastly .... for now ... is this somewhat related piece from today's Opinion Journal: "An 'Ordinary Radical'" by Paul Beston. Though I like the subtitle, "A 'Jesus freak' becomes an 'extremist for love'," I take issue with some of the claims of the "extremist for love."

Beston does a decent job of pointing out some of the problems. I would add more, such as why just-war theory did not have a reason to be publicly taught during the Early Church. It was not like there were many Christians with the power and the authority to pursue war.

As well, real and consistent pacifism has not had an honorable history: how can Christian charity tolerate the butcher, rape, and mass murder of innocents?

1 comment:

Thomas said...

I had two friends that were Presbyterian and both of the 'radical orthodox' movement. Regarding radical orthodoxy, it has become quickly infectious amongst anti-intellectual understandings of faith and doctrinal formation - almost as a reactionary response to the increased voice of secularism.

While it is called 'radical orthodoxy' now...it is not new, nor unique to capitalizing on Postmodernism. I was discussing this last semester with Kieth Putt, a visiting professor and Caputo scholar, who is also a pastor. He, nor I, had forgotten Cornelius Van Til or Gordon Clark. Most people don't remember their names anymore. It was the 1940's Baptist version of 'radical orthodoxy.' Clark was chair of the philosophy department at Bayler, he had so much clout.

However, there was no postmodernism to use, so he employed simple scepticism. He and Van Til arrived at separate versions of what is called "presuppositional theology,' in which there is no extra-biblical justification for belief in ANYTHING.

The similarity is a reactionary move towards rationality, it seems from given historical circumstances, that inclines the Christian philosopher/theologian to collapse any distinction between faith and reason, reduce all epistemology to faith, and claim only acceptance of God's revelation will solve the epistemological crisis.

When Quine hit the scene, many Protestants used him to support the lack of judgment regarding very Fundamentalist irrational claims. So too with Wittgenstein. He's still quite popular, and I have an anthology of Wittgensteinian Theology.

I've yet to see this become popular in the Catholic faith, but that doesn't mean it won't. Liberals could make much argument if they could 'deconstruct' what doctrine doesn't suit thier personal needs, and I'm starting to see a bit more of that. Yet, I don't think it's going to shake the Church any. We have an amazing propensity to wait things out, and let storms calm.

But my only point is that new storms will always emerge, but the sceptic is almost like a species of human being, and will always be amongst us. Inasmuch as that is the case, you will have people who, like C.S. Lewis notes, want their religion without religion, and the freedom to pick and chose what they will believe. So...they feel compelled to create justifications, and if not presuppositional theology, Wittgensteinian theology, or radical orthodoxy, some other new fad of liberal theology. It's totally consequentialist in my eyes, and they will just use whatever contemparary means they have to justify their position. The oddity is...if we abandon rationality...why bother seeking justifications?