Since Radical Orthodoxy has recently come up in a few discussions, I thought I’d post a few of my own basic thoughts about what’s really wrong with this particular theological movement.
- Radical Orthodoxy purports to be a theological theology. It begins with a perfect theological instinct and aim: to show that all thought is fundamentally theological. The theological is ubiquitous and there is no non-theological frame of reference for interpreting the world. The question is if Radical Orthodoxy is in fact theological enough.
- Radical Orthodoxy is a neoplatonic theology. This point is directly related to the previous one. While Radical Orthodoxy purports to be radically theologically, it is in fact radically bound to the philosohpy of antiquity. Specifically, it is premised upon the proposition that the neoplatonic ontology of participation (methexis) is the necessary presupposition for a Christian ontology of particiaption (koinonia). In fact it claims that the two are the same thing. Thus, neoplatonic metaphysics establishes the conditions necessary for the incarnation, and the doctrine of the Trinity rather than the incarnation and the Trinity issuing in a distinctly Christian metaphysic.
- Radical Orthodoxy is a nostalgic theology. It’s fixation on “Christianity/Platonism” as the to-be repristinated answer to all of modernity’s woes marks Radical Orthodoxy as an extremely nostalgic enterprise. It longs for the time (real or imagined) when their particular metaphysic of participation ruled the philosophical imagination and when all aspects of life in church, state, and market were under the integrating rule of “the sacred”.
- Radical Orthodoxy is a bourgeois theology. Those who are actually movers and shakers in this “movement” are aristocratic, wealthy, and western. Their thought is forged in the academy, not in any sort of concrete ecclesial or political praxis. This is not do demean rigorous academic theology, quite the opposite in fact. Radical Orthodoxy tends to overdose on abstraction and jargon, and who is being quoted is far more important to it that what is being said. As such, this movement as no real interest in the actual life of the church(es) in the world. It is theology by a new brand of Cambridge Platonists written for their own inner circle. As Rodney Clapp has observed, “You can’t just tell people to go to church and be better neoplatonists.”
- Radical Orthodoxy is a militant theology. The fundamental desire of Radical Orthodoxy is to win. It claims that only the Christian narrative is capable of narrating a world in which difference can exist nonviolently. All other narratives lead to violence are as such are nihilistic. The Christian narrative alone can outnarrate all other narratives and bring about “The path of peaceful flight…” (John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory, 434)
- Ironically, Radical Orthodoxy is thus an inherently violent theology. It does not claim that the Triune God is the answer to the threat of nihilism, but rather that the answer is found in trinitarian theology. Specifically in their own brand of gingerly platonised trinitarianism, that has more to do with abstractions about “exchange” and “gift” than about the actual missions and relations of the Triune persons as revealed in the economy of salavation (See in contrast D.B. Hart’s treatment of “gift” in The Beauty of the Infinite, 236ff). Radical Orthodoxy claims that it is our theological narration of the sacred which will save the world from secular nihilism, death, and non-being. As such it is both violent and Pelagian.
- Radical Orthodoxy is a revisonary theology. It is based on a grand appropriation and revisionist readings of key figures in Christian history, such as Augustine and Aquinas. The readings offered by Radical Orthodoxy of these figures are idiosyncratic and generally wrong. Even from within their own movement, their revisionist readings of the Medievals have been strongly challenged (see James K.A. Smith, Introducing Radical Orthodoxy).
- Radical Orthodoxy is an erotic theology. Any perusal of the literature by the major authors in the Radical Orthodoxy series will show their fascination with speculative theologies of sexuality, gender, and the body. This is yet another example of the theological faddishness of this movement. The bodies that are the obsession of thinkers like Gerard Loughlin, Eugene Rogers, and John Milbank are always and inevitably coupling bodies, not emaciated, battered, or mutilated ones. Radical Orthodoxy offers and unembodied theology of the body that seems to think that the height of bodiliness is orgasm. As such, Radical Orthodoxy is really doing nothing more for a theology of the body and sexuality than reproducing the sex-obssessed zeitgeist of our age.
- Radical Orthodoxy is a varied theology. A distinction must be made between European and American contributors to the Radical Orthodoxy series and other theologians commonly associated with the movement. Thinkers like William T. Cavanaugh, Daniel M. Bell, Jr., D.B. Hart, J. Kameron Carter, and James K.A. Smith stand quite apart from folks like John Milbank, Graham Ward, Catherine Pickstock, and Gerard Loughlin. The orientation of nearly all American contributors to Radical Orthodoxy is based in praxis, is more strongly ecclesial, and more thoroughly pacifist. As such the American contribution (by authors who are all associated with the Ekklesia Project) represents a far more valuable contribution to contemporary theology.