One of the trends I notice in contemporary political theology is how theologies tend to do one of two things regarding the cultural formations of Christendom and modernity. On the one hand, some lump Christendom and modernity together as a sort of mother and child phenomenon that is either largely negative (Stanley Hauerwas, John Howard Yoder) or for the most part a good thing (Oliver O’Donovan). Others, however view them as radically divergent political and social phenomena with modernity being first and foremost a rebellion against Christendom which was predominately a good thing, at least in theory (John Milbank, Peter Leithart).
However, clearly I think the relationship between Christendom and modernity is more complex that our desire to rush to pragmatic theopolitical analysis will usually allow. Charles Taylor’s new book, A Secular Age, is a testimony to the radical complexity involved in making thorough judgments about the nature of modernity and its historical emergence. Theology has yet, in my opinion to come seriously to terms with the cultural formation of modernity, though there have been substantial moves in this direction (Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory and Colin Gunton’s The One, the Three, and the Many are two of the best theological engagements with modernity and Christendom that I have yet encountered). Taking seriously the historical complexity of the cultural formation of modernity remains a crucial task for Christian theology, especially in the context of late-modern capitalism. All rushes to judgment, either positve or negative of the church’s location in modernity are always already defeats.