Radical Preaching

Can preaching again have something to say?
This blog marks the attempt to bring the theological vision of Radical Orthodoxy into the worship and preaching of the local church.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

When Radical Orthodoxy Is Neither, by Pastor John Wright

This essay from my pastor, John Wright, definitely deserves some attention:

When Radical Orthodoxy Is Neither
by John W. Wright
Professor of Theology and Christian Scriptures
Point Loma Nazarene University

John works from some theological categories developed by Hans Frei with his students and draws some really interesting conclusions about the theology of the three main editors of the Radical Orthodoxy books series: John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock, and Graham Ward. He notes that within the Radical Orthodoxy series, there are in fact some very big theological differences that are most often overlooked. Jamie Smith names this difference well in his book Speech and Theology: Language and the Logic of Incarnation (as he's the main dude differing!), and Pastor John helps clarify a bit by really bringing it down to what is important about Christianity: the focus first upon Jesus, or the "event of Christ" which is also referred to as the Incarnation. In the middle of all the intellectual gymnastics, this was somehow lost by some of us.

One of the key graphs:
Yet the (non)foundation for this account of the Transcendent found in the particular differs radically depending on whether one (un)grounds this in the philosophical concepts of a type of Platonism or in the unique, unsubstitutable body of Jesus. [Jamie] Smith writes “in contrast to Augustine (and yet, in the name of Augustine), who saw the logic of the Incarnation as that which distinguished Christianity from Platonism, these proponents of Radical Orthodoxy (particularly Milbank and Pickstock) wish to see this as the site of their communion” (p. 170). The incarnation of transcendence is seen in the particular of all materiality, including the materiality of Jesus, for these thinkers through a creative repetition of Augustine’s neo-Platonism. Smith recognizes that the “proposal for a ‘sacramental’ and ‘doxological’ account of language – by which the transcendent is ‘revealed’ in immanence – bears deep structural affinities with what I have been describing as an incarnational logic” (p. 175). Yet subtly and ironically, incarnation itself here becomes an abstraction, a concept separated from the body of Jesus. Jesus represents what is found philosophically elsewhere. For such supposed “Radically Orthodox” thinkers, the Word made flesh in Jesus represents the incarnational logic that one finds throughout creation by positing that Jesus (and Christ’s presence in the Eucharist) exemplify the materiality of the form found in the Transcendent throughout creation.

Another way of putting this is that ultimately some of the 'Radical Orthodoxy' writers (the editors, mainly, who are 'high-church Anglo-Catholics' in the tradition of 'theurgic platonism') affirm Jesus because he fulfills in the best and truest ways the Platonic trancendental forms of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. Jesus becomes not the particular Messiah who reveals God by the Holy Spirit, but a pathway to fully realize the platonic forms.

One of the main problems with this logic is that, according to John 1:1-5, all comes from Jesus. So, even Plato's trancendentals, which we actually can affirm, only exist because all comes from Jesus and not the other way around.
[1] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
[2] He was in the beginning with God.
[3] All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being
[4]in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
[5]The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

This is where the logic of the Incarnation begins, does it not?

Please give Pastor John's essay the attention it deserves and read the full thing. This difference within the RO series is often overlooked, but I (as well as John, obviously) think it has some huge implications for our lives together as Christians. I outline some of my poorly-worded reservations in the comments section of his post.

And of course, your comments, constructive criticism, and help in discerning these matters are greatly encouraged.


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