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.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The System, or just Sin?

Back in November I noted some comments by Thomas of Endlessly Rocking regarding the genealogical method insofar as its used in theology and/or philosophy (Scott had some helpful thoughts in the comments of that post).

In the February issue of First Things, Fr. Neuhaus quoted from an article by Christopher Insole, in which the latter takes issue with the RO critique of political liberalism. In his own comments, Fr. Neuhaus states,

There is among ideologues, including Christian ideologues, a propensity for attributing to a disfavored “system” the failings and frustrations of the human condition. For Marx it was capitalism, for conservatives of a libertarian bent it is socialism. In this country, Stanley Hauerwas and his disciples, who are usually on what is perceived to be the left, share with Theonomists, usually on the right, a passionate animus against the liberal democratic order. Theonomists—a.k.a. Dominionists or Reconstructionists—share with the late R.J. Rushdoony a belief that our constitutional order is fundamentally misbegotten and the nation should be reconstituted on the basis of “Bible law.” (See my article “Why Wait for the Kingdom? The Theonomist Temptation,” May 1990.) While proposing very different alternatives to our putatively misbegotten political order, the anti-liberals of the left and right are both lacking in an Augustinian sense of our creaturely limits within a fallen creation that is far short of the historical realization of the promised Kingdom.

I'm wondering what those more versed in RO than I think about these comments. Between these comments and Thomas' post referred to above, I've been prompted to wonder whether or not the problems which I've attributed to modernity/liberalism are more appropriately attributed to our fallen condition, i.e. to sin. I don't like this idea (and I can't quite put my figure on why), but I need to be honest with myself and ponder whether or not it is the case.



Blogger St.Phransus said...

I think the writer misreads the RO folks and Hauerwas when he aligns them with a group that simply wants to replace the current state gov't with a "Bible based" Gov't. The whole idea behind Hauerwas's reference to the Church as Polis is that we are an alternative community. If the alternative polis replaces the state then it loses its character and nature.

I see the nature of the church within the RO conversation as an embodied critique of modernity and culture through participation in the traditions and practices of the historic church.

April 25, 2006 11:07 PM  
Blogger Eric Lee said...

I agree with Jonathan's comments about misreading Hauerwas and the RO guys. Alas, this seems to happen all the time for reasons I can't quite figure out.

To answer your question, Chris, I think ultimately, these things are traced to sin, but 'modernity' and 'liberalism' are just various flawed outgrowths of our own sinful nature. Modernity tries to reduce everything to the rational, to the empirical, and create a huge divide between faith and reason, and liberalism does the same thing while at the same time attempts to narrate our lives through contract as opposed to the gift of Jesus Christ.

And of course, all of this, I think, is rooted in sin, but it also does not do away with our critiques of modernity or liberalism at all, it just better names the forces of those principalities that try to become our idols. I see this kind of defense of liberalism all the time: it has its good points and its bad points, so, "all things being equal," it's the best 'we' got. Aside from my disagreement with who this 'we' is, these kinds of statements have a false humility about them that tries to say that liberalism is essential neutral. Any appeal to it's "good and bad so therefore 'okay'" neutrality is something I reject. This is where the work of Milbank and others are immensely helpful. And contrary to most claims, it does not make 'modernity' or 'liberalism' a "boogey man"; instead, it rightly names the powers that try to narrate our lives away from the life of God in the Church.



April 26, 2006 12:25 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

I agree with Jonathan and Eric that you cannot lump RO and Hauerwas in with the left as Neuhaus is often want to do.

Also, it is important to realize that Hauerwas and RO diverge dramatically at this point. Milbank's later work (Being Reconciled especially) calls for a shift to a reconfigured Christian socialism. I hesitate to use the word because of the baggage. In fairness to Milbank, his approach is very different than MArxist variants of socialism. This Christian socialism would be a reconstitution of Christendom but with a different trajectory (the path of peaceful flight).

Hauerwas' understanding emanates out of a form of Christian anarchy. Again, I hesitate to use that word because of the baggage. I think the best way to understand it is that the church is called to be the church regardless of the secular political arrangement it finds itself in. Again, Hauerwas is writing principally to Western Christians who live in liberal democratic republics. His critique is largely aimed at waking up those Christians who too quickly give carte blanche to these systems.

I think Bill Cavanaugh's essay in the Radical Orthodoxy edited volume is exemplary of the Hauerwasian school. The liberal nation-state offers an alternative soteriology and becomes in essence a parody of the church.

I'm reminded here of Tocqueville's wonderful analysis of American political culture: dictatorships and kingdoms have the power to break bones but they are not able to permeate the minds, hearts, and souls of the individual like democracy can. The dangers of the institutionalization of sin that takes place within a liberal democratic republic is that it is so easy to deceive ourselves into believing this is the way of teh Gospel. It becomes a mockery of the Book of Acts: "It seems good to us and the Holy Spirit." Liberal democratic republics have institutionalized only the "it sems good to us" portion.


April 27, 2006 8:11 AM  

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