Recommended Reading on Radical Orthodoxy

Can a Catholic reader be a convert to the writings of a Calvinist, and come out of the process more Catholic than ever? The Author's experience suggest that this is no pipe dream...

The Author last night finished reading James K A Smith's wonderful Introduction to Radical Orthodoxy, which is self-explanatory. The term Radical Orthodoxy has been bandied around to describe a lot of things, none of them accurate. Smith's book in an excellent introduction into a burgeoning "school" of theology that is attracting growing interest among discerning Christians from all denominations, including Anglicans (John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock and Graham Ward), Catholics (William Cavanaugh and Australia's own Tracey Rowland), Calvanists (James K. A. Smith) and Evangelicals (D. Stephen Long).

What is interesting for the Author is the impact Radical Orthodoxy potentially has on political analysis. At the heart of RO's claims lies a rejection of Modernity's claims to neutrality, exposing that under what many count as "neutral" and "universal" is an unacknowledged teleological claim. As Alasdair MacIntyre once remarked in Whose Justice, Which Rationality, thinkers in the scientific world, the paragon of post-Enlightenment Modernity, are slowly acknowledging that "scientific" claims are underpinned by some form of assumption that is essentially theological in nature. And this applies not just to science, but other forms of political thought and practice that operate from the claim to see the world "as it really is", ie Liberalism, Marxism, Feminism and the like.

From this identification of the world as theologically charged, it follows then that rather than stop at the argument that something is "just the way it is", one should actually go further and own up to his or her underlying theology. This paves the way to consider Christianity for what it is, a way of seeing the world and give meaning to it. Moreover, it finally gives room for Christianity to boldly and unapolagetically proclaim its kerygma on its own terms, because it is no longer necessary to convince the skeptic that it is objectively true (Let us for now bracket the issue of objectivity for another wonderpost, for it is important to note that the Author is not claiming here that the Gospel is not true).

From there, RO is able to give its own theologically charged ontology of participation in God and in temporality (a line of thought gleaned from a re-reading of thinkers like Plato, Augustine and Aquinas). This starting point, which sits in opposition to many of the political ideologies mentioned by virtue of their being underpinned by an ontology of univocity of being which cuts divinity out of the picture altogether, then has a massive impact in providing the resources necessary for the questioning of the ideas and practices - be they economic, political or social - that pervade our world today, which in turn threaten the existence of everyone, in particular the weak and the disenfranchised. More importantly, it provides the resources for envisaging political alternatives that do not feed back into the orbit of teleologies that many are seeking to cast aside.

More importantly for the Catholic, the value of Smith's introduction into RO is that it makes you realise the inherent social and political impact of a lot of things that Catholics take for granted, things like tradition, liturgy and authority. Rather than come up with some form of half-hearted syncretism which has become so trendy in the post-Vatican II age, this book makes one realise that the way forward for the Christian is to look backward, though not in a way that romanticises the past.

If you want a way to ease yourself into the scarily complex philosophical world of RO - and there is a fair degree of Continental philosophy in it - and if you want a book that gives a sophisticated defence not just of your Catholicism, but of the renewal of the face of the earth that should flow from that, then this book comes highly recommended.

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