January 20, 2004

Initial Thoughts on Theory and Practice

My interests in Milbank and the other authors who come together as "Radical Orthodoxy" particularly involve the ways in which they narrate history, their engagements with postmodernism, their retrieval of the premodern, and how their work might interface with that of other thinkers, from Caputo to Hauerwas.

But two overarching concerns of mine are how Radically Orthodox thought connects with the text of scripture (after all, I'm a Presbyterian) and how it might express itself in terms of parish life and Christian formation.

Margaret has begun our discussion by reference to Milbank's chapter on forgiveness in Being Reconciled, a great place to start on all counts. As Margaret notes, Milbank is building on what he understands to be Aquinas' account of forgiveness.

But the way in which Milbank builds his exploration gives us some clues as to how it might relate to the life of real existing Christian communities. While many may find the categories and vocabulary of Radical Orthodoxy daunting--all this talk of ontologies and participation and analogy--Milbank's text can be seen, I think, not so much as the generation of an abstruse philosophical apparatus, but as a discursive exposition of what must be the case ontologically (and the like) if we take Christian practices of forgiveness, worship, community, and so on to be normative.

Thus, part of the way we can approach Milbank in relation to issues of parish life and Christian formation, is to see the ways in which he explains and builds upon traditions of theological reflection (Augustine, Aquinas, etc.). But these very traditions, in turn, emerged from scripture and the events of redemption as they came to inform and be enacted within the liturgical, sacramental, and communal life and practices of the premodern church.

I think here, in particular, of the way in which Milbank suggests that Augustine's rethinking of time and evil as privation was disclosed within his own personal journey to Christ and the later re-narration of that in the Confessions in the form of prayer.

Since the premodern church stands in analogy to the (post)modern church, part of the question we can ask ourselves when reading Milbank is whether our present practices of parish life, liturgy, engaging scripture, and so on, would, upon reflection, bring us to similar conclusions about who God is and how God relates to the world in Christ and by the Spirit, in creation and redemption.

That's enough to begin. I'd like later to look at some of these suggestions in a bit more detail, engaging Milbank's text more closely, particularly the five aporias he presents regarding the (im)possibility of forgiveness. Fertile ground, that.

Posted by joel garver at January 20, 2004 06:22 PM

Hello. I'm Frank Paynter introducing myself in the comments because I intend to lurk here and inquire from time to time regarding your discussion... indeed I intend to add a contribution on occasion as the spirit may lead me.

I live on a small farm outside of Madison, Wisconsin. I'm a writer, a systems professional consulting usually on large scale systems integration, management, and design issues, and right now I serve as Clerk of Madison Friends Meeting, a large gathering of Quakers of a generally Hicksite persuasion.

I seek clarity, simplicity, and truth so naturally discussions conceptually framed in a postmodern context interest me.

Posted by: Frank Paynter at January 20, 2004 08:45 PM

The usage "premodern church" implies a historical framework for discussion. For convenience, does it refer to everything from the Council at Nicea through the enclosure acts and early industrial revolution? Would a modern church have begun to emerge with the likes of Emanuel Swedenborg or George Fox, and a postmodern Christian sensibility sort of emerging with the likes of Martin Buber? Sorry for the rudimentary nature of the question, but it will help me understand if you can affirm a few break points in terms of the periods under discussion. (The "pre-modern church" is a daunting concept).

Posted by: Frank Paynter at January 20, 2004 09:01 PM

As Milbank is using the concept, "premodern" ranges from late antiquity up until, roughly, Scotus, Ockham, and the rise of philosophical nominalism (roughly, the beginning of the 14th century).

The "modern", of course, really begins to come into its own with Descartes, Bodin, Machiavelli, Hobbes, and so on.

As for "postmodern," well, that's a bit tricky. Perhaps someone else would like to chime in on that one.

Posted by: joel garver at January 20, 2004 09:35 PM

An introduction just to get it taken care of now:

Name's Daniel Silliman. I'm currently a 21-year-old undergrad philosophy student with an affinity for continental stuff, reading a lot of Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and Derrida. I'm an Anglo-Catholic from a large family on the west coast living at school in the midwest. I am or have been working on projects concerning the importance of myth, a linguistic answer to the mind/body problem, and the role of doubt in religion.

Some of my ignorance concerning Radical Orthodoxy is on display here: http://www.danielsilliman.blogspot.com/2004_01_18_danielsilliman_archive.html#107475449738814518

Posted by: daniel silliman at January 22, 2004 02:37 AM


we are called Berek Qinah Smith (<-- internet junkie). Philosophy student in Tokyo, Japan. I've been raised reformed, but am extremely interested in Radical Orthodoxy and philosophical theology--hopefully one of these days I'll turn angl0-catholic. Love Milbanky, Derrida, Deleuze & Guattari, and Rorty. I consider myself postmodern, even to the point that I can never quite escape certain modernisms. I'm looking forward to reading the posts here. :D!

Posted by: berek at January 22, 2004 02:52 AM