The Geeking of the Out! Radical Orthodoxy & Post-Liberalism [TNT 37]

It is time to Nerd Out with your Geek Out!  After many sarcastic tweets from Bo, provocation from the Justin Klassen & Adam English interviews, Rob Bell’s request to explain them both and Tripp’s insistence on the last TNT episode that Radical Orthodoxy is cooler than Post-Liberalism (much to Bo’s dismay) comes the Theology Nerd Thrown all the Nerdy Deacons have been waiting for.  This is a Throwdown of Geeky proportions, sure to be ignored by the less than dweeby among us.

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39 comments
mattmccrac
mattmccrac

@jimmy_oneill1 Figured you might like it after the previous Radical Orthodoxy podcast you listened to.

mattmccrac
mattmccrac

@jimmy_oneill1 Nothing beats a song that grooves at 100+ BPM. Yeah it's good. Gives a sweet lowdown on Radical Orthodoxy and Post-Lib.

BrandonMorgan1016
BrandonMorgan1016

I appreciate you guys wrestling with RO and forcing yourself to deal with arguments that you disagree with. However, one of your main critiques, that RO is hermeneutically insular, seems to miss the larger point of the overall project. This is not to suggest that I agree with RO in every respect, only that I think you should avoid polemicizing the debate with simple labels. Such critiques play to easily into their hands and further solidifies the distance between progressive protestantism as it stands and their methodology. Put simply, you are making it too easy for such advocates of RO to polemicize in return what they see as a fundamental incommensurability between you and them. For instance, Ward was just here at Baylor lecturing on Schlieremacher and arguing that he is not a liberal theologian in the classical sense, but witnesses to the relation between God and the World more fully than contemporary liberal protestantism. w Ward makes similar arguments in other places. So there are places in which overlap can be found and continually drawing lines in the sand from your side comes off as dismissive of the larger intent and hopes of re articulating the tradition. I mention this in order to remind you guys of the fundamentally apologetic nature of RO and how that impulse readily equates there goals in some sense with yours. Far from being insular, they hope to make public arguments about the genealogical status of reason, knowledge and freedom in order to suggest a more substantial place for theology in the public sphere. The danger is not being provincial in there case, but in being constantinian...what J Kameron Carter has called RO's theological colonialism. This should be your critique and not, as you have claimed, the argument of isolation. This also brings up the problem of their use of Thomism, which in Milbank's case occurred after TST and still with a strong Augustinian bent. Aquinas often grants more interpretive space to nature in ordinary judgments and was, as you say, somewhat of a progressive of his time. However, RO's outspoken Augustinianism bucks Aquinas and Aristotle in peculiar ways and chooses plotinian Platonism instead, a path I would guess is less in your favor than Aristotle. This places RO closer to Benedict XVI, which is really where you want them. See Dehart at Vanderbilt on this. In the end, it seems like you have them backwards and thus misread the dangers involved. There re sacramentalization of the world moves to quickly to ontology and metaphysics which often makes them lump everything else into nihilism. But I think progressive protestants are guilty of this too, though in the name of pluralization and not tradition. I would lastly note that it seems disingenuous to assume that advocates fail to see the violences of the church past. Read Cavenaugh's new book to see his argument about the necessity for penitence in the church. Likewise, see David Hart's open confession of the church's violent failures in Atheist Delusions.

amaryahshaye
amaryahshaye

A few things:

 

How far would your critiques apply to folks like J. Kameron Carter and Willie James Jennings who are both in the Duke School and highly influenced by RO, and are black guys with really strong critiques of white theology?

 

Also, I think there are critiques of RO to be had, some of which you all get at, but I also think the "RO is oppressive" meme is kind of tired. I think if you reduce RO to Milbank, yeah, you end up with some problematic issues. But there has been a lot of creative engagement in RO and post-liberalism that actually is not only queer affirming (seriously, Graham Ward's "Cities of God" and "Christ and Culture" pose ridiculously good questions to the church for thinking about desire and queer bodies. Also Eugene Rogers and Sarah Coakley come to mind as extremely important theologians in post-lib camps who wrestle with desire and queer bodies), but more than that, they engage with desire and power in a way that resists the liberal/prog obfuscation of power and desire with things like identity and recognition (blech) that seem to be kind of lock and step in Homebrewed Xianity discussions of queer things.

 

I think I get frustrated because, except for James Cones works, Post-lib and RO theologies a la Ward, Coakley, Rogers, Carter, and Jennings, have been extremely helpful for countering BS theologies of inclusion liberal white folks kept regurgitating during my experience at Christian undergrad and a well respected school of theology.

 

And, also, as much as I want to like process theology(I'll admit I've only read Keller and bits of Cobb and Coleman), I find its metaphysic to be way more abstract, dense, and difficult to develop an anti-domination politics from than anything I've read from RO folks.

tonydhunt
tonydhunt

Some like me would affiliate with the RO "sensibility" but would have strong questions about how prominent RO theologians have gone about engaging others. I would have even more reservations toward the concrete political policies advocated by RO "friends."

 

Part of the problem with identifying as RO, which I refuse to do, is that it obliges one to "answer for" this or that stupid thing someone has said or done. Moreover, most, I don't say some but most, readings of RO primary documents are half-assed, lazy, and evince a clear inability to read well.

ngilmour
ngilmour

Good conversation, though like @BoEberle , I anticipated more of a bare-knuckles brawl than what happened.  A few things come to mind:

 

1) James K.A. Smith is hard to pin down.  Some years he publishes as a Radical Orthodoxy practitioner, some as a Calvinist, some as a Pentecostal.  Fact of the matter is that he's as vocal a critic of RO as you all have been, when he's publishing as a Calvinist.  But to answer @BoSanders 's question, I have colleagues who have presented on panels with Jamie, and he's not a tall man.  But he did tell a story that amused me: on the Internet, he told one of my colleagues, he's a right-wing neanderthal.  When he goes to church, he's a suspected Communist.  Perhaps I chuckle because that resonates with my own experience.

 

To switch subjects just a bit, I've always heard people call Stan Hauerwas post-liberal rather than RO, what with his Yale roots.  And again, I've read essays and interviews in which Hauerwas told Milbank that the RO need to stop worrying about metaphysics so much and follow Jesus.  But the theological world is a strange one, no?

 

2) Your story about the 40-of-50 points on which John Cobb agreed with RO folks is illuminating.  As I said after your long Cobb talk, I was pleasantly surprised to hear so many things that resonated with RO concerns there, and this story confirms that I wasn't just imagining that.

 

3) I learned my theology from a Yale theologian (Fred Norris) and a pair of Duke theologians (Phil Kenneson and Craig Farmer), so take my perspective for what it is, but I think people overplay the "silo" character (to use your image) or RO and Post-Liberalism.  The way they taught (Norris is retired) and teach (Kenneson and Farmer are not) their classes, one could almost always anticipate visits from actual practitioners, which was no small feat at a small liberal arts college and a smaller seminary in east Tennessee.  I remember well that we never were allowed to talk Islam without a visit from Dr. Hussein, a local physician; and a local Rabbi was a regular visitor when we discussed Judaism.  We also had a nuclear physicist come in for several sessions of a theology-and-science class, and my undergraduate philosophy-of-science course was team-taught by Kenneson and Lura, a chemistry professor.  And the required capstone theology course at Milligan, where Farmer and Kenneson taught me, had at its core the "Listening to Strangers" project, in which small groups of students go out into the community and actually get "others" to tell their own stories in their own words.  In my own graduating class in '99, folks presented to the class on the local Mosque, on life at the local medium-security prison, and on the area's Metro Community Church, just to name the ones I can remember thirteen years out.

 

In other words, when I think of the Yale/Duke tradition, the virtue of listening is always at the center of it.  I realize that classroom teaching and published theology volumes are different critters, but they're at the least part of a common picture.

 

4) If I could propose an alternative to the "silo" picture, I'd emphasize the aesthetic/rhetorical emphases of RO and PL theology.  Not unlike Walter Brueggemann (who refers to himself as postliberal in an early chapter of his big Theology of the Old Testament), Hauerwas and Milbank are eager to assert and return to a conception of "otherwise" (Wally Booger's word, not theirs) that's always an utterance but never an utterance without remainder.  In other words, I tend to see their relationships with science and other religious traditions and economics and such not as "non-engagement" (whatever that would look like) but as a self-aware, positioned engagement.  That still might not satisfy some, but I would maintain a difference.

 

At any rate, good episode!  It was a little more Christian Humanist Podcast and a little less Wrestlemania than I expected, but I'm partial to the CHP anyway. ;)

 

nrbuck
nrbuck

Great convo!

 

Reading Aquinas for class as I'm listening to this is priceless. Just came across this, toward the beginning of the Summa: "so this doctrine does not argue in proof of its principles, which are the articles of faith, but from them it goes on to prove something else...If our opponent believes nothing of divine revelation, there is no longer an means of proving the articles of faith by argument (!!), but only of answering his objections - if he has any - against faith."

BoEberle
BoEberle

Ok here's the thing- even the way you guys described RO (good overview), Bo's passionate distaste withstanding, y'all let them off the hook too easily. It's not that they need more of a theological critique, but it seems prudent to me to be like "oh hey, by the way, here are some interesting political platforms that are a part of this movement, for example..." 

here is a nice little piece by Philip Blond advocating for throwing poor people into military academies http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/10/labour-right-support-military-academies

Or this piece by Milbank and Blond about a society with “the right kind of inequality” (as if this is really a possibility… oh, just let Rowan Williams decide) http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jan/27/inequality-opportunity-egalitarian-tory-left

And here is a correspondence from Milbank with some brilliant quotes like “”in terms of contemporary positions I would be classed as extremely ‘conservative’: against abortion, experiments on foeteses, against any idea that homosexuality can be the subject of equal rights, in favour of the importance of sexual difference, critical of liberal feminism, and holding the opinion that the separation of sex and procreation is in effect a state capitalist programme of bioethical tyranny etc etc. ” http://politicsofthecrossresurrected.blogspot.com/2010/09/john-milbank-on-radical-orthodoxys.htmlI have too many friends who are seriously considering the IDEA of Radical Orthodoxy but the way it cashes out politically and practically I hope would still shock them.  I don't think the PostLibs approach this level of reactionary and hateful absurdity. Good grief. 

sean muldowney
sean muldowney

Is it me, or were you guys talking a little too close to the mic this week? Kinda struggling w/ the audio through the first 15 mins, but I will persist!

ngilmour
ngilmour

When should this hit iTunes?  The Prince-and-Roy-Orbison episode of "Theology of Rock" is the last one showing up right now.

taddelay
taddelay

@trippfuller just in time for our "monstrosity" & "Paul's new moment" class sessions

trippfuller
trippfuller moderator

 @amaryahshaye thanks for the comment. there is a ton in it but I just wanted to let you know I would love to connect with Kameron Carter.  He and I ReTweeted each other a bit during the Prez. debates which is half way to a podcast visit! If you see him before AAR tell him I will be on the look out!

BoEberle
BoEberle

 @tonydhunt The sensibility that without a Christian worldview an individual is left with a vapid nihilism? That we need an archaic medieval worldview to make sense of the contemporary world? I don't think it's tenable to have an RO sensibility and not want to identify with the movement because you disagree with the absurd positions taken by its founders. Those absurd positions are the logical implications of the "sensibility" or essence of the theory. There is no separating the two. The only qualification needs to be who you have in mind, because Graham Ward is not John Milbank. I would allow that there are gradations involved with that label, and to be Radical Orthodox one can probably be more or less hateful toward non Christians, glbtq folks, the poor, women, etc. 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @ngilmour  @BoEberle a month ago we had imagined a real knock-down-drag-out  but then decided on an educated compare-and-contrast  ... I think that all the animosity of the political season soured us and we wanted to do something a little more generous and illuminating ;)    we both stayed away from our cheap shots and zingers !  -Bo 

trippfuller
trippfuller moderator

 @BoEberle i agree Bo about the ethical stuff.  I just didn't want my RO friends telling me I didn't do justice to the philosophical theology underneath abhorrent applications. I think a lot of American ROers are less ridiculous politically.  My Post-Lib friends are generally more progressive politically but I could be generalizing.

Latest blog post: Angela - 2012-10-23 15:54:37

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @ngilmour I got it on Itunes this morning.  Hit 'refresh' and see ...   otherwise I don't know. 

trippfuller
trippfuller

@taddelay when will I get Min on Zizel audio?

ngilmour
ngilmour

 @trippfuller  @BoEberle  @BoSanders Naw, Stan the Man as RO was an interesting thought to entertain.  

 

Anyway, I definitely agree with you two that there's all sorts of overlap between the two.  In fact, what made me most curious going in was your preview a few episodes back that drew such sharp distinctions.  In my own English-teachery theological work, I tend to treat RO and postliberalism (PL still looks like Paradise Lost when I just type the initials) as branches of what Phil Cary calls traditionalist postmodernism.  But then again, I tend not to play the Wittgenstein so heavily when I think of postliberalism.  Perhaps I should give that some more thought.

BoEberle
BoEberle

 @trippfuller Fair enough, but it seems like all the major figures are pretty bonkers. James K.A. Smith pretty much is consistently cynical towards liberals and Obama on Twitter at least. I'd love to know a singel progressive position he holds. Seems like American thinkers aren't "in the club" anyway. Weird stuff. 

ngilmour
ngilmour

 @trippfuller  @Sean Patrick And to be fair, over at CHB we've got Michial Farmer, who ran his college's radio station as an undergrad, so from day one sound quality just wasn't a variable.  We've got it good that way.

danhauge
danhauge

 @trippfuller  @Sean Patrick  @ngilmour I liked the efforts to pump up the volume a bit, but yeah, maybe just a little bit overmuch. Somewhere in between will hit the sweet spot :). Great discussion, btw.

taddelay
taddelay

@trippfuller if you really want it, I can start recording the rest of classes.

tonydhunt
tonydhunt

 @BoEberle In its broadest I take it to be a broadly catholic way of critically engaging contemporary thought and culture, taking classical orthodoxies as a starting point, even if those same orthodoxies may need to be rearticulated and "non-identically repeated."

 

I do disagree with the Theology Geeks that it's not "postmodern." All the thinkers I know are explicitly anti-foundationalist, concerned with hermeneutics, language, and phenomenology.

 

I was genuine, though, when I asked what the "central tenants" of RO are. I honestly have no idea what you mean or what sources/authors you're thinking about.

BoEberle
BoEberle

 @tonydhunt I'm trying not to box you in here... rather than me telling you what RO is, wouldnt it make more sense for you to say what you meant originally by a particular "sensibility?" I'm only a jerk in comment sections, I promise! 

tonydhunt
tonydhunt

 @BoEberle Yes I know about the objective/subjective violence differential in Zizek. I read your thread on Tony Jones's blog about this topic -- which, of course, leaves me even more disinclined to seriously engage you.

tonydhunt
tonydhunt

 @BoEberle What are the central tenants of RO? And where are they located?

BoEberle
BoEberle

 @tonydhunt I am sincerely sorry for my tone. I get excited about arguing about this stuff! This might be an appropriate time to point out as well that if you hold a position that is objectively oppressive, you may not necessarily be a "fuckwad" yourself on a more subjective level. I'm an evil, evil man, for example, just by virtue of the capitalism I implicitly buy into when i shop at H&M or Apple. I don't "hate" Asian factory workers on a subjective level, but at the objective level of how my money acts once its out of my wallet, I am indeed participating in a kind of hate toward them. It is very possible not to "hate" the poor and be Radical Orthodox, but when an "objective" material analysis is done, like one might do in the UK with how Milbank and Blond helped mess up the school systems, one can see how though no "hate" was felt, material hate was indeed distributed though the position itself. So, yes, I think I am indeed open to hearing a way in which one could hold to the central tenets of RO and not by implication participate in the objective subjugation of others.

tonydhunt
tonydhunt

 @BoEberle "No really, I wanna know how you're not a nostalgic medievalist woman-hating, queer-hating, poor-hating fuckwad! I'm open!"

BoEberle
BoEberle

 @tonydhunt I'm sorry I'm sorry! I didn't want to sum YOU up, in fact I'm interested if you have a unique perspective that utilizes the movement in a novel way! You can other all over the place, and by all means! 

tonydhunt
tonydhunt

 @BoEberle I don't engage with aggressive know-it-alls who have already summed me up. There's not space for otherness there. 

BoEberle
BoEberle

 @tonydhunt Sorry to be a bit of a hyperbolic ass,  but I just don't understand how you can jive with the sensibility of a movement and divorce it from its political and social consequences! 

ngilmour
ngilmour

 @BoSanders  @trippfuller  @BoEberle My apologies, Bo.  I listened to that part of the episode on the work in the morning, then the rest of the show on the way home, then didn't comment until late last night.  I should learn not to trust my own memory. ;)

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @ngilmour  @trippfuller  @BoEberle  I was actauly quoting James KA Smith in his entry to the Global Dictionary of Theology about Hauerwaus being an important conversation partner in the US before the 1999 release of the famous book.  

 

The second time I brought him up was later when we were talking about similarities between the two camps.