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4.0 out of 5 stars
The Radical Orthodoxy Reader (Radical Orthodoxy (Paperback))
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on 3 September 2010
This volume is a genuinely interesting collection of book chapters and papers from a (let's face it) marginalised discourse. I found it bracing to read Christian theology with a bit of p*ss and vinegar, when the front of intelligent Christianity is usually feeble and conciliatory (a la Rowan Williams).

Radical Orthodoxy is basically a vision shared by a number of thinkers, which is usually taken to involve two main theses: that secular, liberal society is vacuous and intellectually incoherent, and that orthodox Christianity is the answer to modernity's ills. The volume follows this pattern with savage attacks on modernity coupled with loving riffs on the wisdom of Christian doctrine. Although such a brash manifesto might remind you of fundamentalist rhetoric, the vision is cashed out in very subtle arguments. Milbank's chapter from his book "Theology and Social Theory", for instance, offers a deconstruction of secularity, arguing that what presents itself as a neutral public space where religious differences are set aside is in fact anything but. It gets really interesting when Milbank makes connections between the texts at the intellectual roots of secularity and Christian doctrine (gone wrong). At one point he even says that the liberal man was first imagined in the image of a heterodox Christian God.

There are other excellent essays, my favourite is probably Catherine Pickstock's loving meditation on the eucharist taken from her "After Writing". Pickstock argues that the church's practice of the eucharist outwits both post-modern scepticism and reductive positivism; both the position that there is nothing behind appearances and that there is nothing but appearances. There is divinity behind the wafer and the wine, but it's not something you can see or pin down. Pickstock thinks that, in this way, the logic of the eucharist offers a way for language to have meaning.

I should also say that the essays are, for the most part, painfully difficult. This difficulty is for good and bad reasons. It is partly due to the subtlety of the arguments, but also just because of the style in which they are written. This is less true of Graham Ward, William Cavanaugh and to an extent Pickstock, but Milbank's essays are torture. Critics say Milbank is showing off to his postmodern buddies, but in his defence the problem is largely to his habit of cramming a new idea or two into every sentence.

In short, this volume shows interesting Christian theology is being written (yes, it is out there). If meditations on topics like the implications of invoking the eucharist for post-structural language theory interest you, then you'll find this book challenging and imaginative.
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