Tag Archives: John Milbank

John Milbank's Use Of Patristic Theology: An Observation

I am over a quarter of a ways finished reading with Milbank’s Theology And Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason. In seminary, I was warned not to read John Milbank’s work because the professor informed me that it would be too “dense” for my liking. I call bunk! I think through all the name dropping that Milbank does, he makes it quite clear what his project exactly is about, something I will blog on later, but for now, I leave you with this observation:

In the opening chapters of this work, Milbank very briefly highlights Logos Christology, and how important it was for early Christians in their view of how the world was organized. Milbank somehow manages to do this without citing any of Eastern Fathers (who have a differing view on the function of the Logos). Eusebian-Arian Christianity (a proto-liberal protestantism!), rejecting Trinitarian thought in favor of a view where the Logos is the unadulterated executive power of coercion from God (page 56). This view of God’s sovereignty gets transferred over the centuries to the power of the Western individual who wields the power of self-control, and therefore the potential for domination over others. The “liberal protestant metanarrative” as Milbank calls it sees Judaism as the predecessor to liberal protestantism, and an anti-thesis to Roman Catholic ritualism and mystery. Milbank correctly points to the problem of Orientalism and the Western gaze in this regard, but he does not turn this critque on himself, or his use of Augustine. “In Augustine for example, the background of anthropological persona is Christological and trinitarian rather than jurisprudential, so that he stresses the concrete, specific unity of the person, including both soul and body, a situated unity like the unity of God and man which occurs in the specific divine personhood of Christ–inseparable from its relationship to the Father and the Holy Spirit” (96). Milbank is citing Drobner’s Persone-Exegese und Christologie bei Augustinus (1986).

This view of personhood however, still gets trapped in the Gentile nation-building project (witness Milbank’s latest proposals about military schools for the poor, etc). The uncritical use of Augustine in this case permits RadOx theologians to ignore his anti-Jewish allegorical interpretation of Scripture. Milbank, in the end, is arguing against Western triumphalism for the sake of promoting Western Triumphalism. Some of the Eastern Fathers (yes, Clement of Alexandria for example), freely engaged in dialogue with their Jewish contemporaries who viewed the Logos as YHWH’s creative agency. Because these thinkers understood that the Gentiles had been engrafted into the covenant, rather than replacing God’s people, the Eastern church saw Christianity as a religion of peace and reconciliation.

Good News: Starting Next Month, The Patristics Carnival Is Back!

In October of 2009, I hosted Patristics Carnival XXVIII.

It has been almost three years since the last Patristics Carnival was held (I believe that would be Joel hosting Patristics Carnival XXXI, and I feel like the Biblioblog Carnivals just do not cover Patristics as much as I would like. Therefore, I volunteer to host Patristics Carnival XXXII and XXXIII for the months of February and March 2013.

I will go by Phil’s original format in his proposal from 2006: Modest Proposal: Patristic Carnival:

” A. Eligibility
Any blog entry dealing with an aspect of Patristics included, but not limited
to textual studies of a patristic writer, translations of the patristic
writer, historical research on the patristic period, reflections on the
connections of the Church Fathers to today, influence of patristic authors in
theological writing (I’m sure there are more categories possible, so, the
rule is submit or ask and we’ll figure it out as we go.)The final
determination of the eligibility of a post must rest with the host (I propose
to do the hosting first)
Amendment- November 12th [2006] add discussion of Christian Apocrypha”

In this carnival, posts on historical theology prior to the Catholic and Protestant Reformations, articles on these topics, new developments and news, book reviews will all be eligible for this carnival.

I will have a call for submissions next week with maybe even a similar banner to the first Patristic Carnivals. To submit nominations for the carnival, please comment on this post, the forthcoming post calling for submissions, email the carnival at PATRISTICSCARNIVAL [A] HOTMAIL.COM, or send a message to the Political Jesus Facebook Page.

If you are interested in being a host for the Patristics Carnival in the future, please contact me through the above means mentioned.

If you are wondering how to get started on doing Patristics/Matristics/Patrology/Early Christian studies, I would suggest starting at Principles for Patristics by the Patristics and Philosophy blog.

Lastly, if you are interested, a friend and I are reading John Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory in February. Relevant because Milbank stresses the importance of Augustine and the Medieval Church for today’s world. We have a reading group on Facebook. Contact me if you are interested.

Ranking, Theological Studies, and Racial Hierarchy: Some A-Musings #SBLAAR

Recently, I keep thinking whether to be saddened or happy that I did not have the means to go to the American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature. Why would I enter a space where my body because of the color of my skin is not welcome?

Let me start here. I have to wonder how can Christianity stand as it is here in the United States when its leading magazine, Christianity Today, saves a space for Neo-Confederate racists like Doug Wilson. Do we really believe that outsiders will take your community seriously in a culturally pluralistic society like ours? Let’s ask Mitt Romney for his thoughts! I think the problem is much more deeper than simply permitting a racist to write for your top magazine in the name of “tolerance.” The problem of race and theology is the one of the closed theological canon, and here, no I am not talking about the Bible, (but of course, we always can if you want!).

What I am referring to is the ever perpetual push by privileged white Protestant men to always want to go back to Saint Augustine without addressing any of the problems surrounding his bad interpretation of Scripture (Judges and Romans in particular) and his anti-Jewish statements (ironically, but always condemning Martin Luther for his!). I think this uncritical reclamation project is part of an on-going and unnecessary cycle in Christianity called Euro-centrism. One of the plethora of examples comes from seemingly innocent suggestions like from Stephen C Barton, Complementarianism and Darwinism at The Jesus Creed who “contends we need to read the Bible with Augustine and Barth, that is, both christologically and eschatologically.” Of course, Barton is in pronouncing nothing new, it’s the run of the mill post-liberal, radically orthodox argument. However, just exactly, who’s Augustine will we be reading with? Who’s Barth will we be reading with? These men are not alive to dialogue with us about their great writings, they have interpreters, and it is their circle of interpreters that has remained closed, and thus the canon. In fact, one must ask does the work of one James Hal Cone and his interpretation of Karl Barth (see Black Theology and Black Power), will his interpretation of Barth be included?

Also, if I exclude any argument from marginality in terms of race here, why do Barth and Augustine have to be the ones we return to (aside from Jesus Christ) when it comes to theology? Why not Clement of Alexandria? Irenaeus of Lyons? Do not Augustine & Barth lend themselves to particular theological biases? Call me crazy, but in the end, the RadOx and postliberalism movements are just lending themselves to being just another (maybe a more mainline, moderate?) wing of the Neo-Calvinist movement, where Calvin and Augustine, and then occasionally Barth are at the top theologically; that is, their interpretation of Scripture is viewed as also necessary for every Christian. Closed canons. Closed to bodies of color. Closed to women.

Indeed how we rank theology programs and theologians do more to tell us what bodies you value more than tell us the worth of any institution. Take R.R. Reno’s ranking of the top theological institutions: it is conceded that Duke Divinity School has the best of what the mainline has to offer, with “postliberal conviction.” Reno seems to betray his criteria, Duke is mainline but it is also orthodox, which is quite confusing for me, because isn’t evangelicalism supposed to be the space of orthodoxy? When it comes to prioritizing the hierarchy of theologians (re: bodies), and the closed space of the theological canon, what matters is not so called “doctrinal orthodoxy” but that space which is closest to what you want to deem ideal culturally. In short, making the white ambiguous, hegemonic CHURCH the answer to the world’s problems (postliberal Christianity) has more similarities to conservative evangelical’s dominionism, the idea of a “Christian” domination system.

It’s rather curious that a site/publication dedicated to just war theory and conservativism would praise Hauerwas and Hays, two outspoken pacifists, but it’s not about doctrine. Like the postliberalism that is now the supposed new orthodoxy, it’s about shared culture and linguistics, a reactionary social apologetic in the name of “tradition”. Yes, I have read George Lindbeck’s The Nature Of Doctrine, but have you read any criticism of his work? Cultural hegemony is prized over and against teaching (truth as propositional): the reign of cultural orthodoxy! And a return to Augustine (read:traditional white interpretations of Augustine of Hippo) and Karl Barth (read: traditional and newer white appropriations of Karl Barth’s Theology of the Word). While postliberalism claimed to call itself a different creature than either liberal or conservative, I think things like John Milbank’s email declaring Radical Orthodoxy to be the New Face of Historic Orthodoxy or Theology Studio’s uncritical assessment of Reno’s list put U.S. postliberalism/U.K. radical orthodoxy squarely on the right IMNSHO. Nothing wrong with being conservative, but being dishonest about your political and theological biases are!

Oh to not have to talk about race! Maybe if I bleach my skin and start talking about how THE CHURCH is the end all, be all of everything, then people will start listening to me more? Am I right?