Tag Archives: Radical Orthodoxy

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?

John Milbank on Traditional Marriage, Sexuality, and Late Capitalism

Professor John Milbank

Radical Orthodoxy theologian John Milbank makes some interesting observations of capitalism in his latest contribution to “Religion and Ethics.” I have been thinking along these same lines, especially his insights about young girls as both the consumer and victim of late capitalism.

“Moreover, there are crucial negative testimonies to its persistence. It would seem that when it is denied that a woman’s body or biology has any psychic correlate, that then her purely physical difference gets vastly over-accentuated and exploited. Thus children are increasingly differentiated by gender to a ludicrous degree in terms, for example, of every item intended for little girls being coloured pink and the ever-younger adoption of sexualised clothes and make-up by adolescent and pre-pubescent girls.

Indeed, it has been plausibly argued that the “young girl” is now at once the prime commodity and the prime consumer of late capitalism. Is it an accident that the according of only “human” rights to women coincides with a new phase in their degradation?”

Oh, and I like this promotion of stay-at-home dads:

“This conclusion is by no means simply traditional since it rejects the patriarchalism that puts men naturally on top. Instead, it newly implies that just as we need men in the home, so we need women in politics, business, the arts, academia and even the military. This prospect belongs to a radical as opposed to a liberal feminism, because it suggests that a new public role of women can truly make a difference.”

I would recommend you read the rest:

John Milbank: Gay Marriage and the Future of Human Sexuality

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Racial Justice And Science Fiction: Introduction

Or Is Theology the Queen of Sciences?

The Best Science Fiction of the Year 4

I question whether there is not some equivocation in failing to specify the virtues which entitle sacred theology to the title of ‘queen’. It might deserve that name by reason of including everything that is learned from all the other sciences and establishing everything by better methods and with profounder learning …. Or theology might be queen because of being occupied with a subject which excels in dignity all the subjects which compose the other sciences, and because her teachings are divulged in more sublime ways. — Galileo’s Letter to the Grand Duchess Dowager (1615)


Today, there is a group of theologians who go by the Radical Orthodoxy project, led by John Milbank and his interpretation of the idea that “Theology is the Queen of the Sciences.” As such, what you get is an ecclesiology that has a huge need for linguistic gatekeepers, since only Christians are able to understand the language of Christianity, ala post-liberalism (at least my reading of it). Each Radical Orthodox book I have read has the same blueprint: engage in what seems to be scathing critique of some “secular” discipline and practice, say, economics, and then use the last chapter to talk about how THE CHURCH is the solution to the problem.

Obviously, this take on RO on a blog may seem polemical, and granted, I am capable of more complex and generous reading of RO theology, but the reason why I introduce RO at the start of my introduction to my series on Racial Justice and Science Fiction. The implications for RO/THE CHURCH theologies is that they are closed, anti-conversational, and more biased/less critical towards traditions that just are not liberating. If indeed the RO/THE CHURCH theologians are correct, what is the point of doing other disciplines for? And furthermore, where in history has THE CHURCH been the leading teacher for solving the world’s problems? It seems to me that RO/THE CHURCH Christian thinkers are way too utopian in their collective praise for Aquinas and company.

Take the literary genre of science fiction, for example. In Adam Roberts’ Palgrave History of Science Fiction, Roberts’ argues that the emergence of Science Fiction happens in part to the Protestant Reformation. Much of the ways of knowing the world (epistemology) that the Reformers promoted was a PROTEST (zing!) against things like Geocentrism and Sacramentalism (according to Roberts), and in Roberts’ words, “Catholic fantasy.” I reject Roberts’ binary (read: Anti-Catholicism) but his argument has some merit. There cannot be science fiction prior to the birth of the scientific worldview. One could say then that Science Fiction, from the beginning was a theological, and continues to be a theological enterprise from its very inception. No, I am not saying that all science fiction works make a case for God or Higher Being of some sort, but what I am contending is that Science Fiction writings, plays, and movies have always reflected our (humanity’s) ultimate concerns.

If theology is seen as a closed conversation, since she is viewed at the top of the pyramid (ala Milbank), then prophetic critiques from the “outside” “secular” voices hold no weight. However, if theology is viewed in a non-hierarchal and conversational manner, then maybe perhaps the “secular” becomes a very integral part of the life of “THE CHURCH.” After all, the body of Christ is to be a community of the Word, which in Scripture, usually means a dialogue, and covenant, which eventually means a quest for justice.

This leads me to this series on Racial Justice and Science Fiction. Sometimes, theologians find the strangest of allies, but when it comes to advocates for racial justice and critical race theorists, perhaps this pairing is a bit too odd. Make no mistake this series will not be a dismantling of any science fiction texts on the level of my and Adam’s take on William P. Young’s The Shack (even though that is a possibility). Instead I have decided to take a random sampling of some of my favorite science fiction writings to share with the audience, and give examples have these texts can “make it plain” to folks what antiracism looks like, and in so doing, opening up the possibility for people to dream, and then work for racial justice, like that great Trekkie, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Texts/Authors included are:

Olaf Stapledon’s The Last and First Men

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World

C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy (special focus on Perelandra–the 2nd piece)

Octavia Butler’s Kindred

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