In defence of Radical Orthodoxy
Posted: 02 Nov 2006 @ 00:00
From the Revd Dr Andrew Davison, the Revd Matt Bullimore, the Revd Dr
John Hughes, and the Revd Dr Jeffrey Bishop
Sir, — Having arrived back to our respective ministries from the
conference on transcendence and phenomenology at the new Centre for Philosophy
and Theology at Nottingham University, we were dismayed by the ungenerous and
erroneous account of Radical Orthodoxy offered by the Revd Dr Hugh
("It’s time for the liberals to get radical, too", 2 September).
As younger theologians also engaged in ministry, we find Radical Orthodoxy
to be a lively and relevant way of doing theology, however intellectually
demanding it might seem to some; after all, the world is complex.
The claim that Professor John Milbank and his associates are "parochial" is
extraordinary. This remarkably Anglican theologian has forged links with Roman
Catholics (the Centre was opened by a Roman Catholic bishop), the Orthodox
tradition (the subject of an upcoming conference between Radical Orthodoxy and
the Orthodox tradition of Christianity), the Reformed tradition, and many
The conference itself staged conversations between theologians and
philosophers interested in phenomenology — a philosophy concerned with how the
world, and things in the world, appear and give themselves to us or, better,
are given to us, and thus how we live together in the world.
The contributors included people from 14 nations, of many different faiths
and none. Contrary to Dr Rayment-Pickard’s assertions, Radical Orthodoxy is not
a narrow or parochial theological movement.
So what is at the heart of Dr Rayment-Pickard’s critique — a critique that
betrays the fear that all liberals have of Radical Orthodoxy?
Radical Orthodoxy is not the only theology to suppose it a bad thing to
sacrifice ourselves and our communities to market forces and capitalist
excesses. Indeed, capitalism itself is a product of the philosophy called
liberalism. There are thus conservative liberals (the right wing in political
economy) and there are liberal liberals (the left-wing in political economy).
Conservative liberals and liberal liberals are indeed the inverted and
mirror image of each other, both more committed to the philosophy of liberalism
than they are to Christianity, and thus are intolerant of each other; for both
are fighting for the soul of liberalism.
Radical Orthodoxy threatens both conservative and liberal liberals precisely
because it questions the foundations of liberalism.
Radical Orthodoxy undermines the so-called secular, whose grounds it finds
to be the shifting sands of liberalism. Yet the criticism of the so-called
secular is not a call for fundamentalism. Professor Milbank is the theologian
of our age par excellence, who has denied the existence of a nature
separate from grace. The value of the world as God’s creation is a thread
running though everything that Professor Milbank writes.
Liberalism just cannot account for this value, and thus cannot adequately
articulate a theology of justice. We believe that the graced nature of God’s
creation can more adequately articulate a theology of justice than can
Despite what Dr Rayment-Pickard uncharitably asserts, the theologians
associated with Radical Orthodoxy do not suppose themselves to be "the
salvation . . . of the world". Radical Orthodoxy supposes Christ to be the
salvation of the world. And, if we believe the Creed to be true, then the whole
of creation is the subject-matter of Christian theology.
Radical Orthodoxy thus does not lack charity or humility. It just
unapologetically articulates the Christian faith, threatening the voice of
Andrew Davison, Matt Bullimore, John Hughes, Jeffrey Bishop
[c/o Dr Bishop, Peninsula Medical School, Royal Cornwall Hospital, Truro,
Cornwall TR1 3HD]
From the Revd Dr Kenneth Leech
Sir, — Unlike the Revd Dr Jeremy
9 September), I found the Revd Dr Hugh Rayment-Pickard’s critique of
Radical Orthodoxy helpful, though I do not share his enthusiasm for liberal
To describe Dr Rayment-Pickard as having a "problem" (don’t we all have
problems?), to call his quotations "selective" (all quotations are, by
definition, selective, or they would not be quotations but reprints), and to
refer to "extraordinary hostility" (there was nothing extraordinary about his
article, and, had it not been hostile, he presumably would not have written it)
can only undermine the potential for thoughtful debate.
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