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Comment > Letters to the editor >

In defence of Radical Orthodoxy

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 Rayment-Pickard ("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 Jewish thinkers.

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 liberalism.

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 liberalism.
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 Morris ( 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 theology.

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.
KENNETH LEECH
89 Manchester Road, Mossley
Ashton-Under-Lyne OL5 9LZ

 

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