Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Reformed Radical Orthodoxy: Towards Theological Philosophy

Wikiklesia editor John La Grou was very kind about yesterday's introduction to Radical Orthodoxy, reflecting on the "secular" as 'the language of defeat - an admission of blindness to the unseen realities constantly at work in and around us.' But not only this - the "secular" is an idol, a constructed sphere outside, beyond, above, God.

Now, onto Reformed Radical Orthodoxy...

Alongside this presentation of the key issues and themes within Radical Orthodoxy, James K.A. Smith (2004) introduces the Reformed Tradition in both support and critique of RO. At times, he suggests areas in which RO is in need of being Reformed; at others, Radical Orthodoxy is used to push the Reformed Tradition further. This ‘reformed rendition’ of Radical Orthodoxy (80) is the product of bringing RO claims into ‘critical dialogue’ with Herman Dooyeweerd in particular (155), in whose work Smith recognises possibilities for both the confirmation and development of Radical Orthodoxy. Here, RO, specifically John Milbank, is seen to be reductionist in its analysis and rejection of disciplines such as philosophy. Smith argues that Dooyeweerd can be utilised to clarify the RO critique of philosophy.

Smith argues that Milbank’s critique of the autonomy of philosophy which entails a rejection of this discipline and the formulation of ‘a theological account of what it is to be and know in general’ (Milbank, 1999:22), reduces philosophy as an activity in itself to the particularly autonomous form that philosophy has taken and continues to take.

Milbank can be said to thus create a false dichotomy: ‘It is indeed for radical orthodoxy an either/or: philosophy (Western or Eastern) as a purely autonomous discipline, or theology: Herod or the magi, Pilate or the God-man’ (Milbank, 1999:32).

But, as Smith questions, ‘does not such a conclusion and program confuse a contingent mode of philosophical orientation with the possibilities of an alternative mode of philosophical research? In other words, isn’t Milbank confusing the particular direction (Western) philosophy has taken with the structure of philosophical investigation as such? Could we not entertain the possibility of “a Christian philosophy, ruled and reformed by the central biblical motive” (ITWT, 107) – and as “ruled” obviously not autonomous?’ (155, citing Dooyeweerd, 1999:107).

Smith argues that this conflation of philosophy-as-such with autonomous philosophy, and the subsequent antithesis between philosophy-as-such and theology and the resulting rejection of the former, is a consequence of the ambiguous treatment of the Fall within Radical Orthodoxy (165). Smith uses Leibniz to construct a 'creational ontology' to augment the 'participatory ontology' of Radical Orthodoxy (204-229). Drawing attention to Leibniz's understanding of the 'creational structures' which inhere every created thing to enable self-sufficiency and dependence, and his recognition of the referential nature of these structures - 'a structure of "referring and expressing" that points to an origin' (220). Thus, creation has its telos in God. For Smith, the Fall is understood as the occasion for the distortion and misdirection of these creational structures. Postlapsarian creation retains the referential structures of its “good” creation (Genesis 1:31), but now these structures can be either directed towards God or away from God. Redemption, then, is understood as the redirection of these structures towards the Creator, ‘to the creational telos of humanity: the Triune God’ (253).

Smith’s reformed rendition of RO’s participatory ontology towards a creational ontology, can now be related to his analysis of Milbank’s rejection of philosophy (and other disciplines) as reductionist. He writes, ‘it is important to distinguish between the creational structure and the postlapsarian direction that structure can take and has taken’ (255). Further, it is important to recognise the possibility of Redemption, of constituting the direction of Fallen realities such as autonomous philosophy as otherwise than they are currently. Redemption is the redirection of the creational structures to their ‘creational aim by the Word, who came to heal’ (245). Thus, autonomous philosophy is not rejected and replaced with theology (for this would be to make an idol of one of the created disciplines over the others), but rather its creational structures, which are inherently good, are redirected towards their Creator, forming what RO might call theological philosophy.

Smith, following Dooyeweerd, prefers to talk of confessional philosophy. Smith presents Dooyeweerd's 'unique ontology' (171), wherein creation is structured by ‘multiple aspects or modes that inhere in every created thing’ (171). Each aspect has a corresponding theoretical discipline, for example, mathematics is the discipline which theorizes the numeric aspect, economics is the discipline which theorizes the economic aspect, ethics is the discipline which theorizes the moral aspect, and so on. Philosophy, however, is somewhat different to the other disciplines, as its object of study is not one particular aspect of reality but rather the relational interactions of the aspects, as well as reflecting on epistemology and ontology (Dooyeweerd, 1999:9). However, this does not licence the autonomy of philosophy, because, for Dooyeweerd, each discipline is rooted in particular religious commitments or ground-motivations, ‘either the radical biblical ground-motive or one of any number of “apostate” ground-motives’ (172). For a Christian, then, each of these disciplines must be grounded in Christianity’s ‘central spiritual motive power,’ the ‘radical and central biblical theme of creation, fall into sin and redemption by Jesus Christ as the incarnate Word of God, in the communion of the Holy Spirit’ (Dooyeweerd, 1999:30).

And this includes philosophy. Rather than crown the discipline of theology queen, as Milbank seems to when calling for 'theology alone' (Milbank 1990:6) - which would amount to the idolatrous elevation of one created aspect and its discipline above all the others - ‘Dooyeweerd and the Reformed tradition, therefore, would call for, not a theological resituating of the disciplines but rather a confessional framework for all the disciplines’ (173). This reforming of RO results in a clarification of the call for theological philosophy, or sociology, or whatever discipline, by articulating it as a call for disciplines rooted in the Christian confession. ‘In the end, this is perhaps what RO is really after: an account of the multiple aspects of being-in-the-world that is rooted in God’s self-revelation in Christ’ (174).
[update 27/11/07 10.34am: just found this mp3 from a CBC broadcast. Thanks to sacra doctrina for the link]

No comments: