Andrew Fulford Archive Authors Nota Bene

Wayne Hankey on Radical Orthodoxy

Dr. Wayne Hankey, Professor of Classics, has written some significant work critiquing Radical Orthodoxy; much of it, I have recently discovered, is available online for free. Two noteworthy resources:

Deconstructing Radical Orthodoxy: Postmodern Theology, Rhetoric and Truth, edited by Wayne J. Hankey and Douglas Hedley (Aldershot, England: Ashgate Press, 2005).

“‘Poets tell many a Lie’: Radical Orthodoxy’s Poetic Histories,” a lecture for the Christianity And Literature Study Group Plenary Session with the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association in May 2003, published in the Canadian Evangelical Review: Journal of the Canadian Evangelical Theological Society 26-27 (Spring 2004): 35-64.

From the latter:

Radical Orthodoxy moves back and forth between two poles. On the one side, there is a use of the resources of modern critical history which frees it from its self-consciously Anglican traditions in order to establish new authorities, new readings, and to confute its adversaries. On the other side, there are elementary, sloppy misunderstandings, and polemical, grossly selective misrepresentations. If this did nothing more than reflect the long-standing ignorance of the history of philosophy and theology in the English-speaking world, and especially in the places where Radical Orthodoxy was born, it might escape the suspicion of a nihilistic cynicism. However, what recommends this movement is precisely its French historical and philosophical sophistication. Its self-conscious refusal of truthfulness prevents the disciplines which activity within the modern scholarly tradition requires.

The other aspect of the poetic lying has to do with the content. As just said, crucial elements in the story are either elementary and sloppy misunderstandings, or polemical, grossly selective misrepresentations. To make a list would be take too long. I shall only remind you of some “tall tales” we have encountered. The Pre-Socratics did not “forget Being” and their philosophy was the very opposite of “an attempt to regard a cosmos independently of a performed reception of the poetic word.” In Aristotle neither can the moving and the sensate be conflated, nor can the flesh and the soul. Neither Plato nor pagan Neoplatonists, nor yet Christian ones, surrendered the claims of philosophy to know the truth in order to give place to myth and revelation. The self-reflexive and self-certain Augustinian cogito is not lost in cosmic liturgy. For Augustine, the self-certainty of our existence as reasoning life remains essential to us, belonging to the nature of immortal mind, even when our being, understanding and loving are directed to God, and act in and by God’s own trinitarian life. In Milbank and Pickstock the Cartesian cogito is falsely characterised in order to make the contrast with Augustine sharper than it is, and the self-reflexivity of the Augustinian mens is forgotten. Aquinas does not collapse metaphysics into revealed theology nor revert to an Augustinian intellectual intuition. My list includes none of the problematic characterisations of philosophy and theology from Kant to the present which would require more knowledge than mine to judge.

Radical Orthodoxy’s lying is necessary. We could call it “compulsive,” because the anti-modern character of its postmodernity require it. In fact, there is little postmodern about Radical Orthodoxy, if we mean by this a stance beyond the modern civil wars. Mostly we witness another version of reactionary Christian hatred and fear of Enlightenment reason. The truth about our past cannot be told from within this polemic.

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