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Transformation Theology and Radical Orthodoxy

Transformation Theology and Radical Orthodoxy

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Published by Oliver Davies

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Oliver Davies on Apr 24, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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One of the many strengths of Radical Orthodoxy is the identification of itself in its ownnarration of our common theological and intellectual history. That narrative is wellknown. It understands for instance the roots of modern secularism to lie in fact intheological territory and so to be re-graspable as a deviation from its own theologicalnorms. Radical Orthodoxy can then take itself to be the corrective to a nihilisticmodernity. But in order to do this well, it has to show that it itself properly
tomodernity, and does so in fact pre-eminently. Radical Orthodoxy achieves this by arguingthat the turn to the sign which signals the advent of modernity is itself first brought aboutin theological circles. It is itself the product of revelation: Christ himself is in fact pre-eminently
. The claim to the pre-eminence of theology within secular modernity,where theology is itself the source of the turn to the sign which defines that modernity,necessarily leads to a marked emphasis on the re-narration of secular modernity
 theology. Radical Orthodoxy is that re-narration, and its rationale lies in its ownconviction that it can out-narrate the secular modernists. In its imaginativeness, insightsand perhaps brilliance, Christian orthodoxy as re-narration of history
outperform allother narratives. It must persuade in the way that the true, the beautiful and the good persuade and as they have enchanted souls and won them over throughout the passage ohistory.Transformation theology shares with Radical Orthodoxy the understanding thatTheology is an historical discourse, albeit one which has an intrinsic orientation to atranscendent source. Theology seeks to think history and transcendence at one and thesame time: each in the light of the other. But TT and RO do so, of course, in quitedifferent ways.The difference becomes clear when we ask ourselves: where is the
of thetranscendence? RO will answer this: in the narrative and in the capacity of giftedtheologians to grasp and incarnate that transcendence within the cultural sign. Theologyhere becomes iconic: permeated by transcendence, effulgent. Its capacity to
isgrounded precisely in this grace-filled power of signification.
Where then is transcendence for Transformation Theologians? Not in thenarrative certainly, but rather in history. This is not history as narrative, but history as thatwhich is narrated: the place of cause and effect. What happens. Meaning is alreadyconstituted in what happens in a way that precedes its narration. Nothing can happenwithout its own meaningfulness. That is the meaningfulness of cause and effect whichscience from its own perspective can track and understand. The world already hasmeaning prior to its reception by human mind and culture: prior to its becoming sign inthis human sense.History therefore for the Transformation Theologian is always ultimately aChristological term. The consummate transformational and so also historical happening isthe free death of Jesus for us as his total self-offering to God for the sake of the world.God chooses this moment to be the re-origination of the world. Christian faith is thesharing in and living in that Christological re-origination of how things are. It isinescapably beyond narration and re-narration therefore. It is consummately in
asembodied human being given over at our foundation to material process and materialform. The transformation that grounds Christian faith is first and foremost not in the mind(even the mind of the theologian) therefore but first and foremost in life in the world aswe experience it: drab, mundane and everyday perhaps. Or eruptive, disruptive andtransformational. It is grasped in the grace of the moment and in the life of the Spirit inthe everyday, to which our narratives, sacraments and Church order must constantly bringus back.SUMMARYHow can we summarise the differences then between Transformation Theology andRadical Orthodoxy, between which there is nevertheless a family resemblance in theconcern with both radicality and the orthodox.
The emphasis in TT is on the power of orthodoxy (and particularlyChristological orthodoxy in the renewed reception of the exaltation of Christ)to
us. This is ultimately the power of Christ himself, through the Spirit,
to change us. It is not we who change ourselves. It is not the narrative as suchthat changes us.
Change happens primarily in
and not primarily in thought. It happens inour everyday embodied interactions with others and in our primarycommunities.
We ask ourselves what we have done in the act. It is not the product of narrative (though it is informed by it), but is rather the place of our radicalfreedom before Christ and before ourselves in the light of Christ. It is the pointat which, for the Christian, we are radically set free to choose Christ or not.The narrative presents us with that option, but does not decide the issue. Theissue is decided by our own embrace of our freedom
Christ, by grace and bythe power of the Holy Spirit. Neither grace nor the Spirit are first and foremostnarrated realities. They are firstly rather the real manifestations of history inChrist, or of Christ
the living form of history, which themselves ground thenarrative. They are not ‘in’ the narrative at all therefore; rather the narrative isin them.
The role of theology here then is to be in service to the true source of Christianmeaning, which is the life of discipleship as faith lived out in the dailyrepeated unity of belief and act. It is here that Christians encounter the livingChrist as the meaning of the world: as the ground and goal of history (and soalso of your history and mine). We need to think as theologians as creatively,critically and perceptively as we can about that source of meaning where theChristian finds that she lives both in the world and ‘in’ Christ: both in Christ,through the Holy Spirit, and ‘in’ the world. The theologian needs to learn tothink, closely with others, as someone who is transformatively ‘underway’, inthe power of God and under the power of the world simultaneously. Thetheologian needs to learn to think in ways that ‘orientate’ the Church to those‘crowded spaces’ of power and powerlessness and of spiritual transformationof life through engaged embodied acts. But the theologian needs to do so in away that is distinctively doctrinal and Trinitarian, facilitating our Christian

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