February 7, 2005

Starting Milbank

Category: Theology :: Permalink

I’m starting to read John Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory. I know that Milbank was Peter Leithart‘s doctoral advisor and was one of the major influences behind Leithart’s brilliant Against Christianity, and so I decided that one of my major projects this year would be to tackle his magnum opus.

Remembering Joel Garver‘s advice on reading Milbank, I purchased some Glenfiddich in the hopes that it would help. I’m not sure it does. It just makes me sleepy.

Milbank is a profound writer, but I can’t say that he’s a good writer. Every page is a struggle. Milbank often seems to assume that his readers are fluent in Latin and well versed in the history of philosophy, theology, political science, and sociology. Alas, I’m not. To top it off, Milbank’s writing style is exceptionally dense, worse even than that of Cornelius Van Til.

Still, I do believe it will be worthwhile for me to work my way (however painfully) through this volume, not only because difficult volumes stretch you as a reader and thinker, but also because I think Milbank has much to offer. I was delighted to discover that I understood his first page. Here’s a quotation from it for you:

The pathos of modern theology is its false humility. For theology, this must be a fatal disease, because once theology surrenders its claim to be a metadiscourse, it cannot any longer articulate the word of the creator God, but is bound to turn into the oracular voice of some finite idol, such as historical scholarship, humanist psychology, or transcendental philosophy. If theology no longer seeks to position, qualify or criticize other discourses, then it is inevitable that these discourses will position theology: for the necessity of an ultimate organizing logic … cannot be wished away. A theology “positioned” by secular reason suffers two characteristic forms of confinement. Either it idolatrously connects knowledge of God with some particular immanent field of knowledge — “ultimate” cosmological causes, or “ultimate” psychological and subjective needs. Or else it is confined to intimations of a sublimity beyond representation, so functioning to confirm negatively the questionable idea of an autonomous secular realm, completely transparent to rational understanding. — Theology and Social Theory 1.

Posted by John Barach @ 5:34 pm | Discuss (0)

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