Gospel is Politics (again)

Graham Ward concludes his Cities of God with this paragraph:

We constitute and continue to prepare for what the Psalmist in Psalm 107 calls a “city of habitation.” The city of habitation gathers out of every land, receives those spirits who have sunk, rescues the troubled from their distress, satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. We make visible a theological statement about embodied redemption. The body on the street of [Austin] accuses me, calls out, not like the blood of Abel, for vengeance, but like the blood of Christ for justice, for a new relationality. Alone I have no answer to give to my accuser. I cannot begin to conceive how I alone can change the economic, the political and the cultural promotion of social atomism. And I am as seduced by the next person by the bright new goods in the tastefully lit windows — the calls to how I should look, should dress, should accumulate, should spend, should protect my own best interests. The theologian’s task cannot be one which provides the solutions. The matrices of power — economic, cultural, and historical — that brought about and continue to produce alienation, solipsism, incommensurate and unequal differences, are complex. The theologian’s task is to keep alive the vision of better things — of justice, salvation, and the common good — and work to clarify the world-view conducive to the promotion of those things. As such, the theologian prophesies, amplifying the voice of the accuser. But the theologian is also mother, brother, friend, lover, son, child, church member, neighbor, cousin, taxpayer, resident, colleague. Alone I have no answer to give to my accuser, and because of his or her own silence, his or her own degradation, then I can pass by and, muttering an apology, pat my pockets of loose change. But something in me dies with such a denial. And so I must find a way not to be alone before that accusation. I must find a way of not being paralysed by the accusation, and frozen into the condition of being permanently accused. I must speak. I must respond. I must not be afraid of the differences. And I must find a way of joining with those who are also ashamed. There is the beginning: the reappropriation of analogical relations, the delineation of a theological cosmology, the constitution of cities of God, the recognition that I only belong to myself insofar as I belong to everyone else — insofar as I have been given to this situation, in this context, with these questions, and this task saeculum saeculorum. Given, thank God, by God, in God, suspended….

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Postmodern Critical Augustinianism

My notes from John Milbank’s “Postmodern, Critical Augustinianism,” found in his The Future of Love: Essays in Political Theology (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2009).

  1. Christian Theology is no more justifiable, no more rationally vindicated, than any other narrative or system. Thus theology is in full agreement with intellectual postmodernism, which is about a “thoroughgoing perspectival historicism” which sees all perspectives as “a strategy of power.”
  2. Note: “thoroughgoing perspectival historicism,” with which Milbank agrees, also relativizes all modern science, and all historical criticism (as someone like Dale Martin is quick to point out).
  3. So is this undecideability all that can be posited? Not quite: the difference between the nihilism implied by infinite, equally valid perspectives and Christian theology (which always lives the possibility of achieving an internal suspicion of “notions of definably fixed essences in its approaches to human beings, to nature, to community, and to God”) is that nihilism’s perspectival historicism necessarily enshrines conflict (Milbank’s “agonistics”), whereas Christian theology, rooted as it is in the practice and community of the church and in the Trinity, actually subsumes and incorporates difference. (Of course, in this way, the community of the church images the diverse community of Father, Son, and HS.)
  4. What makes this approach “Augustinian” for Milbank is the former’s analogy to music which we find in De Musica. Theology is “musical” in that the coordination of difference into a beautiful, harmonious whole. Also memory is key to music, since the various notes & parts only “work together” as we remember the notes & parts which give way to other notes & parts.
  5. What makes Christian theology interesting and perhaps different, however, is that it “can only be explicated by Christian liturgical practice:” “… The Christian God may no longer be thought of as first seen, but rather as a God first prayed to, first imagined, first inspiring certain actions….”
  6. Therefore, the only ultimate “foundation” for Christianity is (the liturgical practice of) its community, the church.
  7. Other than this, there is absolutely no superior validity or justification for Christianity, given modernity’s understanding of rationality.

Conclusions:

  1. Gospel is politics.
  2. Christian practice is prior to Christian theory.
  3. Any attempt to ground Christian theology (over and against any other perspective) which loses sight of 1 & 2 is doomed to fail from the start.
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