Ontotheology and Radical Orthodoxy

Through my recent reading of the writings of James KA Smith, I’ve gotten interested in learning about the Radical Orthodoxy (RO) movement. I remember hearing about this in seminary, and in a Barthian context like Princeton Seminary, RO is a dirty word. The reason for this is that RO is highly metaphysical, basing its theological reflection on a recovery of the Augustinian-Thomistic framework of God as the source of all being, and creaturely existence as participation in the gift of being. Reading any RO, the idea of participation, grounded in eternal relations of the Trinity, occurs again and again.

Neo-orthodoxy (NO) and Barthianism in particular envision themselves as a kind of theology after-metaphysics, a divorce of theology and philosophy where theology is allowed to stand on its own two feet. For the NO there is no analogy to be made between creaturely existence and God’s eternal existence, there is only an infinite categorical difference between God and creation. To link the two in some kind of Great Chain of Being is to impugn upon God’s wholly-otherness and God’s absolute freedom regarding His relationship with His creatures. For NO, RO is just another form on “ontotheology” a charge that gets leveled against theological systems that make God a necessary postulate of philosophical reflection (as in Heidegger) rather than the God who reveals Himself in Scripture. To NO such a God is an idol, hence the strong rejection of anything that smacks of ontotheology.

RO also rejects ontotheology, but not ontology (theo-philosophical reflections on Being). RO traces the devolution of metaphysics through Duns Scotus, who is the boogeyman of RO. On a RO reading, Scotus was responsible for taking Being and making it a general category that could be reflected upon apart from God’s self-revelation. Being was elevated above God, and God went from being the revealing Subject to an object accessible by pure reason alone (and found by modern philosophy to be largely inaccessible). The implications of this move are the development of a purely secular (read: atheistic) reflection upon the world apart from theology. RO seeks a recovery of Christian metaphysics that runs from Augustine through Thomas to the radical postmodern deconstructionists. They use Derrida,et al. to deconstruct the myth of modern secular reason and expose its implications as sheer nihilism, which hides behind the mask of liberal humanism and capitalism. RO seeks to expose the secular universe as a closed system, empty and devoid of any meaning or purpose apart from the will to power which is exercised through violence. A recovery of classical Christian sources offers an alternative metaphysics which envisions the entirety of an existence as gift: coming from God and ultimately destined to return to Him and participate in the divine life that is free, loving community between persons.

For a brief and helpful introduction to RO read this article from Christianity Today.

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