The Gift of Difference

The Gift of Difference : Radical Orthodoxy, Radical Reformation, has just been released by CMU Press (Canadian Mennonite University Press).

Lured at first by the magnificent display of Caravaggio’s The Deposition spread on the cover, I am also intrigued by the unlikely dialogue partners being brought together in this collection of essays edited by Chris K. Huebner and Tripp York.  Dialogue partners such as John Milbank and John Howard Yoder, especially.  In the Forward, John Milbank writes that: “[modern Mennonites] see the Church itself as the true polity and (unlike most of the magisterial Reformation) they see the possibility of ‘living beyond the law’ in terms of a new sort of social and political practice.”  This has been one important point of convergence from which a variety of discussions between RO and RR have recently emerged.

What might this concrete expression of Christian discipleship have to suggest to a movement like Radical Orthodoxy? What gifts does Radical Orthodoxy offer academics, ministers and laypeople from Radical Reformation tradition?

Take a look.  You can order the book from the CMU Bookstore.  If I’m in, I might even be the one to send it to you!


13 comments on “The Gift of Difference

  1. Thanks for the tip! That sounds really interesting.

  2. adhunt says:

    OOoooooooohh, so exciting! I just love all these collections of various traditions engaging with RO. There is a RC, EO, Reformed and now this one. I can’t wait to read it.

  3. adhunt says:

    If you’all need someone to review it I have a regular review schedule on the blog or I could try and bump up the engagement and send it in somewhere. Just offering, no pressure.

  4. Kampen says:

    adhunt: I’ll chat with some CMU press people about it and see what they think.

    I realized I made this book sound pretty awesome, and it is, but there is one downfall that I feel the need to make note of, namely the fact that none of the major RO reps have written anything in it (save Milbank writing the Foreword). I still anticipate the day when a book like this will be written in collaboration between RR and RO where RO will tell the world what exactly it is that they have learned from RR (so far, it seems more or less like a one sided conversation–yes, we have taken RO seriously, but will they take us seriously?) That’s really my challenge and prayer for RO.

  5. adhunt says:

    I can’t imagine that most branches of the Church take special effort to engage the RR tradition. Didn’t D. Stephen Long write an essay for it though? He’s a Methodist sure but an RO guy at least.

    The ground is definitely there though. As you’ve pointed out Milbanks understanding of “Gift” lends itself to non-violence; and the ecclesiology of de Certeau informs nearly all of them, and he doesn’t see the bene esse of the Church in structures or systems; etc…

    Are there any particular thinkers or RR traditions that you feel ought to inform RO?

  6. Kampen says:

    Yes, Long has an essay in it. I haven’t read it yet.
    My academic upbringing has been very ecumenical and I have a tendency not to emphasize the distinctness of the tradition a particular theology is coming from because I don’t find it all that helpful most of the time. Certainly interesting and informative, but it doesn’t matter to me “why” a denomination is for example doing peace theology, but “that” they are doing it. Ultimately it seems I’m always taken back to Yoder, sometimes by choice or preference and other times out of necessity or demand. Milbank mentions a few problems he has with Yoder in the Foreward but I think the mennonite notion of the “third way” between puritism and compromise (which isn’t only an anabaptist notion, see the work of Gillian Rose, for example, or even St. Augustine long before that). I never quite know what to point to when I’m trying to articulate a specifically mennonite or anabaptist or RR perspective or peace theology except for the importance of it being ambiguous. Whatever it is that the Mennonite perspective on this or that names, it is always and necessarily uncertain. Ambiguity in identity is inherent throughout the Mennonite tradition. It is reflected in the variety of stances of pacifism expressed even within the RR itself and how they have changed, sometimes drastically, throughout the past 500 years. Rose actually has a great quote that I always refer to when talking about a Mennonite perspective on peace/justice/identity: “Certainty does not empower, it subjugates–for only thinking which has the ability to tolerate uncertainty is powerful, that is, non-violent.”

    So, I don’t know if that answered your question, but I think one of the things RO can learn from RR is the capacity to live and think uncertainly. Because it is in this ambiguity that I think space is created to imagine the “third way.”

    John Howard Yoder, John Paul Lederach, Duane K. Friesen, Alain Epp Weaver. They’re all Menno peace theologians.

    • adhunt says:

      But do you think that RO tends towards claims of ‘certainty?’ Believe me I understand how this perception is readily available because of the polemical tone of much RO work.

      But I think that it remains radically open to uncertainty because of the intense focus on the fundamental reality of cultural mediation with respect to the ‘person’ of Christ and of all our knowledge. Hence the return to Augustine, creation ex nihlio and aporias, as well as the linguistic turn and hermeneutics.

      Perhaps I sound like every other ‘fan’ of certain movements – I know I’ve heard ‘so-and-so just doesn’t get Barth’ a million times – but the more I read RO stuff, the more I honestly feel that the work gets short shrift.

      Not that you are doing that, mostly I’m following a thought through. My primary response to you is that in fact I do believe RO remains open to uncertainty in many respects.

  7. Kampen says:

    Hmm, I guess I wasn’t really clear on what I meant by certainty. In terms of theology, you are absolutely right that RO is open to uncertainty, and in many cases even pushes for it, considering, for instance, his notions of asymmetrical reciprocity and non-identical gift exchange. But, in so far as RO thinks they’ve got “the answer” in which we can reclaim “the church to be the church” from the “hellish society”, I think this “certainty” impoverishes the overall theological programme of RO. It is this sort of certainty or refusal of serious engagement with other Christian traditions (which I have some informal evidence for and therefore causes me worry) that is dangerous and perhaps even violent, for one, because it tends towards purism, and two, because this “certainty” or denial of the voices of others in the church, fails to bear witness to the very kind of actions ROs notion of gift exchange implies.

    This failure to consider witness strikes me particularly as someone coming from the RR. Theologically, and Tripp York articulates this very well in his contribution to the book, RO is lacking in christology. York writes: “Milbank’s argument loses vitality precisely where he fails to stress what the teachings of Jesus have to do with the church being the bearer of non-antagonistic social practices…the manner by which the church takes shape in the world – it’s very witness – is the best argument for ontological peaceableness.” York here articulates the influence of the RR on contemporary RR theology very well. For RR, it is the martyr(accounts of which are recorded in The Martyr’s Mirror, for example) who most explicitly bears witness to the Truth, which for RO’s programme equates to an ontology of peace.

    So, I guess my trouble with RO in terms of certainty is very closely wrapped up with the language of witness in 2 senses: the first, what one might call “personal” (though I hope it did not come across as ad hominem), and the second, as theological (christology/discipleship/witness which I really don’t think is more theological than the first sense when it comes down to it). I hope that was coherent.

  8. adhunt says:

    That helps me out thanks.

    For what it’s worth I just don’t see these faults as clearly as other people. For instance the incredible collection of Ward’s “Christ and Culture” are all about Christology and discipleship. It’s hardly only RO who do not see in Christ’s historical (or rather textual) teachings a sort of ‘new’ law intended for ‘identical repetition’ but rather an announcement and paradigm opening to the creative work that Pentecost announces.

    As I see it, in the wake of Barth and dialectics, Christ is treated too much like an ‘object’ of which we predicate christological/scriptural/theological ‘truths’ or ‘facts.’ RO tends to see Christ discernable only in his operations, and as they are always mediated then speaking of this Word is always done by means of ‘other’ discourses.

  9. adhunt says:

    Ha! I meant ‘generous’ or ‘gracious.’ I’ve often been told that my internet ‘tone’ can be forceful so I wanted to make sure you knew my ‘nice’ intentions.

  10. […] this to say: the recent issue of MQR is highly recommended, as, along the same lines, are The Gift of Difference: Radical Orthodoxy, Radical Reformation (eds. Chris Huebner and Tripp York) and Unsettling Arguments (eds. Charles R. Pinches, Kelly S. […]

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