Hart on Milbank

From Kevin Hart’s Postmodernism: a beginner’s guide (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2004) 153-154.

“We should be wary of reducing Christianity to a qualification of philosophy, as happens when one tries to revive Christian Platonism today. We should be skeptical of a theology that declares everyone other than the radical orthodox group to be nihilists. And we should be wary of a theology that talks of mildly transforming what is given, rather than re-orienting it radically towards Christ. Although he admires both Barth and von Balthasar, Milbank takes little stock of their shared vision of a Christ who interrupts our ways and who calls us sharply to account.

Theology, for Milbank, is theory prosecuted by other means. It revolves less around Jesus Christ and the witness to him in the New Testament than around a speculative idea of the incarnate Logos. This notion of Christianity is pitted against other theories, chiefly of the subject and society, and the sheer verve of Milbank’s intelligence and knowledge often suffices to make those other theories look very bad. Very rarely does Milbank succeed in immanent critique: he is a practitioner of quick, not slow, reading. He makes no punctures on Derrida’s account of the gift but presents an alternative view that proceeds as though Derrida’s argument had been refuted. [This is perhaps most evident in his essay “The Ethics of Self-Sacrifice”, a critique of Derrida’s The Gift of Death.] His case is always strongest when he provides a broader counter-history than is accepted by the person he pits himself against. That strength can be a weakness, however, for it leads him to make generalizations that are hard to sustain in the histories of philosophy and theology. And when he succeeds his triumph is the victory of Christianity as a theory of social life over competing theories proposed by Emile Durkheim or Marx, Levinas or Derrida.”

Basically, I like what Hart has to say. The whole chapter in which this quote appears (ch. 7, the gift: a debate) is worth a read. Hart also addresses Marion and Derrida in conversation with each other and Milbank in it.

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2 comments on “Hart on Milbank

  1. A.J. Smith says:

    “Very rarely does Milbank succeed in immanent critique: he is a practitioner of quick, not slow, reading.”

    Spot on.

    (Although I must admit I fall into the same habit myself)

  2. Br. Dan says:

    Excellent. I am a big fan of Kevin Hart’s work, enjoyed this little book too. I too have some serious critiques of RO. I’m glad to have stumbled upon your blog.

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