MILBANK, John. An interview by Jeff Sharlet in The Chronicle of Higher Education (Research and Publishing), June 23, 2000.

Comments by Robert Brow (

That the Chronicle of Higher Education even touches this topic is an encouraging sign of a renewed interest in theology. The title of the journalistic review article by Jeff Sharlett is significant: "Theologians Seek to Reclaim the World With God and Postmodernism : The subtle passion of a Radical Orthodoxy' emerges as an intellectual force."

The originators of this movement, John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock, and Graham Ward, are Anglicans and they teach at Cambridge University. Without having read their books, here is a tentative interpretation of their theological model:

1. The Enlightenment of the Modern world assumed a secular reality of "discrete objects, atoms, facts . . . things we can talk about without any values." These were organized as the "natural laws" of society. And "God was sent into exile."

2. Postmodernism disintegrated modernity's Enlightenment certainties.

"The logic of secularism is imploding." And Jeff Sharlett comments "It's not that Mr.Milbank is opposed to the secular; he just doesn't believe it exists."

3. But the postmodernist deconstruction of Derrida, Foucault & Co. has ended up in nihilism. Their pronouncements were as much without foundation as everyone else's.

4. Radical Orthodoxy points out that what remains is words. People talk to one another. Logos is the only certainty. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). This means that all other disciplines are part of, and inevitably rooted in theology. "All philosophy is inside theology, and it can't get out."

5. The result is that we can no longer say that the virgin birth, the resurrection, miracles, etc. do not fit secular scientific principles.

When asked if he is a believer, Milbank says "Of course we believe." And he adds that "The virgin birth is not just a metaphor. Calling it a myth, or a metaphor, assumed objective knowledge we don't have" (see point 2).

"Radical Orthodoxy rejects the idea that there are fixed secular standards."

6. This enables Radical Orthodoxy to make ritual the heart of Christian faith. And for our three Anglo-Catholic theologians the eucharist becomes the ultimate reality by which all the social sciences are judged.

For those who want to invest the time and the money here are some books:

1990 John Milbank. Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason.  (Blackwell)

1997 Graham Ward (Editor). The Postmodern God: A Theological Reader. (Blackwell)

1997 John Milbank. The Word Made Strange: Theology, Language, Culture (Essays). (Blackwell. )

1998 Catherine Pickstock. After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy. (Blackwell)

1999 Milbank, Pickstock, Ward. Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology (Routledge)

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