Envisioning a Radical Centrist Orthodoxy

In a fit of chutzpah, I decided to write the aforementioned Dr. Reno — not merely to express admiration for his work, but (gulp) to suggest a new direction he might want to pursue. I’m not quite sure how he’ll take it, but the letter turned into a reasonably concise summary of my own hopes and dreams, so I figured I’d blog it here.

Dear Dr. Reno,

I hope you will forgive me for this unsolicited email, but I found myself deeply moved by the depth and poignancy of your writings and couldn’t resist the impulse to reach out to you.

Though my background is physics rather than theology, I have in my own small way been wrestling with how to viably articulate Christ within the context of both modernity and post-modernity. As such, I found your article about the Radical Orthodoxy Project extremely absorbing and highly enlightening.

However — though I am embarrassed at even presuming to disagree with both you and Augustine — I can’t help but wonder whether “peace” is really the right integrating principle we ought to pursue, as you appeared to imply when you said:

Many offer courageous and articulate warnings against the modern “culture of death,” and Christian witness does provide an alternative that has weight and substance. Nonetheless, no triumphant vision of peace emerges out of what late?twentieth?century Christians actually say and do. Christianity, its Holy Scriptures and ecclesial practice, seems unable to hold all things together.

Perhaps it is my own bias as a 20th-century (ex-)physicist, but “to hold all things together” appears to require something far more dynamic, and perhaps even violent, than mere “peace.” Specifically, falling back to even more ancient sources, I would like to propose “love” as the ultimate source of the “triumphant vision” we need to carry Christianity forward.

While I realize that may sound like a cliche, I actually mean it in a very technical sense: that “love” plays a foundational role in Christianity very analogous to that played by “force” in Newtonian physics. In particular, I believe that if you look back at modern Christendom through the lens of love, what emerges is not a bleak landscape of self-interested factions struggling for power (as the post-modernists would have it), but passionate communities struggling to make sense out of their own partial, distorted, yet oh so necessary visions of love. Whether that is:

* Love for truth
* Love for the hurting
* Love for the lost
* Love for tradition
* Love for the Bible

In other words, if one is willing to flip the foreground with the background, might not one see the last few centuries as primarily driven by a desperate search for love — even if one that all too often went tragically awry? And if that is the case, dare we hope that “orthodox theological practice” need not be “an invention, a determined culling from the past, an act of imaginative recovery” — That instead of “keep[ing] our noses close to the ill?smelling disaster of modern Christianity “, we could instead lovingly embrace the *entire* motley, sordid history of Christendom — the good, the bad, and the ugly — as Christ embraced all of humanity (including ill-smelling us!) on the cross.

In fact, is that not the perfect answer to Nietzsche’s postmodern claim that the only way to enforce meaning is through “violence wrought by an omnipotent will?to?power” — Is that not one of the central lessons of the ‘brute fact’ of Christ’s willing surrender and triumphant resurrection, that love is ultimately more powerful than naked force? Isn’t it really our voluntary submission to Him — and to love — that gives us a non-violent source of authentic meaning? Isn’t it exactly that sort of personal, historical, transformational encounter with the resurrected Christ — and His love — that gave our spiritual ancestors the ability to “see [their] culture, stem to stern, through Christian eyes”, and which ultimately led to all of the scripture, sacraments, and communities we enjoy today?

As you said in your article, “The scope may be wide, but the center is focused, and the pull of the gravity of Christ is profoundly strong.” Rather than lamenting Radical Orthodoxy as too ambitious, might it not be possible to recover a genuinely Augustinian vision of “how Christ’s redemptive purpose structures the natural world, history, human desire, and truth itself” that is thoroughly grounded in “its concrete particularity and the authority it exerts over the Christian life?”

In short, might a “postmodern theology that is genuinely orthodox” ultimately mean a Radical Orthodoxy centered on Christ himself, not merely our theories about him — one ground in living encounters rather than abstract ideology?

From where I sit in Silicon Valley, that is very much what innovators on the edge of Christendom — mostly in Latin America and Asia — appear to be doing under the banner of Transformationalism. True, they are far more concerned with missiology and practice than hard-core theology. But, just as St. Paul spun the threads of Jesus life into a coherent theology for the Greek-speaking world, might not someone like yourself find a way to channel this latest burst of the Holy Spirit’s power into a word of hope for mainline Christianity?

Again, I apologize for this long-winded intrusion into your life. While I don’t know how much of this made sense to you, I am stirred by the conviction that we are travelers on the same journey, and I pray that God would somehow use this to encourage you in your walk.

Yours in Christ,
Ernie Prabhakar
Santa Clara, CA