Sunday, June 17, 2007

Who's Afraid of Post-Modernism?

James K. A. Smith gives an interesting introduction to postmodernity that could work for those with little or no theology\philosophy background. Each chapter focuses on a film that he uses to draw out the meaning behind bumper sticker phrases by the most noted of the deconstructionist philosophers. For a general setup of pomo in chapter one he uses ‘the Matrix.’ Chapter two is a discussion of Derrida, the superb film ‘Memento,’ and Derrida’s infamous line ‘there is nothing outside the text.’ Chapter three looks at Lyotard, ‘O Brother Where Art Thou?’ and those evil ‘metanarratives’ modernity gave us. Chapter four is on Foucault, ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’ and the connection between power-knowledge- discipline. Despite being generally leery of a Radical Orthodox (RO) theologian using philosophy - because I assume they are generally setting up their RO-spike where ‘bame’ being RO is now the best option for the theologian enlightened by Derrida, Foucault, and Lyotard – I really enjoyed and appreciated the first four chapters and think they can stand on their own without agreeing with chapter 5. In chapter 5 Smith gives a proposal that the emerging church be RO and brings a really great film, ‘Whale Rider’ as his back up. I will admit to having a prejudice against RO because to me it is more like theological BO, really old and musky. I decided to read a little on RO before getting harsh on it, so if you have suggestions leave them (Andrew…..). But for now I recommend reading the first four chapters, you can decide about the fifth yourself, and if polled on whether or not the emerging church should go RO I vote no…..but you don’t have to agree.


coemergentco said...


I wrote a small comment on your Christology and Omnipotence post referencing The Weakness of God by John Caputo earlier. I also read Jamie Smith's book and really liked its concise and simple presentation. When looking for other books by him I stumbled upon his RO texts and did not find them compelling whatsoever.

Yet, this was a couple of years ago and through an inspirational Roman Catholic professor who has a great respect for RO I found myself slowly warming up to the topic. Then I read an article by John Milbank called "Sovereignty, Empire, Capital and Terror" which resonated deeply with the post-secular affectations I hold. Lastly, I found this podcast on RO by the Canadian radio station CBC at So I am leaving the gates wide open for RO to prove itself to me as the new response to modernism while intergrating post-structuralist thought and keeping the Church's past close at hand.

I am not convinced yet. If anything Christology seems the most fitting response (and I eagerly look forward to Caputo's "What would Jesus Deconstruct?" coming soon) but here are the links to the podcast to check out for yourself:

I found it at two different, excellent sites:

but here's the pure source:

found here:

Michael said...

just stumbled upon your blog, lots of interesting stuff.

Although, as someone preparing to move to the UK in two months to do postgraduate research with John Milbank and Connor Cunningham I am curious to know why RO is 'theological BO' in your opinion.

Personally I find it the most convincing argument against secularism and liberalism; and I think their (specifically Milbank and Pickstock's) re-reading of the history of western philosophy is brilliant. Specifically, I find their emphasis on a ontology based on participation quite amazing.

Regardless, I'd love to hear some thoughts coming from a different perspective.