Theological Radicalism

There was an introduction about how radicalism goes further than liberal theology, and whereas liberal theology is satisfied with some change to Christian beliefs the radical wants whole scale change.
It seemed to me that the Tony Windross approach was weak and without anchoring, and much had still to be said about liberalism and radicalism, as well as the awkward term "non-realism", and whether the radicals have ever really attempted to change anything.
I suggested there are two main approaches to being liberal. One is a liberal attitude, which is to be accepting of the critical approach, that there are differences, that there is debate and so on. The other is to be liberal about something, which would be say a negotiation about Christianity: thus a belief in incarnation and resurrection but not about the details of virgin birth and bodily resurrection. Whatever, if there is metaphor, for the liberal the metaphor comes to a rest somewhere. So The Trinity may not be absolute, but be a metaphor for God, or God might be a metaphor for Being, or Depth - something that somewhere objectively comes to rest.
In the radical theology, this coming to a rest does not happen. The metaphor always suggests something else, and always moves on. It is like chasing definitions in a dictionary - one to the other to the other. Thus there is no objective grounding, no root.
This can lead to two general radical positions and one that is similar and might be. The two are textual nihilism (or is it nihilist textualism) where there is an awareness of process and that this all breaks down. Another is to just stake out a position that exists in and of itself, with no objective grounding anywhere, and you just do it. The Protestant side of that is Yale Postliberalism where you have a sort of ecumenical position and then you do it, like a drama, as a community. The Catholic side is Radical Orthodoxy, now based at Nottingham, where there is Christendom in a bubble. There was some laughter when I said that apparently this is a condition of pure peace - I said, "How they work that out given the history of Churches I have no idea." This is doctrine that cannot be objective anywhere else. Elsewhere culture shifts or revelation is from so far off that you cannot root anything in the world. I said about the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, saying warm things recently about Radical Orthodoxy and whose narrative approach has parallels, but he has become historicist recently.
This contrasts with realist conservatism for which the doctrines are true and objectively grounded. It comes from Platonism, in which every earthly object had a heavenly equivalent, but even without that detail there is the idea that God underpins everything and gives it objectivity. When all is unending metaphor, that breaks down.
One member of the group said she just tries to follow the teachings of Jesus without all these doctrines.
The point was put that radicalism must be individualist, in that people think what they like about liturgies and doctrines. I suggested liberalism is more individualist. Liberalism is based on experience, and from that comes expression. In radicalism, there is a greater stress on language, so that expression determines experience, and language is a set of negotiated meanings with others.
I did mention structuralism and poststructuralism, trying to avoid over complexity. I said how structuralism tried to suggest, through language, that there was an objective basis of reality. This is in the binary system that black justifies white and white black as different and therefore true. One is not the other. That was fine until you realise that there is some white in black and some black in white as follows: that in a very bright light the black of newspaper print is brighter than the white between in poor light. One said surely they are black or white. No, because it is just the capacity to reflect energy - light. Black doesn't and white does. So it is all relative. This becomes a sort of reading between the lines. Another example is someone saying to another, "you are wonderful." The question then is the meaning, and it could be ironic, or it may be wonderful or qualified wonderful. Once words become uncertain (as signs) then they start to break down, and so you move from structuralism to poststructuralism.
We discussed words changing their meaning, but my point was that at any one time there is a transient negotiation of meaning, so that we all have an understanding of what the other is saying. So awful, which is negative, once meant something that Americans now use as awsome. So meanings can change 180 degrees, but for time periods they retain negotiated meaning.
There had already been discussion on the meaning of the word radical. The point I made was that it has a usage, even though it refers to root. Some Reformers were radical, and thought they were getting to the root of Christianity, but that cannot be said.
The person introducing the subject told of his own faith history, starting with doubting certain story details in Judaeo-Christianity. He now puts stress on metaphors, but I wondered whether he is liberal or not. He sometimes gives the impression of a radical view, but other times this stress on metaphor comes across as more stable and rooted somewhere. I said that mine is much more unstable than that: I used to translate liturgical texts into Tillich-like existentialism, but I don't now. Mine is more like a Christian Buddhism, that is to just do the text and not to be concerned with any interpretation. I said of the priest trying to suggest to me the apophatic way, but that for me this involved the clash of strong doctrines in paradox, whereas for me the doctrines are weak and are as such discarded not maintained.
The introduction also included a list of books, including The Myth of God Incarnation. I made the point that at that time Don Cupitt was not a non-realist. I didn't expand the point. I did say that he is quite repetitive book to book, moving along marginally each time, and some of his arguments skate along the service and when examined don't hold up.
This was indeed the other radicalism that might not be: the Eastern apophatic approach which, dealing with paradox (e.g. the Trinity) ends up with a kind of vast transcendence. It's the negative approach but it does retain a kind of realism.
I needed to move on, and so with the session over as such and a drink I left somewhat earlier than others.


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful