Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews recently published Charles Guignon’s critical review of S. J. McGrath’s Heidegger: A (Very) Critical Introduction. The critical nature of the review is located in Guignon’s condensed, patient and pedagogical review of what Heidegger actually wrote and said against McGrath’s reported false re-casting of Heidegger’s thought. Being pedantic is not normally conceived as a good thing, but in the case of dealing with someone who seems to have “missed the point” a bit of pedantry, that is going point by point, can be called for. Essentially, Guignon is surprised to find that McGrath seems to miss the way in which the ontic and the ontological are played off one another and not, as McGrath appears to argue, confused. Guignon shows the consistency of this method as it runs from Being and Time to the later works of Heidegger. Guignon’s final sentence is damning: “McGrath treats Heidegger unfairly by overlooking his explicit accounts of his project and methodology, with the result that his “(very) critical introduction” to Heidegger is not so much an interpretation as a hatchet job.” If Guignon is to be believed the book is neither critical in the Kantian sense nor an introduction, but can only be decribed as “very critical” if this refers to the health of scholarly research itself.
This book is published under the series title Interventions and each volume on a particular thinker, like the Heidegger title, carries the common subtitle A (Very) Critical Introduction. The series is associated with the Centre of Theology and Philosophy, which is ostensibly part of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies here in Nottingham but is a bit more ethereal than that as it exists more through conferences outside Nottingham and the two book series. Despite the explicit notion that the Centre is for both the study of theology and philosophy and their multi-faceted relationship, part of the aim of the book series appears to be doing apologetics. Is apologetics the main locus through which theology and philosophy should meet or does it betray something about relationship itself? In so far as the Centre attempted to be the theological place where this relationship could be explored it seems fair to ask these questions.
Which leads me to the question already found in the title to this post, what does (certain) contemporary Christian theology want from philosophy? It seems to me that the (very) critical introductions are not concerned with being actual introductions, but with apologetics. If that is the case contemporary Christian theology doesn’t want anything from philosophy. It appears they come across it, perhaps are troubled by its difference from Christian theology, and must neutralize it. Is it the case that Christian theologians of a certain kind only read Heidegger or Badiou or whomever to show that the Church Fathers were already right? If so, why not just present the Church Fathers? Is it because of a fear of the influence of someone like Badiou instead of Clement of Alexandria? Is it just another instance of ideational Schmittianism? So, seriously, what is at stake here? And what do they want?
One final remark. This is a true empirical question, not ideology or an ad hominem attack. Empirically, the sort of Christian theology I’m thinking of has a kind of au courant character to it. Derrida and Levinas in the 90’s, a bit of Deleuze in the late 90’s, some Badiou in the early noughts, now even talking about Meillassoux and Laruelle. This suggests to me, in part, that it isn’t really true that Orthodoxy is never done, since there is already a decision that “the” Church Fathers are already right, but that it is really the task of philosophy that is as infinite as nature.