As I was reading Yoder’s The Original Revolution I was struck by the following paragraph, because it crystallized for me both what originally attracted me to Radical Orthodoxy (back in 2004, and for a while thereafter—though, to be honest, I still read them) as well as why I distance myself from that movement/book series/whatever-you-consider-it:
It is especially from the Anglican tradition that the rest of us have learned something of the pervasive intellectual power of the idea of the Incarnation. It has been a most impressive vision, to say that all human concerns have been divinely sanctioned and hallowed by God’s coming among us, taking our flesh. Gardening and the weather, our work and our family, the total fabric of our society—economics and warfare, have been bathed in the light of God’s presence. All of humanity is thus now seen to be good, wholesome, holy. This seems to a non-Episcopalian to be a deceptively incomplete way of saying something that is nonetheless deeply true. When God came among men He did not approve of and sanction everything, in ‘normal, healthy human society’; He did not make all human activity, not even all well-intentioned activity, a means of grace. There are some loyalties and practices which He rejected when He came among us.
My pietistic upbringing taught me to be intense about spiritual things, and in undergrad I learn from thinkers like Alexander Schmemann that all of life is to be sacramental—to reject any dichotomies of sacred/profane (I still like his work). Radical Orthodoxy came along, promising to have something theological to say about economics, sex, cities, philosophy, aesthetics and music, and I was thrilled! In retrospect, I suppose I was attracted by the Anglican tendency of RO to let the idea of Incarnation expand into various arenas.
On the other hand, it is RO’s ambition to “reclaim the world” that grew to bother me—not the desire to engage all of the world, but to somehow claim it, colonize it. I still aspire to view everything theologically, but not by bathing everything—including the struggle for political control—in God’s presence. Something I tried to work out in conference papers in the last couple of years is the judgment of Christ which accompanies the Incarnation (under Rowan Williams’s influence). I understand that Milbank includes judgment in his work, but there is something (possibly?) British and possibly Anglican about RO that I dislike (there are Anglican things about it, including things I like; I am just saying I am not sure that is the source of things I disagree with), and I think it has to do with how Milbank wants to reclaim things (I am obviously moving beyond the Yoder quotation topic). J. Kameron Carter gave an interesting paper on Coleridge’s influence on Milbank at the AAR last Fall, zeroing in on a sort of British pride—being neither East nor West, but better than both, which drives colonialist tendencies—that may be putting a finger on the same issue, i.e. colonizing all of life under human (though “theological”) rule. So, reading this Yoder passage reminded me of why I was drawn to RO—making everything matter to theology—but I think there are other ways this needs to be done (I obviously have not addressed that here!).