Rob Sturdy: Imago Dei A Worshipping Image

19 12 2011

In the essay below I make a case for a doxological reading of human nature based upon Reformed texts

“The central theological framework of radical orthodoxy is ‘participation’ as developed by Plato and reworked by Christianity because any alternative configuration perforce reserves a territory independent of God.”[1]  This excerpt from Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology demonstrates both the breadth of the agenda of Radical Orthodoxy as well as the mechanism through which RO seeks to accomplish its goals.  Briefly put, RO reads the history of Western cultural movement since the Enlightenment as an ever increasing secularization. Overtime, the abstract philosophy behind the secularization of the West worked itself out in a dangerous nihilism, systematically devaluing embodied life, self-expression, sexuality, aesthetic experience, human political community etc.[2] A revaluing of such things, argues RO, will take a framework that both denies the secular as well as grounds the immanent upon a platform that can give it ultimate meaning and eternal stability.  This is done through RO’s theological framework of participation, which understands the material world as suspended from the transcendent in the same manner that a bridge is suspended above the nothingness beneath it.

At first glance, the Reformed tradition shares many of the same concerns of Radical Orthodoxy.  Both repudiate the isolation of the material, stepping beyond the secular in favor of a created order that derives its significance and depth from God.  However, as James Olthuis observes “whereas the intentions voiced by Radical Orthodoxy are ones that the Reformed tradition fully shares, we differ significantly on how best to make good on these intentions.”[3]  The significant difference on how best to go about stepping beyond the secular and revaluing the immanent hinges upon RO’s commitment to participation and the Reformed commitment to the notion of covenant.  “Participation for Radical Orthodoxy and covenant for Reformed theology function as the central theological frameworks or organizing principles by which these theologies understand the Christian faith,” writes Justin Holcomb in his essay ‘Being Bound to God’, yet he also notes that these two frameworks are not mutually exclusive.[4]  His conclusion that this is a false dichotomy is shared within the RO ranks.[5]

While Reformed theologians have been sweeping in their indictments of participation it is it is partly due to the perception that participation belongs exclusively in the realm of platonic philosophy rather than in the world of Biblical theology.  After all “What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem?  What concord is there between the Academy and the Church?  What between heretics and Christians?”[6]  Well, if we (if Tertullian himself!) were honest, Athens does and always has had much to do with the church.  As Holcomb notes, Tertullian himself could not avoid philosophical categories, nor could such modern Reformed Theologians as Karl Barth keep from building sweeping theological systems under the influence of Martin Buber and Soren Kierkegaard.[7]  The Bible itself often speaks in borrowed categories whether from a particular location in history or from philosophy.  We are after all embodied beings.  For God to communicate with us at all He must use language, practices, and signs that are already in place in culture in order to make himself understood.[8]  This does not free us from an uncritical appropriation of pagan signs, language and philosophy which subsumes Christian theology under such things reducing the significance and distinctiveness of its message.  But, and this is very important to add at this point, neither does it free us from dismissing such things outright simply because the church has become aware of them through the contributions from the pagan world.  Read the rest of this entry »