This ground-breaking book challenges readers to rethink the divide between liberal and orthodox approaches which characterises Christianity today.
Renewal of mainstream liberal theology
ByMichael H. Montgomery on Nov 11, 2004
This is an engrossing read that points to a renewed mainstream theological vision. Markham, dean at Hartford Seminary, is an English theologian engaged in a sustained argument against the "radical orthodoxy" of John Milbank, Hauerwas, Barth and others who hold for a view of Christian theology that sees (in my view) its task as self-contained articulation of doctrine from "the Tradition". This articulation is entirely confessional: the arguments, paradigms and logics outside of the Christian Tradition are inherently outside and to incorporate them into Christian theology (as does apologetic, liberation, feminist and other contemporary theologies) is to inevitably twist the meaning of the Christian faith. Markham takes issue with this, noting that, contra "conservatives" who would always hold to "The Tradition" and liberals who would seek to reject "The Tradition", the Tradition has always existed in a dynamic engagement with the world. Augustine and Aquinas appropriated secular philosophical arguments. Engagement, for Markham, is the willingness to be shaped by forces outside of Christianity, either through assimilation, resistance or overhearing other conversations. Assimilation may involve repentance and modification, as with the assimilation of liberation insights on the historic complicity of Christian theology with human oppression. Markham illustrates examples of each through the examination of state sovereignty and human rights, the intra-Hindu debate on secularization and pluralism, Black Liberation and Feminist theologies and Pope John Paul II's critique of capitalism. The book concludes with a compare and contrast of John Paul II's encyclicals and the work of the English theologian Keith Ward. Markham extends Ward's call for an "open orthodoxy" by arguing that the Christian Tradition, and its ongoing process of formation, requires openness to non-Christian sources. I am confused from Markham's work just how one distinguishes whether engagement of resistance, assimilation or the more neutral overhearing. How does one know which is appropriate? I suspect that Markham's argument is rooted (why? how?) with the communal meta-narrative of Anglicanism than is immediately apparent. An "engagement" with the thought of American theologian H. Richard Niebuhr would be an interesting next step. This is a book with both engrossing parts and an argument that is deeper and more potent than its parts. I recommend this book for classes on theological methodology, liberal theology and for pastors and really well educated laity who are looking for an accessible engagement with contemporary theology.