So, both Milbank himself and Theology and Social Theory are controversial but game-changing; and I recently decided, after reading various other bits and bobs by Milbank, that it was time to take on the big 'un. I'll be reading through the whole book with some friends and colleagues at Durham, and my plan is to try and blog it as we go. You'll get two posts this week, lucky things, as I've been slow to get my ass in gear and need to have chapter one done by Friday; hopefully from now on I'll be blogging roughly once a week till it's done, and if you're really lucky, the regularity will prompt me to blog other things too. We'll see!
First up, then, is the introduction, which sets out the overarching argument of the book. Theology and Social Theory, Milbank says, has a dual purpose. First, he is setting out to prove to social theorists that only theology can save them; second, he wants to tell theologians that they should stop being so impressed by social theorists and realise that theology really is the Queen of the Sciences, the basic framework within which all other disciplines belong (These claims are, for obvious reasons, quite appealing to theologians, but perhaps less so to social theorists). Sure, theologians are constrained by their historical and social context, but theology is still More Right than any other discipline. Even social theorists are, Milbank argues, increasingly aware of this fact. There are two ways in which social theory screws up: either it reverts to a sort of neo-paganism, or it degenerates into heretical theology. Either way, only theology can save the day! Theology and Social Theory explains why four different types of social theory are wrong. Firstly, liberalism tends to assume that human culture is fundamentally about power and violence; theology can explain why, actually, culture should point us towards the transcendence of God. Second, positivism is basically a fake theology and a fake church: there's some good stuff there, but it's all been stolen from Christian orthodoxy and made a bit less good. Third, dialectics has some good ideas, but goes wrong when (can you guess?) it deviates from Christian orthodoxy. Finally, secular social theory suggests a vision of the world aa world in which difference always means conflict and violence; only Christianity is able to imagine an infinitely varied world as peaceful and harmonious, where we can't ever fully understand the world (except for the fact that THEOLOGY WINS) but that's OK.
Theology is better than social theory; in fact, it is social theory, only better; and as such it must prove that it's better than social theory by living out the truths it proclaims, by showing (not just telling) that the Church makes the world better. Sure, Christians and Christianity aren't perfect, but they're still our only hope.
'This is why it is so important to reassert theology as a master-discourse; theology, alone, remains the discourse of non-mastery.'Coming soon: chapter 1.