The Postmodern God: A Theological Reader / Post-Secular Philosophy: Between Philosophy and Theology

Article excerpt

The Postmodern God: A Theological Reader. Edited by Graham Ward. Malden, Mass./Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1997. xlvii + 368 pp. $72.95 (cloth); $33.95 (paper).

Post-Secular Philosophy: Between Philosophy and Theology. Edited by Phillip Blond. London and New York: Routledge, 1998. xiii + 376 pp. $85.00 (cloth); $25.99 (paper).

A growing body of literature ably testifies to a renewed interest in discourse about God. Indeed, as these two volumes suggest, if the climax of the modern project was to announce the death of God, then the first act of the postmodern or post-secular drama is at least partly dedicated to clarifying which God died and to exploring the possibilities for reconceptualizing God outside the framework of modern metaphysics. Because the postmodern or post-secular era is not itself marked by a singular project, but is instead marked by an opening up of conceptual territory previously walled off by modern metaphysics, the possibilities for reimagining "God" in that space are considerably diverse, even if one limits oneself to the traditions of Christianity, which these two collections of essays largely do.

Given that both volumes are edited by scholars who have aligned themselves with the "radical orthodoxy" movement, one might expect considerable overlap between the two books, but most readers will likely find them more complementary than repetitive. The collection edited by Graham Ward, The Postmodern God, is the more generally accessible of the two volumes, not least because it devotes the first two-thirds of its pages to key texts by seminal postmodern thinkers: Bataille, Lacan, Levinas, Barthes, Girard, Foucault, Certeau, Derrida, Irigaray, and Kristeva. Each text is briefly but ably introduced by a scholar who has done considerable research and writing on the figure under consideration. The result is that even readers who have little or no previous exposure to these thinkers will be able to glean from these pages something of their potential import for work in theology and religious studies. This is not to suggest, however, that such readers will find these texts easy to negotiate. The problem created by every anthology of selected texts-that of presenting the complexity of an author's argument in a relatively condensed form-is here compounded by the density (and at times, opacity) of these difficult texts. This problem is ameliorated in most cases by the solid introductions to each text, most of which do a good job of giving an overview of the author's work, placing the excerpted text in a wider context, and offering some preliminary ruminations about why such a text belongs in a volume entitled The Postmodern God. The introductions by Gerard Loughlin, Frederick Bauerschmidt, and Kevin Hart (to texts by Girard, Certeau, and Derrida, respectively) are especially well done in this respect.

The last third of Ward's reader is devoted to seven essays that examine in more detail some of the possible implications of these postmodern soundings for theology and religious studies. Rebecca Chopp helpfully explores how French feminism (using Kristeva as her example) might enrich American feminist theology as the later seeks to forge a public theology capable of critiquing and transforming patriarchal political structures. Jean-Yves Lacoste advocates a reconception of knowledge and anthropology on the basis of the liturgy and the kenosis of God, pointing particularly to the ways in which the figure of the "holy fool" demolishes narrowly rationalistic images of what it means to be human. In "Postmodern Critical Augustinianism: A Short Summa in Forty-two Responses to Unasked Questions," which is perhaps the most illuminating essay in this collection, John Milbank offers readers an unusually clear statement of some of the theological implications of the end of modernity. (Many readers, in fact, would likely benefit from reading Milbank's essay early on as it helpfully locates what have come to be some of the central questions faced by theologians working out of a postmodern framework. …