Theological differences should be seen as a gift

Offers provocative and fresh accounts of how to live between the false options of complete purity and total compromise

October 7, 2010 | Web First - Opinion
Reviewed by David Driedger | Blogger/reviewer for Canadian Mennonite
Waterloo, ON

The Gift of Difference: Radical Orthodoxy, Radical Reformation. Chris K. Huebner and Tripp York, eds. Canadian Mennonite University Press, 2010, 240 pages. 

The Gift of Difference makes two substantial attempts—first to frame a dialogue between two very different Christian traditions and secondly to explore how these traditions are “differently ethical and differently political.” The thread between the two is the larger question of how to navigate difference, a fearful prospect for many people, especially in the realm of religion.

We often bypass the gift of difference and assume that difference already implies judgment. After all, someone has to be wrong when difference is present, right? This work, however, does not assume that difference can be fixed or static in any conversation; difference remains active.

In this book, the Radical Reformation is best understood as a commitment to the particularity of Jesus and Jesus’s words, movements and actions all carry weight for our lives.  Thus most of the writers understand Christians to be called to a vulnerability that does not attempt to fix, secure, and protect our church or our theology.

The term Radical Orthodoxy represents a recent movement in theology (mostly coming out of Anglican and Catholic contexts) that attempts to recover and restore the place and role of the church as the site and expression that God offers to make the world intelligible. In this way both traditions have a high view and hope for the church.

As an attempt at cross-denominational dialogue the book has some strengths and weaknesses. One weakness is the lack of voices representing Radical Orthodoxy. The contributors are almost all from a Radical Reformation background. Another weakness is how many of the chapters reduce the conversation to two individuals—John Howard Yoder representing Radical Reformation and John Milbank representing Radical Orthodoxy. As illuminating and prominent as these two figures are, the work could have benefited from a wider engagement.

The strength of bringing these two traditions together was that no common ground was assumed. Some contributors saw the conversation as mutually constructive while others questioned whether any distinctive sharing would be helpful. I consider this a strength because it accomplished what I think was a major aim of the book which—to let difference be and not avoid or assume that it can be worked through. It may be only in this way that difference can offer itself as a gift, that is, when we stop trying to set its agenda.

            This book offers provocative and fresh accounts of how to live between the false options of complete purity and total compromise and contributes to what I would broadly call political theology. 

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