- Hardcover: 488 pages
- Publisher: Baylor University Press (September 30, 2012)
- Language: English
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A Brutal Unity: The Spiritual Politics of the Christian Church Hardcover – September 30, 2012
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"Radner's A Brutal Unity is at a book of startling insight, extraordinary erudition, and is replete with theological implications. His ability to help us see connections between Christian disunity and liberal political theory and practice should command the attention of Christian and non-Christian alike. A Brutal Unity is a stunning achievement."―Stanley Hauerwas, Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics, Duke Divinity School
"Massively learned and beautifully written, this book has to be the best work ever written against the holiness and unity of the Church by a Christian theologian. Not one to mince words, Radner presents Judas as the mirror of the faithless, violent, and fractured Church. For Radner, the failure of liberalism arises from and reflects the failure of the Church to repent. But he does not end here: he argues that in God's creation of things separate from God, and in Christ's radical giving of himself, we find God's holiness and oneness as a gift for God's people and as an invitation to imitate God's asymmetrical giving. Those who disagree with Radner will thank him for pressing us to examine anew why Christians rightly confess the Church to be one and holy."―Matthew Levering, University of Dayton
"Arresting, spiritually profound, ethically searching, vastly learned, and infused with passion."―Paul Avis, Exeter University, Ecclesiology
"...A Brutal Unity is a significant book, one that should serve as a touchstone for ecclesiology and theological politics in this century."―Anthony G. Siegrist, Prairie Bible College, Evangelical Quarterly
"This is a profoundly beautiful book. It is painful, yet, it does not leave one without hope."―Johnny Walker, Freedom in Orthodoxy
"Radner's arguments are tightly wound and profoundly elegant. He argues with the skill of a classical rhetorician and the aesthetic power of early Anglican polemicists, which he seeks to emulate."―Antony Easton, Concordia University, Journal of Religion and Culture
" well worth the intellectual investment."―Dustin Resch, Briercrest College and Seminary, Anglican Theological Review
"a provocative and insightful book, especially for its claims about the ways in which the procedures of contemporary liberalism have found their way into church life and decision making."―A. W. Klink, Duke University, CHOICE Advance
"Ephraim Radner is one of those rare theologians whose work can be described as relentless. His most recent book, A Brutal Unity, may be his most relentless yet. Radner dismantles every self-congratulatory, self-protective ecclesiology that blinds Christians to what is self-evident to everyone else: The Church is shattered."―Peter Leithart, senior fellow of theology and literature at New St. Andrews College
"...a remarkable book that deserves to be read and pondered from multiple angles."―James K.A. Smith, editor of Comment Magazine, Calvin College
"Radner provides a powerful theological reflection on division and Christian complicity in violence. Drawing on a wide array of Biblical, theological, and philosophical sources as well as numerous specific historic examples, he argues for a reconceptualization of Christian unity based not on forced consensus or procedural norms but on an understanding of the centrality of division to Christian life and a commitment to conscience, confrontation, and coexistence. A Brutal Unity should be essential reading for anyone concerned about social conflict and violence and how Christians can contribute more effectively to promoting peace."―Timothy Longman, Director, African Studies Center, Boston University and author of Christianity and Genocide in Rwanda
"Radner's ecclesiological explorations bring intense biblical, historical, and theological insights to bear on brutally honest assessments of the actual church(es) we live in."―Dr. Joseph D. Small, Pro Ecclesia
"[A Brutal Unity] draws the reader with whiplash speed through an astonishing quantity of texts as it tries to tease out answers and chart out futures for the fractured body of Christ."―Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, Institute for Ecumenical Research, Pro Ecclesia
"A Brutal Unity is a book of the workday: of academic analysis, digging into archives, deconstructing a whole history of ecclesial claims, and constructing guidelines for new ones. But it is labor offered for the sake of the end time and anticipating its coming. It is a book that demonstrates how academic writing can be infused with the spirit (of Scripture, of prayer, of the One who gives himself) and yet be no less academic."―Peter Ochs, University of Virginia, Pro Ecclesia
About the Author
Ephraim Radner is Professor of Historical Theology at Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto. He is the author or editor of seven books, including The Fate of Communion: The Agony of Anglicanism and the Future of a Global Church and Hope Among the Fragments: The Broken Church and Its Engagement of Scripture. He lives in Toronto, Ontario.
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Imagine (as if we have to) a cantankerous public debate between a Christian and one of the new atheists. After the predictable sparring over whether or not God exists, the dispute takes its historical turn. The atheist recites the great litany of ecclesial sins--ways that the church has elicited or even sponsored violence. The Christian then comes to faith's defense, relaying as much of William Cavanaugh's The Myth of Religious Violence as a pithy sound bite allows. But what if, rather than defending the church, the Christian goes off script, replying instead with a range of accusations against Christians that surpass what the atheist has offered, thereby transforming the debate into an act of public penance? Gone is the fear that Christianity might not be true (one that gives rise to so much nervously animated apologetics). Replacing it is a different fear--and a profound sense of disorientation. Such might be the performance of Ephraim Radner, professor of historical theology at the University of Toronto's Wycliffe College, were he to pinch-hit for the latest defender of the faith. Or so we can gather from his latest publication, A Brutal Unity: The Spiritual Politics of the Christian Church.
Penitential scenarios like this have been conjured before--in Donald Miller's bestselling Blue Like Jazz, for instance, in which Christian undergraduates construct a reverse confessional booth where they apologize for the church's failings ("You know, the Crusades and all that stuff") to revelers at Reed College; or in the general inclination of any number of enterprising evangelicals to distance themselves from the church's disappointing historical "baggage." But Radner's approach differs from such accounts as a gritty, high-stakes playoff game in the NFL differs from a pick-up game of Ultimate Frisbee. Indeed, A Brutal Unity rivals Charles Taylor's A Secular Age and Brad Gregory's The Unintended Reformation in its scope and complexity, and might even be considered an attempt to retell just those stories. Radner, a Protestant, agrees with his Catholic interlocutors that something in our modern world has gone wrong. However, he places the blame for this less on an elusive pattern of secularization (Taylor) or on Protestant fragmentation (Gregory) than on the much wider phenomenon of Christian disunity itself, for which there is ample blame to go around. Indeed for Radner, Christian disunity is what gave birth to--or rather, miscarried--the liberal democratic state.
These are massive claims, and Radner marshals the erudition to uphold them, or at least to make an impressive attempt. His work builds upon his earlier publications, such as Spirit and Nature: The Saint-Médard Miracles in 18th-Century Jansenism, on a group of reform-minded Catholics who (unlike their Protestant counterparts) did not press their agenda to the point of breaking communion. Radner's 1998 book The End of the Church: A Pneumatology of Christian Division in the West argued that the Holy Spirit has abandoned the church. Based on a figurative reading of the Old Testament, Radner suggests that fleeing to another communion (a Protestant becoming Catholic, for example) would be like an Israelite, after the sack of Samaria by the Assyrians, fleeing to the "safety" of Judah, which would eventually be sacked by the Babylonians. One might suggest that his figural reading was so effective that Radner's argument has been about as popular in our day as Jeremiah's was in his. That said, Radner has practiced what he preaches, plunging himself into scandalous situations of Christian complicity in his mission work in Burundi, and more recently as an ordained Episcopal priest who, though being of a more traditional persuasion in the matters of the hour, insists on staying put.
A Brutal Unity is Lenten reading. Radner is immensely learned, and his prose does not go down easy. His book seems triggered with some kind of advanced security device that prohibits casual readers from coming away with a quick summation. The only way through this trail of tears is to walk it slowly, page by painful page. A Brutal Unity is less an ecclesiology than an "eristology," which Radner defines as "the study of hostility in its disordering forms and forces." Christian ecclesiologies, he charges, have not taken division seriously enough; in fact, Protestant and Catholic thinkers have expressly denied that disunity is fundamentally real. To disabuse us of this evasion, which he terms "schismatological idealism," Radner works his way through past church divisions and their debilitating present effects. Aware of the depressing impact of his rhetoric, Radner ends each harrowing chapter with a sermonic refrain, though offering little comfort: He riffs on Peter's tears, abandoned Jerusalem, or the apostolicity of Judas, in which we mysteriously participate. Because they offer the opposite of feel-good American evangelicalism, these sermonettes might be packaged separately and marketed under the title, "Your Worst Life Now."
Radner's opening argument involves an extended polemic against William Cavanaugh's aforementioned The Myth of Religious Violence, a book that--in Radner's view--unjustifiably absolves Christians from their share in the violence of the liberal state. On the contrary, the church needs the liberal state as much as the liberal state needs the church, because the nations as we know them arose from the inability of Christians to refrain from mutual murder. One thinks of the Muslim who holds the key to Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre, because Christian factions so frequently erupt into fistfights at ground zero of their resurrected life.
Radner marches his readers deep into the killing fields of Rwandan genocide and the Holocaust, and returns to these two catastrophes throughout the book, as if tightening a cilice. By documenting how Christians were unable to prevent them, Radner is not suggesting that religious division causes violence as much as that it coheres with it, which is to say, Christian division is not the exclusive inflamer of violence, but it is a central one. In the case of Rwanda, Radner painstakingly catalogues how embedded Christian divisions caused a "moral paralysis" and "handicap[ped] the gospel's power to model a Christian community with any effective integrity." Radner's sources on the Holocaust are even more thorough. He unearths a horrible instance of ecumenical cooperation: Among the members of death squads, "most were in fact at least nominal Christians, who had been formed in some fashion by their churches .... They were Protestants and Catholics both."
If this sounds familiar, it is because many opponents of religion have marshaled such statistics to vilify Christianity. Radner is well aware of such accounts, their exaggerations and unwarranted conclusions. But this does not deter him:
"[T]he historical evidence does show that Christian division, especially in the case of the Holocaust, did indeed occupy a facilitating role and was at least informed by prior relationships of antipathy that were never overcome in the face of evil--we can and must say this at least, and accept its challenge to our ecclesial self-understanding."
To suggest otherwise, Radner says--whether to exonerate Pope Pius XII or to overemphasize the role of Bonhoeffer (who had to leave the wider church behind)--is to succumb to what he terms "hallucinogenic fantasy." Figural readings of the Bible are often dismissed as fanciful, but Radner's figuralism has teeth, and his reading of the Church "as herself Jew" does much to properly acknowledge the extent of Christian complicity in the Shoah. "The failure and often outright refusal to treat the Church and Israel as joined has proven disastrous both to the Jewish Israel's existence and to the Christian Church's integrity." And here is a sentence to provoke heart-warming discussion at the next neighborhood Bible study: "The dead bodies, as it were, are already gathered by the time churches admit to complicity in their murder."
Radner explores Catholic and Protestant (and, to a lesser extent, Orthodox) attempts to deny the reality of Christian disunity by carving out an inviolable space of "the Church as such" in contrast to its earthy, sinful reality. But, for Radner, " 'the church as such' can never be reduced to the claims of exhaustive Catholic specificity or eschatological Protestant spiritual aggregationalism." Catholic ecclesiology, "complete in itself, admitting of neither diminution nor increase," and a Protestant vision of the church which is "circumstantial and contingent ... occasional and disclosive" are equally inadequate. The saving of the church from her own sins by concocting an invisible or elusive sanctity is, admittedly, a traditional theological move, but it has been a disastrous one. Were this approach employed Christologically, it would be plainly Gnostic. What then makes it permissible in a theology of the church?
Beginning with the Bible's Jerusalem Council, A Brutal Unity offers a small church history in and of itself, moving through Gregory the Great's Pastoral Rule, the Conciliar Movement, and into early modernism. Radner finds a workable model of church unity only in the pre-Nicene era, making the villain of his story Ephiphanius of Salamis (d. 403), who listed heresies and distanced the church from her enemies, especially the Jews. This, according to Radner, inaugurated the "Epiphanian paradigm" and its program of exclusionary violence. What follows from this, if I am reading Radner correctly, is the church's "brutal unity." Providentialism and proceduralism are the blinders that prevent the church from realizing its unholy predicament. The former is the notion that God was somehow at work in church councils despite the messiness of the process, however violent; the latter is the idea that somehow bureaucratic decisions and parliamentary process betray the hand of God. We should, Radner believes, trust neither.
It is not (so far as I can tell) that Radner disagrees with, for example, the Council of Chalcedon. Rather, he begrudges any appeal to providence that would gloss the savagery surrounding such councils. This leads to one of the book's most fruitful insights, as Radner takes on John Henry Newman's conclusion that the Miaphysites--by demurring from Chalcedon--were on the wrong side of history. Indeed, Newman's 1845 conversion to Catholicism was clinched with the realization that he, as an Anglican, was in the place of the Miaphysites, that is to say, a branch cut off from the church's main trunk. But Radner shows how Newman's view of Christian disunity cannot take account of the astonishing progress that has been made in recent reconciliation of the Non-Chalcedonian communities, where both parties cautiously admit there to have been misunderstanding. This does indeed, it seems to me, erode a facile appeal to providence (while not, we can hope, ruling out providence itself). It is, furthermore, an argument to which we should be especially sensitive considering the current plight of Miaphysite Christians in Egypt. I might add here that Newman's epithet for Geneva (i.e., Reformed Christianity) as having "ended in skepticism" can make little sense of the orthodox resurgence of Reformed thinkers like Karl Barth.
Having blocked off self-serving appeals to providence--even going so far (too far, I think) as to compare them to ethnic cleansing--Radner takes aim at his next target: The notion that due procedure is a harbinger of true unity. In discussing the variegated history of Conciliarism, he discerns a "proceduralist turn," or "the reduction of truth to procedural agreement." Radner traces the source of our naïve faith in the ballot box with lengthy and fascinating reassessments of Nicholas of Cusa, Henry of Navarre, and Thomas Hobbes, concluding that Conciliarism's pneumatic hope defaulted to process, and that the process failed. From the ashes of this defeat (to summarize a vast argument), the phoenix of liberalism emerges, with neologisms like "conscience" and "solidarity" in its wings: "The liberal state is not the antithesis of the Christian Church, but it nonetheless was partially driven, in its evolution, by the Church's failures of integrity .... [T]he Church's failures stand as a mirror image of the state's incapacities."
Following this geneology of liberalism, the book is then infused with bibliographic steroids. In addition to historical theology, Radner draws upon sources as varied as game theory, linguistics, neuro-science, and the literature of conflict resolution. But this is not mere strutting, for his purpose is clear: "Schism, heresy, discipline, fracture, discord negotiation, consensus, decision making, and reconciliation as practical forms of life bound up with diverse meanings and social constraints--all these have been studied with far greater care by sociologists than by the Church's theologians." Can we not see, argues Radner, that divisions have rendered Christian churches useless in evaluating human interaction? And this is why the world's effort at conflict resolution judges the church:
"[T]o engage such study as a Christian demands new humility that is not easily assumed, for it would expose the actual human dynamics that order ecclesial relations as frequently primary, and only masquerading as divine imperatives, gussied up by appeals to the Spirit and slothful and self-serving prophecies of pneumatic providence."
One thinks here of the summer assemblies--familiar to so many Mainline Protestants--that assume the winds of the Spirit can be harnessed with a majority vote.
Having dismissed a sweep of Christian history, one expects from Radner some kind of way forward, a revamping of what consensus-seeking might look like--something that can avoid the "procedural providentialism" that has been so unsuccessful. What he actually offers, however, is frustratingly elusive, however pious: Christian self-giving, "kenotic pragmatism," or simply the Beatitudes. "One would pray for the multiplication of pastors of unity such as this, and for their overwhelming of the structural political order that is its inadequate although inescapable shadow."
Medieval mysticism is replete with saints meditating upon, even entering, the wounds of the body of Christ. Having worked through the entirety of this book, I can now relate. For indeed, the wounding of Christ's body is the figurative truth that seems to unify Radner's alarming rhetoric. "Division is bound to the Lord of life himself .... What is unity? It is not something that can cleanse itself of division, since if it is a unity of love, it is born of division and bound to division." Division, furthermore, "is the central part of the history of the Church as a whole and in its parts." Though he does not put it quite this way, Radner's "robust 'somatic' ecclesiology" includes the wounds. Somehow this scrambles our traditional theological categories:
"In this life that is God's, any Anglican--or Roman Catholic or Methodist or Lutheran--can be Pentecostal; any Catholic Protestant can be an evangelical Protestant; any member of one church can be a member of another church that has separated from the first; any Roman Catholic can be a Protestant. Any Christian can do this, not because standards of truth have been cast away, but because the standards can be suffered, in their very contradiction by the place where he or she will go with Jesus."
As this suggests, Radner is after some kind of sacrificial knowing, and his postliberal formation at Yale under George Lindbeck here certainly shows. Could we call this a saving compromise? Radner (unsatisfyingly) answers this question with more questions: "But compromise with what? With truth? With unity itself? No: the compromise was long effected by the Church and churches through their catastrophic indolence." Nor is this an attempt to evade institutional necessity: "There are no anti-institutional 'strategies' for the Church. For bodies cannot take as their presupposition that they have no form." We are bound to those forms--Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox--and to the forms of the democracies most of us inhabit as well. We can escape from none of them, neither from our ecclesial divisions to safer communions, nor from our national situations to purer places.
Radner has done his best to seal off all the exits and force us to come to terms with his unpleasant thesis. Surely more objections could easily arise (from Cavanaugh especially), and one can imagine Protestant and Catholic responses that defend the church's traditional ecclesiologies, all less cruciform than Radner's. Radner may be right to distance himself from the traditional use of Mary as a figure for the church which, because of the doctrine of her sinless conception, has justified Catholicism's presumably immaculate "Church as such." But there are other ways of thinking of Mary's figural relation to the church that are left unexplored. And where is the theme--so prominent in church history, including Calvin--of the church as mother? I imagine Radner's answer here would be that our mother is a whore.
An Anglican critic might impolitely suggest that Radner's determination to stay Episcopalian has affected him to the point that he has inadvertently written the ultimate Episcopalian theology: inclusion at any cost. If unity "lunges in an almost annihilating direction with respect to diversity," should orthodox Christians cease saying the Nicene Creed in solidarity with the Arians they once rejected? Hopefully this is not the "sacrifice of conscience" for which Radner repeatedly calls. I wonder if there is enough traction left in Radner's truth claims to let him name supercessionism the heresy that it may be. Is "Epiphanian" exclusion, furthermore, not already present in the New Testament itself (2 Tim. 4:3-4; I Cor. 5:2; Matt. 18:15-17; 1 John 4:1-6)? And yet, of all the things one can say about this book, to say it is unscriptural is not one of them. A Brutal Unity is biblically saturated in its substance, scope, and penitential shape. Having eaten Radner's book, my stomach is bitter--but the Old Testament has never been more alive. And one verse from the New--interpreted figurally--seems to summarize Radner's thrust, whether applied to our own fractured churches (of whatever communion) or to the liberal state itself: "Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, 'Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved'" (Acts 27:31).
Let the figural interpretation continue: When David was insulted and pelted by Shimei of the house of Saul, David's companions rallied to his defense, threatening to decapitate his adversary. David's response surprised them. Permit Shimei's harangue, he told them, for "If he is cursing because the Lord said to him, 'Curse David,' who then shall say, 'Why have you done so?'" (2 Sam. 16:10). In the same way, as much as Radner frustrates and unnerves me, I hesitate to defend ecclesiology as I know it from his reproof, lest his message also be God's. That said, most of us will prefer the lying prophets of feel-good ecumenism (1 Kings 22:22) to this Micaiah. They tell us our divisions are good; "everybody gets a prize, for each church carries a special 'charism.'" But Radner refuses to stir up another tonic to settle our stomachs. Instead, he swallows the gall of ecclesial realism to the dregs: "It is not only the case that the Church is fallible, but that the Church is actually deformable, pervertible, turning into the contradiction of her own claims." On that note, can somebody please pour me a drink?
To read Radner is to assume a reading experience marked by a measure of austerity and angst that rarely accompanies such literary ramblings.
His words pierce and swelter - attending to them thus being a deeply uneasy task. The reader is swept up, or perhaps, pulled down, into a deep penitential movement that is at once necessary and painful. Indeed, to read Radner's tome is to subject oneself to a harsh ascesis. One of healing and sanctification, no doubt, but that is only after having exacted a heavy toll.
This is true even at the level of intellectual argument. Radner's work betrays an erudition and interdisciplinary acumen that is seemingly without rival. It is difficult to imagine more than a handful of folks able to keep pace with the diverse, wide-ranging arguments forwarded across the 480 pages. This breadth renders Radner's book heavily resistant to classification. On his own account, it is an exercise in ecclesiology - particularly, an account of ecclesial division - however, I doubt many theologians can match Radner's aptitude in matters of history, political theory, and sociology. In fact, this distinctive feature of his work, namely, its interdisciplinary reach, justifies a hearty commendation in its own right. For the work of a theologian of the Church is no less demanding than this. Yet, of course, the corollary is that folks like myself, who are far less adroit in the above arenas, are condemned to struggle at various points throughout. I trust Dr. Radner will forgive my illiteracy regarding Bayesian probability theory.
Nonetheless, this ought not prevent humble readers from engaging this work. It is well worth the rigorous demand.
Admittedly, though, the central argument can be difficult to ascertain. It revolves around the contention that life, as participation in Christ's life, demands sacrifice. Or in more Christological terms, kenosis. Radner states, "To live is to give up parts of ourselves, and to live fully is to give ourselves away fully" (p. 1). This could rightly be called a kenotic humanism. Jesus said no less, "whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matt. 16:25). Or again, "unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24).
Radner extends this paradox of fulfilment-in-loss into his discussion of the life of the Church. He writes,
These elements of giving up and fulfilling at once . . . pertain to the Christian Church; they describe who she is and thus finally they describe what it means, given who she is, to be "one" Church, the united Church that so eludes her members and whose lack so subverts her life and purpose. (p. 1)
He goes on,
To be "one Church" is to be joined to the unity of the Son to the Father, who, in the Spirit, gives himself away (Heb 9:14), not in some general flourish of self-denial, but to and for the sake of his enemies, the "godless," for their life . . . Not that the Church in fact does this. She does not, and hence she is not one, and finally therefore she is not who she is meant to be. (p. 1-2)
It is this problem of the Church's failure to be herself that Radner seeks to address. In fact, apart from all my lofty praise above, I don't think he succeeds. Of course, how could he? A book cannot give unity. Yet, those who are in the thick of ecclesial life will not find a great deal of guidance for ecumenical endeavors. At least, not at the level of praxis. This may lessen its value, however, it cannot be held as a critique insofar as Radner is not attempting to provide a field manual for ecumenism. Nonetheless, if readers are like myself, they will find themselves at the end disoriented and wildly uncertain about how to go forward. Below I will suggest a couple of ways I think Radner's work could be embodied, however, that is a matter that could definitely use much more clarity.
Radner's search for a viable account of unity, or oneness, leads him into a survey of various Christian attempts throughout the Church's history. Most significant, negatively, is Epiphanus, who deemed all churches outside of the catholic church heretical, and thus, not part of the Church. The Epiphanian conception therefore allows the Church to float above all division. She is one, and therefore division is not a possibility. Through a beautiful typological reading of the Last Supper, Radner argues that the Church must accept that "Judas is 'one of us,' not some other" (p. 120). There is no church that sits in the heavens unstained from the sins of her members. "It is the Church, not something other than the Church, who divides and murders" (p. 120).
If division must be acknowledged and maintained as a grim trait of the true Church, then what do we do with the third article of the creed? Toss it out? No, the Church remains "one," yet somehow her oneness must include her division. Radner grounds this oneness, not in the Church's peaceable communal existence, but rather in Christ himself. He states memorable, "She is the whore taken by the Lord (cf. Hos 3), and in her 'takenness' lies her ecclesiality" (p. 157).
This is an insightful maneuver, however, a tension remains. For it is unclear, if the Church is one, as Radner seems to affirm, and if she is divided, which is undeniable, then what is it that we are striving for in regards to unity? Are we seeking to express and manifest the unity that we already possess? I think this is what he would say. He writes,
the Spirit acts to submit the Church to the history of Jesus: that is where oneness, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity are given and exist; they are Christ's first, as his, and as his gift given, in the gathering of the Church to himself. (p. 164)
This work of the Spirit, in the Church, is a work over time. This is why Radner can say that the figure of the self-giving Christ "is the figure of the Church's history, and it is in fact one that is possible to trace, carefully, and in awe" (403). By scanning the Church's life across the ages, we are able to witness the Church working out the oneness given her by Christ.
So while we can say that we have oneness, it is a oneness that we must strive to manifest. And its manifestation will be characterized not by consensus. Radner argues against any conception of oneness that deems it convertible with "agreement." Rather, siding with the conciliarists, he proffers a certain kind of ecclesial proceduralism. He asks, with a presumably affirmative response,
Is it the case that the failure of pneumatic providentialism in ecclesial agreement has simply given way to an acceptance of a basically agonistic providence not simply in the sense that agreement and unity is finally reached through a process of dispute but that such dispute itself marks the character of unity? (p. 293)
This is the route political liberalism has taken. Thus, it is to the liberal nation-state that Radner looks for an exemplar. Certainly not a popular move in current theological politics! Yet, it must be noted that Radner is not nearly naive enough to express a fullblow approval of liberalism. On his own account, it is failing. Nonetheless, it has something significant to teach the Church.
He is actually much akin to Stanley Hauerwas here. In The Conrad Grebel Review, Hauerwas made the startling claim,
Even though I am an unaplogetic Enlightenment and Liberalism basher, I actual believe that God gave us the Enlightenment as a judgment on the failure of Constantinian Christianity, and that this is a great new opportunity for us to recover the gift that is the church. (emphasis mine)
Radner presses this farther, stating that the liberal nation-state is not only a sign of judgment against the church, but rather that the state has, in many ways, been a replacement for the Church, picking up her slack. This is frankly an offensive argument. However, he maybe right.
It was the gospel that had originally offered such an alternative to coercion, but now that alternative's rediscovery, at least in general form, lay within the hands of those without recourse either to a faith in the Church's or, finally, in the civil procedure's motivating social purposes. While the gospel judges the "world," God has seen fit to let the world judge the Church. (p. 380)
The strength here is that Radner is able to offer a narration of modernity that is not merely a deflationary account. Though, it would be wrong to say that it is recklessly positive. As I said, he thinks liberalism is failing. And it is this failing that Radner proposes the Church can, and must, resolve. The Church's "own oneness, as she receives it, marks the redemption of human political ordering" (p. 2). There is clearly a great deal of nuance here. And Radner is right to argue that the well being of the Church and the world are interconnected.
This is already too long, but one more factor must be noted. Radner argues that while the proceduralist approach is necessary, it is not enough. It cannot sustain itself (and that's the problem of liberal democracy). Unity must include procedure, but it must be more than that. Proceduralism must be couple with a rigorous Christic-kenotic sacrifice of the conscience. A willingness to welcome blasphemers and traitors. To take in heretics and sinners. What of the purity of the Church? It is already compromised. Division is already blasphemy. What of holiness? Her holiness is in her welcoming of the sinner - just as with Christ. It is as the Church gives herself away - "fully" - that she can live fully and be the hope of the world.
So briefly we must as how would this could be embodied.
I think, for one, pastors and church leaders must seek friendship with those outside their own traditions. Baptist pastors in Portland must befriend Episcopalian bishops and Catholic priests. Methodists must commune with Charismatics. Quakers must converse with Lutherans. There is a special call on the leaders in this respect. They must model the wide embrace and self-emptying of Christ.
Second, churches must recognize the violence of division. We must acknowledge the Church's failings in places like Rwanda, Burundi, and Germany, and thus, prioritize the call to oneness.
Lastly, churches must pray for other churches - across all divisions. Our gatherings must foster an ever extending heart of love and care for the outsider.
As I said, there is much more work to be done in thinking through the ways in which Radner's insights can be worked out. Nonetheless, they are insights that must be worked out. This is a profoundly beautiful book. It is painful, yet, it does not leave one without hope.
Political theologians must deal with his arguments. Folks like Milbank, Taylor, and Gregory will need to reckon with his narrative of modernity. Exegets would do well to consider his rich typology. Church leaders ought to heed his call for ecumenical sacrifice. And all of us who pray to the God who raised Christ from the dead must fast and cry out for our Father to give us unity. For how else are we to be hope for the world?