The strife is over. The battle is won. I finally clawed my way through Milbank’s Theology & Social Theory. It’s not that the book is especially long (about 400 pages), but that it’s incredibly dense. Here are some of my reflections on the book (Disclaimer: If you disagree with me, or think that I’m in error, please leave a comment.)
According to Milbank, the church has created two monsters. First, we have created the monster of modern liberal thought (Note: This is not “liberal” or “conservative” as Democratic and Republican parties, but rather liberal in the sense that all modern political thought is liberal.) This monster claims that property, possession, and dominion are the rights of all people. Christianity helped create this monster by emphasizing the separation of soul and body, secular and religious, and by extolling the individuality of all people. Why is this monstrous? Because it focuses on self-love rather than the truly Christian principle of self-donation.
The other monster that we have created is nihilism, the naked exaltation of power. At different points in history, we have seen the Church order itself and those under its influence by violence. Now, some persuasion is necessary for the church in order to preach the gospel. Rhetoric is necessary for proclamation. This becomes the monster of nihilism when power replaces persuasion, and the church begins to behave as a locus of violence rather than the true community of self-giving and peace.
The Church has created these monsters, and we find these terrors lurking in our Christian communities. What can destroy these villains? Well, only the Church can. The Church, the true community of peace and self-donation, the place of fair exchange, justice, and virtue, can finally put these monsters to rest.
Now, we must not do this by violence, for that is only a return to what ails us. But at the same time, we must not step back and watch as our people “do their own thing,” for that is the realm of secular thought.
So what do we do? Well, we tell our story. We tell of the God Most High who created all that is, who made a covenant with this community, whose dear Son refused violence in favor of peace, and who finally destroyed death. Christians may not make the most convincing arguments. We may never be the smartest guys in the room. We may never have the power or authority to make it so. But what we do have is a damned good story – a story that puts all other stories of violence and treachery and greed to shame.