New Traditionalists

A theological discussion I have been following recently includes the criticisms against Hauerwas, MacIntyre and Milbank – together lumped under the category “new traditionalists” – and the responses these theologians have given. These writers are caricaturized as having a penchant for over-generalizing heterogeneous terms and epochs, such as liberalism or democracy, thereby fabricating them as straw enemies that can be polemically refuted and dualistically supplanted with a pure theological politics and narrative. By instating these binary boundaries the new traditionalists are perceived to be inflexible in dialogue and transformation since hypothetical conversations with other traditions have been obviated by a Christian telos that predetermines the outcome of conflicts before they ever take place. This approach of smoothing over conflicts and maintaining a distinctive witness has been criticized as an example of ecclesial totalitarianism which unifies a plurality of people through indoctrination by education. Furthermore, this pedagogical strategy presupposes a singular, self-evident and pure Christian church and narrative which have never existed. More accurately, there are many Christian narratives, each corrupted and dependent upon other narratives, thereby rending the ongoing Christian historical tradition more messy and complex than projected. The new traditionalists acknowledge these ambiguities but are still convinced there is sufficient continuity and consistency to our particular tradition in order to name what differentiates us from unfaithful practices and knowledges. The spectrum of belief we name orthodoxy does not inhibit dialogue nor requires us to boil it down to the least common-denominator but fosters ecumenical debate and charitable listening; including a vulnerable receptivity towards outsiders. Interpreted within this catholic orientation, the pugnacity and roughness of the new traditionalists has been invoked to involve others and stimulate discussion rather than occlude it.

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