"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Ephraim Radner's Ecclesial-Existential Despair

I'm very nearly finished slogging my way through Ephraim Radner, A Brutal Unity: The Spiritual Politics of the Christian Church (Baylor UP, 2012), 500pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
To describe the Church as "united" is a factual misnomer--even at its conception centuries ago. Ephraim Radner provides a robust rethinking of the doctrine of the church in light of Christianity's often violent and at times morally suspect history. He holds in tension the strange and transcendent oneness of God with the necessarily temporal and political function of the Church, and, in so doing, shows how the goals and failures of the liberal democratic state provide revelatory experiences that greatly enhance one's understanding of the nature of Christian unity.
It is a maddening book: full of searing, and very rare, insights which we all need to ponder at length and from which we can profit a great deal. Radner raises questions, challenges, and issues that almost nobody else does--and does not allow facile answers to them, either.

But it is also prolix book that is far too long--so long that the author almost seems to forget where he was going in several places, and never seems to come back to flesh out, let alone attempt to resolve, some of the crucial issues with which he so commendably began.

For all that--and I will have more comments in more detail in the coming days--this book deserves a hearing, which I say because, candidly, it forced me to rethink arguments advanced by William Cavanaugh, which I long ago accepted as cogent and compelling on the issue of violence and the impossibility of distinguishing violence done in the name of "religion" vs. that of the modern state. Radner shows that matters are both more complicated and also simpler than Cavanaugh allows.

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