The problem with ‘apocalyptic theology’
Underlying many of the recent criticisms of apocalyptic theology there seems to be a rather deep-seated anxiety about the ever-pervasive threat of instability. The worry seems to stem from the widely-held assumption that instability somehow defines ‘postmodernity,’ which is itself seen as nothing more than a kind of radical hyperextension of modernity. Such is our current existential crisis in the global capitalist, Internet Age. The problem with apocalyptic theology, in this view, is that it isn’t a particularly good remedy for this global sickness. With its emphasis on discontinuity and otherness, apocalyptic theology is immediately suspect as fostering a kind of Derridean rejection of ‘presence,’ ‘identity,’ ‘continuity,’ and the Universal. The language of the church as an ‘event’ could never help anyone secure a proper location, a place for the corpus mysticum toward which the world is supposedly ordered. With its emphasis on kenosis, dispossession, and mission, apocalyptic theology fails to account for the church as ‘habitable culture,’ a polis in its own right. Worst of all, apocalyptic theology is no good for ecumenism and the search for institutional unity among the churches. What we need is not the Barth of Der Römerbrief as the ‘apocalypticos’ say, but Balthasar’s truly catholic Barth. Apocalyptic theology, following the early Barth, is terribly iconoclastic, fideistic, and (God-forbid!) downright Kierkegaardian.
In a time of instability what we need is a theology of stability and this finally means we must root out apocalyptic from theology once and for all. After all, our salvation depends on it! Intellectual obscurity is only the least of our worries. If we are to move forward and be steadfast in our commitment to the continuation of the institutional church in the world, what is needed is a theological remedy to this instability. For the “Radically Orthodox,” the remedy is a recovery of a properly theological metaphysics, and in particular, a metaphysics that is “robust” enough to subvert those harbinger’s of ‘postmodern’ instability, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida (name your enemy!). You won’t ever hear anyone outright admit to this of course, but what is thought to be needed is really nothing other than a recovery of what Heidegger rightly derided as “ontotheology.” We could be still more precise than this: what is needed, for many, is a recovery of the doctrine of the analogia entis coupled with its proper Platonic scaffolding. In the end, with its search for a ground of Being, the eternal, the universal, Truth, Goodness, Beauty, and the One–neo-platonic participation metaphysics (if not especially in a Thomistic vein)–just is the metaphysics of conservatism par excellence.