Tracy’s Blessed Rage for Order Part II


I suppose the machinations of theological methodology are a necessary evil of the discipline, an extended prolegomena that precedes actual theological reflection; a sort of reflecting on how one reflects, if you like.

If Tracy’s Blessed Rage for Order is a second order reflection on reflecting about God, then this blog post is a third-order reflection; to put it awkwardly, a reflection on how one has reflected on reflecting (and any comments on this post thus simply become fourth-order instances in this same continuum). The Roman Catholic theologian David Tracy’s Blessed Rage for Order is one of the most eminent and important examples of this type theological methodology, a meditation not so much on theology itself, but on how one should do theology – or, in what context in which theology should be carried out. To this end, as Jeremy helpfully outlines in the previous post, Tracy basically outlines what he sees as five basic models of theology that are presently employed; the orthodox, the neo-orthodox, the radical, the liberal, and the revisionist. I will not so much take issue with how he has labeled theologians so much as with the fact that he has labelled them at all.

While it is natural to try and organize thinkers in thoroughgoing acts of categorization, I think naming in such a manner is part of a power discourse that ultimately seeks to negate what he been named by placing thinkers who share a few superficial commonalties into a group so that they can be dismissed. As Kierkeegard somewhere said, “Once you label me you negate me.” Hence the reason why some scholars deny the existence of the category of Gnosticism, which is really a large and disparate category of various religious tendencies grouped under a model and which the early church dismissed. This is my largest issue with Tracy’s theological methodology. In comparing his revisionist model to others, he hardly seems to be to do justice to any of them.  I have an especial distaste for the term “neo-orthodox” to describe the school of theology supposedly fronted by Karl Barth, as if Barth, Brunner, and Tillich were identical theologically. The category seems woefully inaccurate. The term certainly rpceeds Tracy, and perhaps I am taking out some of my angst at such categorization on Tracy, but I don’t find it helpful. But more to the point, I don’t see how the neo-orthodox as outlined by Tracy is mutually exclusive of his concept of orthodoxy, which as Tracy represents covers quite a wide spectrum (24). (I don’t think, for example, anyone would really question Barth’s orthodoxy.) Moreover, for Tracy neo-orthodox is really a reaction to and part of the liberal model. A “moment” in the liberal model, as Tracy words it (27).  Thus, neo-orthodox can be thought of as part of three of the five models.

His fifth model is, as far as I can tell, really best described as a modification of the liberal or neo-orthodox category, as Tracy spends a great deal of time in the book developing a method of correlation distinct, but not unlike, Tillich’s more famous ‘method of correlation.’ His whole dichotomy of placing certain theological systems into models is for me unhelpful and obfuscating. And because of its general nature, it really does not do justice to the systems it seeks to categorize.


2 Responses to “Tracy’s Blessed Rage for Order Part II”

  1. A.J. Smith Says:

    And, was I the only one surprised by the amount of Altizer in this book?

  2. Jeremy Says:

    I didn’t find the development of his own model especially unique. I think your problem with the ‘orthodox’ label would be better placed with ‘traditional’. Clearly Barth is trying to work with the symbols of tradition, but he is trying to same something new about Christian theology. I think Tillich also defies categorization into these different models. On the one hand, he is similar to the liberal theologians in trying to address the philosophical and cultural problems of the day with Christian symbols. On the other hand, he breaks largely from the liberal tradition insofar as he is critical of the classical 19th century liberal tradition.

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