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Introducing Radical Orthodoxy

Mapping a Post-secular Theology

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"[Smith] has to be the brightest under-40 theologian in America. His productivity is astounding and his insights always challenging. . . . Many technical debates are deftly summarized here. . . . Recommended [for] graduate students and teachers looking for an efficient overview."--S. H. Webb, Choice


The news of modernity's death has been greatly exaggerated. The Enlightenment project lives on in the notion of "the secular"--a zone decontaminated of religious belief. But the postmodern critique of modernity also calls into question the very notion of the secular, presenting an opportunity for questions such as, If modernity is essentially linked to the secular, shouldn't Christians welcome the advent of postmodernity?

In Introducing Radical Orthodoxy, James K. A. Smith plays the role of a cartographer, mapping the landscape of contemporary theology and culture in order to introduce the distinctive voice of Radical Orthodoxy, which is associated with John Milbank, Graham Ward, Catherine Pickstock, and others. Radical Orthodoxy, he argues, has important things to say to both the academy and the church.

Radical Orthodoxy affirms that there is no "secular." All is religious. If that is the case, Smith maintains, then the intellectual framework of all academic disciplines must be distinctively Christian. To deny this, he writes, is to fall victim to the modernist siren song of objective reason, which, in fact, is a pagan song in disguise. Radical Orthodoxy also challenges the church to a radical discipleship, resisting accommodation to a culture dominated by consumerism and violence.

Drawing on Augustine and Aquinas, engaged through the lenses of the Reformed thought of Calvin, Kuyper, and Dooyeweerd, Smith argues that Radical Orthodoxy is in an ideal position to articulate an old-but-new postmodern theology that resonates with the Reformed tradition.

Introducing Radical Orthodoxy will prove to be an invaluable guide, introducing an intellectual movement that challenges the church to consider the role of biblical revelation for all areas of life. It will find its place on the bookshelves of professors, students, and pastors.


"Most interpreters seem to be captive to their particular discipline--either they are theologians not well-versed in philosophy, or they are philosophers who use theology ironically or do not take theology seriously. Smith is clearly the person to write this book because he understands both philosophy and theology. I found this to be a wonderful read that accomplishes key moves not yet made among the major participants in this conversation."--D. Stephen Long, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary

"Smith is always fair and kind to his Radical Orthodoxy interlocutors, yet he is able to distance himself when necessary. Persons wanting to familiarize themselves with the movement will need to read Smith's book to get a clear picture of what drives Radical Orthodoxy theologians and to contextualize their own readings of Radical Orthodoxy authors. I was particularly impressed by Smith's ability to lay out the key elements of Radical Orthodoxy's approach. He writes clearly and understandably, without unnecessarily simplifying the issues involved. This book will no doubt be read with interest, as well as with profit, by theologians, philosophers, students, and other keen individuals."--Hans Boersma, Trinity Western University

"I would have understood Radical Orthodoxy a lot better and a lot sooner if this book had been available earlier. Neither a mere summary nor an uncritical embrace, the book invites us to take this important and dense theological project seriously. Regardless of whether one joins the Radical Orthodoxy ranks, Smith is a highly qualified Virgil to lead us through the labyrinth. In fact, his own deployment of Radical Orthodoxy emphases is an impressive contribution on its own. This is must reading for anyone seeking a better grasp not only of Radical Orthodoxy but also of the potential for a theological rationality that eschews both the canons of secular reason and a dualistic fideism."--Michael S. Horton, professor of theology and apologetics, Westminster Seminary, California

"Smith guides the reader in sparkling and lucid fashion among complex issues and debates without ever a hint of travesty. This is a fine achievement. He opens up an unexpectedly fertile discussion between Radical Orthodoxy and his own Dutch Reformed legacy."--Catherine Pickstock, Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge; author of After Writing

"Smith undertakes a bold, twofold task: to show us the unifying spirit that permeates the perplexing plethora of ideas emerging under the rubric of Radical Orthodoxy and to stage a critical dialogue between that perspective and the Reformed tradition. By performing both tasks so effectively, he has given a wonderful gift to both the academic community and the churches out of which these discourses emerge and to which they are addressed. Smith's voice will command increasing attention and respect by virtue of its harmonious blend of scholarship and passion."--Merold Westphal, distinguished professor of philosophy, Fordham University

"Radical Orthodoxy, like it or hate it (and many do!), is the only interesting phenomenon on the British theological scene. This is the first book-length exposition and critique, reliable in its account, fair in its objections, and itself a valuable intervention in current debates about the crisis in Christian theology."--Fergus Kerr, Regent of Blackfriars Hall, University of Oxford

"Introducing Radical Orthodoxy more than lives up to its title, offering a sympathetic though not uncritical account of an important new theological sensibility that is clearer and more succinct than that given by some of the movement's founders. It is a comprehensive bibliography and a clarion call to post-secular theology. Smith shuttles the reader between Amsterdam, Paris, and Cambridge in an ambitious attempt to improve upon Radical Orthodoxy's vision through a series of diplomatic discussions with Reformed theology, particularly its Dutch franchise. Both Reformed theology and Radical Orthodoxy gain in stature from the conversation. This book is a must-read for students of contemporary theology."--Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Blanchard Professor of Theology, Wheaton College and Graduate School

"While contributing to the dialogue between Radical Orthodoxy and his own Reformed tradition, Jamie Smith also introduces the movement to a wider audience--not as an expert speaking to novices (they would find it tough sledding) but as a gracious host introducing his guests to one another. He encourages his readers to become better acquainted with this new theological sensibility so that they might do what he has done: strike up a conversation, enter into a real relationship, and perhaps even become friends."--David S. Cunningham, professor of religion, Hope College

The Author

  1. James K. A. Smith
    Seth Thompson, © 2017 Green Frog Photo

    James K. A. Smith

    James K. A. Smith (PhD, Villanova University) is a popular speaker and the award-winning author of a number of influential books, including Desiring the Kingdom, How (Not) to Be Secular, You Are What You Love, On the Road with...

    Continue reading about James K. A. Smith


"Smith . . . has to be the brightest under-40 theologian in America. His productivity is astounding and his insights always challenging. This book is more an act of service to the academy than an original work of scholarship, but Smith cannot help pushing the limits of his topic. . . . Milbank is the most brilliant theologian now writing, and Smith is up to the task of making sense of his work. Smith challenges Milbank from the perspective of a vibrant Calvinism. He is especially good on Milbank's retrieval of Plato and the ambiguities of a Christian philosophy of participation. Many technical debates are deftly summarized here. . . . Recommended [for] graduate students and teachers looking for an efficient overview."--S. H. Webb, Choice

"While there are certainly portions of the volume from which non-professionals will be able to glean insight, for the most part Smith has written a work best calibrated for theorists and theologians. Happily, his volume also possesses a number of aids for further study. Each chapter leads off with a side-panel of key related readings and contains copious footnotes throughout. There is an extensive 14-page bibliography of sources by and about RO. Separate name and subject indexes provide an efficient tool to guide selective reading. Altogether, Smith has put together a comprehensive . . . introduction to and guide for the further study of Radical Orthodoxy."--Ashley Woodiwiss, Christianity Today

"Because Radical Orthodoxy (RO hereafter) stands to edify so many in our fellowship of the faithful, James K. A. Smith's Introducing Radical Orthodoxy: Mapping a Post-secular Theology stands to become quite an important book to those of us attempting to articulate the gospel of Jesus Christ in a manner fitting our callings and our contexts. Smith, writing from the Reformed tradition (think Calvin, Kuyper, and their intellectual descendents), brings the more Catholic RO project into dialogue with his own rigorous Protestantism, and the resulting encounters open doors for exciting theological work yet to be done."--Nathan P. Gilmour,

"Radical Orthodoxy is perhaps the most influential, yet also the most misunderstood, of the current theological movements. . . . James K. A. Smith's book is the first comprehensive effort to cut through these misunderstandings. Smith's own Reformed theological perspective affords him a helpful means of mapping Radical Orthodoxy's origins, while also perhaps charting a course for its future. . . . Smith's impressive effort affords a wider audience with an understanding of how the intentions driving Radical Orthodoxy are finding their way into the work of those within and beyond theology. . . . Introducing Radical Orthodoxy proves to be an impressive attempt to clarify some of the misunderstandings that often reduce the influential prowess of a movement such as Radical Orthodoxy. . . . Perhaps Smith's book will serve as the means of charting the course for the future of this important movement."--Todd C. Ream and Kevin K. Wright, Heythrop Journal

"This book succeeds in its intent as an introduction to radical orthodoxy and a critique of modernist and post-modernist claims of neutrality. It would be helpful to students wanting to know more of this emerging theological school. . . . Introducing Radical Orthodoxy is a fascinating read and valuable for strengthening one's theological understanding of God's grace in a post-modern world."--Peter Althouse, Pneuma Review

"Smith's thematic approach gives the reader a comprehensive, sympathetic, and compelling portrait of a very diverse and controversial theological program. . . . The real strength of Smith's entire project (not limited to this book alone) lies in his attempt to eschew RO [Radical Orthodoxy] as yet another modern meta-methodological option, and rather to locate within it a strategy for resituating us as theologians relative to the specificities of our confessional traditions and the concreteness of our local ecclesial bodies, and for engaging in critical theological conversation from out of those locales. . . . This, above all, is what Smith should be commended for: he introduces RO in such a way as not to proffer his readers pre-conceived theological formulae, but rather to commit his readers to an ongoing theological conversation, and to call them to a theological task to be realized--the task of self-critical, confessional faithfulness to the church in today's world. Inasmuch as Smith's work continues to call us to precisely this task, and insofar as it assists the reader in engaging RO in a mode of faithfulness to this task, it remains a work worthy of our time and attention."--Nathan R. Kerr, Westminster Theological Journal

"What a relief: at last a book about Radical Orthodoxy that is comprehensible. I kept thinking that perhaps the next chapter would become so esoteric and obscure that it would end up being incomprehensible like so many of the other books on Radical Orthodoxy I have struggled with, but to my delight it never happened. So it gives me great pleasure to announce that there is now a book on Radical Orthodoxy where you don't need a PhD in semantics to understand it. So you're probably thinking it must be a Noddy guide, just a superficial survey and something that the initiated would not recognise. But you'd be wrong, for the foreword is written by the founding father of the movement, John Millbank. . . . James Smith seems to be an authority on another theological tradition as well, that being the Dutch Calvinist tradition from Kuyper to Dooyeweerd, and at various points he initiates a fascinating dialogue between these two perspectives, believing that they can learn significant lessons from each other. . . . As an introduction and an appreciative critique of Radical Orthodoxy it is difficult to fault. It has clearly been meticulously researched by someone whom you feel could have written authoritatively on a number of other traditions as well. Above all, you come away from reading it feeling you now have a decent grasp of what this influential theological movement stands for."--Tim Hull, Anvil

"Not only does Smith do a superb job of presenting the 'spirit' or 'tonal center' of [Radical Orthodoxy] while engaging in a fruitful yet critical dialogue utilizing the insights of the Reformed tradition, but he has also employed thoughtful strategies in order to help different audiences navigate the text. For example, for those new to RO, Smith opens each chapter with suggested background and primary source readings, while also providing a comprehensive bibliography at the end of the book. For those already acquainted with RO, Smith supplies detailed discussions of more technical issues in the footnotes. All in all, the book is extremely well-written and certainly worth the read, especially for those interested in engaging current movements within contemporary theology."--Cynthia R. Nielsen, Christian Scholar's Review

"Smith has rendered an incalculable service to the wider Christian community by both 'mapping' the radical orthodoxy project in its current context and by offering a broader audience reasons why all of these complicated arguments . . . matter in the first place. . . . [Smith has] done a first-rate job of articulating clearly the basic lines of argument at the heart of the radical orthodoxy project. . . . [Smith's] critical engagement (along with Milbank's appreciative but critical response to Smith in the foreword) certainly makes this volume more interesting for those who already know a good bit about radical orthodoxy; it also likely provides some helpful Reformed 'hooks' for those coming to radical orthodoxy from within that tradition. . . . [This book is an] important contribution to contemporary intellectual debate. This challenging volume should be read by every serious Christian thinker who longs for a way of thinking about the Christian faith that does not presuppose the dualisms of modernity . . . just as it should also be read by Christian scholars who have long worried about the possible 'foreign' assumptions at the core of their academic disciplines. This volume should also be wrestled with by any one looking for a possible way out of the intractable debates between what has come to be known as Christian fundamentalism and theological liberalism."--Philip D. Kenneson, Stone-Campbell Journal

"Smith writes in a clear and enthusiastic voice that will surely appeal to a wide range of readers. Though the style of the text underscores its accessibility, the detailed footnotes provide a more technical discussion for an interested audience. . . . Readers will take keen interest in the foreword written by John Milbank. If scholars commonly use such forums for orienting readers to a text, Milbank uncommonly takes the opportunity to respond to the criticisms that the author constructively raises against Radical Orthodoxy. . . . I highly recommend Smith's book to anyone interested in the kind of thinking ushered in under the label of 'Radical Orthodoxy.'"--Christiaan Jacobs-Vandegeer, Toronto Journal of Theology

"The breadth of ideas explored and elucidated here outdistances the considerable treatment the [radical orthodoxy] movement has received in various other places, and this must now be seen as the definitive introduction to radical orthodoxy for undergraduates, seminarians, and more advanced readers. Smith actually balances quite adroitly his general concern for synthesizing and explaining the complexities of 'RO' with his specific concern for engaging this largely Anglo-Catholic movement in dialogue with his Dutch Reformed heritage. . . . Few others could have written a book so obviously driven by a passion to move the critiques and proposals of high-stakes theology into the mainstream. And his admirable abilities of presentation make it seem quite likely that this book will accomplish just that."--Anthony Baker, Religious Studies Review

"This book provides an accessible yet extensively documented 'introduction' to a 'theological sensibility' that has become known as 'Radical Orthodoxy.'. . . It has been in need of an accessible introduction, both to bring together points of commonality and to articulate basic claims in nontechnical terms. James K. A. Smith accomplishes this. . . . In his overview, Smith cites the key points of controversy related to Radical Orthodoxy, giving an excellent bibliography of works that are both critical and sympathetic to his proposals. As such, Smith's work is an outstanding secondary source 'introduction,' introducing not only the ideas, but also the literature. . . . In terms of contemporary theology, Smith's book introduces an important group of thinkers and also issues a call for theology to recover its own voice. . . . Smith's book is an extremely valuable guide for teachers and students of theology who want to see the 'post-secular,' post-Enlightenment possibilities for Christianity."--J. Todd Billings, Interpretation

"Smith knows the literature well. He provides an extensive bibliography, and his footnotes offer a running commentary on fine-grained controversies among partisans. Each chapter includes in a sidebar the major texts under discussion and points to further reading in the area. More significantly, Smith shows a sure-handed grasp of the language, idiom, and convictions of the Radical Orthodox. He does not so much analyze as exemplify the thought-world of this young and vigorous movement. . . . Smith is at his best when leading readers through a Reformed version of Radical Orthodoxy. He can cast a self-critical eye over the movement, particularly in its doctrines of sin and grace. He can also raise central questions in the movement's reading of the past. . . . This is a movement that all theologians should know about. Introducing Radical Orthodoxy is a good place to begin."--Katherine Sonderegger, Theology Today

"This book will challenge and encourage those interested in learning more about currents in contemporary theology."--Theological Book Review