Preaching Apocalypse: Christopher Rodkey’s “Too Good to be True”
Too Good to be True: Radical Christian Preaching, Year A
by Christopher D. Rodkey
Christian Alternative, 217 pp., $22.95
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Overall Rating: 8/10
Christopher Rodkey’s Too Good to be True finds itself precariously situated at the border between the all-to-academic discourse of philosophical theology — particularly the radical theologies of Thomas J.J. Altizer, Mary Daly, and Gabriel Vahanian — and the world of the conventional homily: a position whose precarious nature appears to be fully recognized by Rodkey. Nonetheless, the work holds together well, perhaps even to thrive under this dual strain.
Having appeared as actual sermons in his various congregations, the main texts of this anthology tend to avoid the nuanced debates internal to radical theology, as well as its often obtuse jargon. Rather, this more technical work, as well as more thorough philosophical/theological citations, are reserved for the preface, the only site where Rodkey seems to flex his academic chops. Nevertheless, the sermons themselves are far from banal, rather they tend to draw out a few key themes of radical theology, most importantly: apocalypse. This choice is profound, as radical theology is primarily known, above all else, for its theology of God. This theology of God is famously recognized by Hegel, proclaimed by Nietzsche, and reaffirmed by Altizer as “God is Dead.” Yet, one would search in vain for a theology of death in this work. Rather, while a kenotic theology of the cross remains just around the corner, Too Good to be True is primarily a theology of affirmation; affirmation of life, and more importantly, affirmation of something more. This turn to the apocalyptic possibility of the in-breaking of something radically new or radically other may smack of theological conservativism (as some reviews have suggested) — and in their defense, it was of course the conservative Neo-orthodoxy of Karl Barth which proclaimed the incommensurability of revelation with the existing world more strongly than (nearly) any other 20th century theology — but Rodkey’s work is anything but conservative. The absolute new that Rodkey gestures toward is not the eternal paradise of evangelicalism or fundamentalism, but an immanent apocalypse. For Rodkey, and this is no clearer than in his reflections on the season of Advent, the Christian message, the message that is “too good to be true,” is that a new social-political-economic-religious order is possible. Nevertheless, in defense of the aforementioned reviewers, it is worth noting that Rodkey’s ambiguous terminology may often be read as either “traditional” or “radical” depending upon what underlying theological structure is suspected. Radical Christians, well versed in the uncompromising rhetoric of a Nietzsche or an Altizer may find claims — such as “the resurrection is too good to be true, and it’s too good to be false” (119) — to be mere repetition of a conservative agnostic-cum-fideistic logic. But it is important to situate Rodkey’s work within its appropriate context: where such theological motifs as the resurrection are employed theo-poetically, rather than naively or “literally.”
The forward by Peter Rollins and afterward by Thomas Altizer leave something to be desired. Both texts are disappointingly short and tend to rely heavily upon their respective author’s strengths (as interestign as those strengths may be), missing out on the opportunity to more fully or directly engage with Rodkey’s project (though Rollins does a better job in this regard than Altizer).
Overall, this text offers hope and inspiration to the radical theologian who finds herself within an often alien church, but who hasn’t given up hope on a new kind of Christianity. In particular, because of its avoidance of terminology specific to radical theology, this text may, most of all, benefit radical Christians working within traditional — even conservative — churches and denominations, who are seeking the types of speech that might permit them to speak a radical Christian message in a language that is comprehensible to their congregation or peers.