I am in deep sympathy with Cavanaugh in his trying to formulate a theological politics, his critique of public and political theology for not being public and political enough. His emphasis on the Church as a true res publica in its own right is welcome. The Church cannot inhabit the private, apolitical space that has been assigned to it by modernity without being suffocated, without loosing its true relevance in the world. But this political relevance is not to be found in striving for power within the apparatus of the state, does not begin and end with lobbying for influence over state policy (in the hope that the state is the potential solution to any given social ill), because in doing so it will be difficult for the Church to escape the salvation story the state and the market embodies, and the temptation to translate the politics of Jesus in more universal and neutral terms - in so called "public terms" accessible to policy-makers - will be too strong.
Civil society may seem to be the rescue path, but that is to miss how colonized or fused it is with both the nation-state and the market, and accepting as a given that the Church is but one particular interest association among many, just a bridge between the supposed universal state and the free individual, whose main role then is to form good citizens.
The Church is itself (or is meant to be) an ekklesia, a sphere were politics proper happens.
To reclaim its true relevance and responsibility (these hallowed words of modernity!) the Church must break its imagination out of captivity to the nation-state and the market. It must see and constitute itself for what it is: an alternative social space. The Church is itself (or is meant to be) an ekklesia, a sphere were politics proper happens. It is a public body with a universal claim, because "it participates in the life of the triune God, who is the only good that can be common to all" and has become part of a salvation adventure with cosmic proportions, that knows of no borders, neither in space (the Church as international and inclusive) nor time (the Church as a memory and presence of the future).
But even if I am in fundamental agreement with Cavanaugh, there are some issues, or rather tendencies, which I find problematic. From what he says in passing in Theopolitical Imagination and elsewhere I can see that he certainly is aware of them, but I can't find that he really get down to them.
One problem is a lurking absolutifying tendency. This is especially visible in his critique of civil society as a free space. Isn't he often painting too much in black and white? In spite of his expressed intention, isn't there a risk of portraying the Church as only a separate space, only a rival performance, which just borders on society (maybe my own formulations above also could be interpreted in that way)? Even if we can't rely on the state to do justice and even if the Church shouldn't just be considered as one particular interest organisation among others within civil society, isn't there still a loot of room for ad hoc relations, creative non-systemtic possibilities for co-operation in acceptance of the messiness and contingency of the society and the world? Cavanaugh rightly refuses to accept Constantinianism and withdrawal from the public reality as our only choices when talking about the political nature of the Christian story of salvation. But he seems to prefer Augustine's model of the two cities (which, admittedly, he tries to interpret narratively rather than spatially) before the Jeremian diaspora model ("seek the peace of the city", Jer 29:7), even if he in passing mention the latter. Isn't there a risk to succumb to the Constantinian temptation of self-absolutization in the former model? Anyway, I think the latter is a more fruitful model if we want to imagine a church with a clear and visible (but not static!) identity given by the grace of God, which lives in the middle of society, working for its good, without trying to be in control, without trying to set the agenda, without using any form of coercion, without trying to be "everyone". Is it symptomatic that the Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder, who developed an account of the nomadic, diasporic, non-territorial existence of the church, can see dispersion and scattering as mission, as vocation, as expression of the grace of God, while Cavanaugh only can see it as a sin, an evil?
Is Cavanaugh's view of the Church social and bodily enough?
But there is also another, maybe related, problem: is Cavanaugh's view of the Church social and bodily enough? I ask because of his (as a Catholic?) rather one-sided emphasis on the Eucharist as the primary basis for the Church's counter-politics. There is a tendency here to reduce the church to the Eucharist. But is it really possible to separate this practice from all the other practices that should constitute the Church? Of course, Cavanaugh doesn't believe that. He can say: "In the Church, then, the practices of the liturgy, the creeds, the scriptural canon, hospitality, binding and loosing, the exercise of Episcopal authority, all constitute the Church as a distinctive public body." And he mentions its social reality when balancing his discussion by pointing out the problems that exist. In Theopolitical Imagination, for instance, he says: "the Eucharist can be falsely told… many of our Eucharist celebrations … have been colonized by banal consumerism and global sentimentality." But I don't find that he really expand on all these (and as far as I remember I haven't seen one reference to the ecumenical scandal of separate Eucharistic tables!). Instead he develops a vision of the Eucharist that stresses its sacramental aspects at the expense of its social, and its forming imagination at the expense of its forming character and desire.
And all this marks his overall view of the Church. In his contribution to The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics, "Discerning: Politics and Reconciliation", he writes: "We hardly need reminding of the manifest sinfulness of those who gather in the name of Christ and his Church. In this light it is helpful to think of the Church not as a location or an organisation, but more like an enacted drama; it is the liturgy that makes the Church. In this drama there is a constant dialectic between sin and salvation, scattering and gathering."
Is it really enough to see the Church as a drama of a constant dialectic between sin and salvation, in a time when capitalism has taken over as a therapy and discipline of the constitutive human power that we call desire? Is perhaps Cavanaugh's view of the global market too simplistic? If Daniel Bell, another Radical Orthodoxy theologian, is right when he says: "Capitalism is an ensemble of technologies that disciplines desire according to the logic of production for the market," then perhaps it is time to recover a view of the Church as an alternative way of life together that counters nation-state and capitalism by liberating and healing desire. Doesn't this need an everyday life together, strong enough to form character and heal desire?
It doesn't seem that Cavanaugh is willing to go this way. In a radio interview in June 2005 he says, with reference to his book Theopolitical Imagination: "A lot of what I am saying I think can be constructed as … an appeal for a leaner and meaner church, as it were, a kind of tighter, more disciplined, more organized church that would be smaller. … that is not the kind of vision of the church that I am really seeing at all. … I think there is an unfortunate tendency amongst some in the church today to put a little bit too much emphasis on drawing boundaries and not enough emphasis on the centre of the church".
Of course we should put our emphasis on the centre of the church, but doesn't that today mean a more disciplined social and bodily life together, strong enough to break out of a life of endless consumption? We have to draw boundaries, not boundaries of exclusivism, not boundaries of a fixed, unbending, and self-sustaining identity to be persevered at all costs, but boundaries of renewal - in "receptivity to God's ongoing generosity" and in "an ongoing negotiation with the other" - that "makes" the church a visible, social, and non-coercive alternative, an inviting example worth considering.
 Killing, p. 269.
 Theopolitical Imagination, p.114.
 See For the Nations, pp. 63ff and compare it with Cavanaugh's account in Theopolitical Imagination, p. 12; see also Yoder's book Jewish-Christian Schism.
 Theopolitical Imagination, p. 90.
 P. 121.
 P. 205.
 Liberation Theology, p. 99.
 Chris Huebner on Yoder in A Precarious Peace, p. 125.
ABC: Encounter, "Cardinal Pell and the Theology of the Nation State", http://www.abc.net.au/rn/relig/enc/stories/s1397320.htm (26 June, 2005).
Bell Jr., Daniel M., Liberation Theology After the End of History (London: Routledge, 2001).
Cavanaugh, William T, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008).
-, "Discerning: Politics and Reconciliation," in Stanley Hauerwas and Samuel Wells, The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004, 2006), pp. 196-208.
-, "Killing for the Telephone Company: Why the Nation-State is not the Keeper of the Common Good," in Modern Theology 20:2 (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004).
-, The Myth of Religous Violence Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).
-, Theopolitical Imagination (Edinburgh/New York: T & T Clark, 2002).
-, Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1998).
Huebner, Chris K. A Precarious Peace: Yoderian Explorations on Theology, Knowledge, and Identity (Scottdale, Pennsylvanis: Herald Press, 2006).
Yoder, John H, For the Nations: Essays Public & Evangelical (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997).
-, The Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited, edited by Michael G. Cartwright and Peter Ochs (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003).