Musings of an Anglican/Episcopal Priest

Tag: Stanley Hauerwas

A Cross Shattered Church: Reclaiming the Theological Heart of Preaching

A friend recently mentioned Stanley Hauerwas’ new sermon collection, A Cross Shattered Church to me.  I was taking a look at it tonight, trying to decide if I wanted to order it for myself when I came across this section, which sort of serves to whet the appetite.  What do you think?  It’s next in line for my library shelves I think…

An American evangelical philosopher once asked me if I did not think that hell is best conceived as being hated by God.  I responded by saying that is surely wrong.  If I know I am hated by God, I at least know I exist.  Hell is to be abandonded by God.  Dante surely had it right that at its lowest depths hell is where we are frozen in ice in a manner that those so condemned are unable to see anyone else.

Robert Jenson puts it this way:

What makes death the Lord’s enemy, and fearful for us, is that it separates lovers.  Were my death simply my affair, the old maxim might hold, that since my death will never be part of my experience, I have no need to fear it.  But death will take my loves from me and me from them, and that is the final objective horror, for it decrees emptiness of all human worth, constituted as it is by love.  Having no more being woul dbe no evil were being not mutual.

But being is mutual, because mutuality is the very character of God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The Father desires friendship with the Son through the agency of the Holy Spirit.  Which means speculation about dying and death that is not governed by Jesus’ cross and resurrection only tempts us to narcissistic fantacies.  What we know is that the crucified Jesus has been raised, making possible our hope that death cannot defeat God’s love for us.  We were created for God’s enjoyment and through the Son’s obedience even to death he has reclaimed us so that we may regard our deaths not as an end but as a beginning.  In short God does not give us explantions that can make our dying something less than death.  He does not give us an explanation; he gives us his Son.

Check it out:

A Cross Shattered Church: Reclaiming the Theological Heart of Preaching

From: Abortion, Theologicaly Understood, by Stanley Hauerwas

Hauerwas at Luther College

Hauerwas at Luther College

When I taught the marriage course at Notre Dame, the parents of my students wanted me to teach their kids what the parents did not want them to do. The kids, on the other hand, approached the course from the perspective of whether or not they should feel guilty for what they had already done. Not wanting to privilege either approach, I started the course with the question, What reason would you give for you or someone else wanting to have a child?” And you would get answers like, “Well, children are fun.” In that case I would ask them to think about their brothers and/or sisters. Another answer was, Children are a hedge against loneliness Then I recommended getting a dog. Also I would note that if they really wanted to feel lonely, they should think about someone they raised turning out to be a stranger. Another student reply was, Kids are a manifestation of our love.” “Well,” I responded, “what happens when your love changes and you are still stuck with them” I would get all kinds of answers like these from my students. But, in effect, these answers show that people today do not know why they are having children.

It happened three or four times that someone in the class, usually a young woman, would raise her hand and say, “I do not want to talk about this anymore.” What this means is that they know that they are going to have children, and yet they do not have the slightest idea why. And they do not want it examined. You can talk in your classes about whether God exists all semester and no one cares, because it does not seem to make any difference. But having children makes a difference, and the students are frightened that they do not know about these matters.

Then they would come up with that one big answer that sounds good. They would say, “We want to have children in order to make the world a better place.” And by that, they think that they ought to have a perfect child. And then you get into the notion that you can have a child only if you have everything set–that is, if you are in a good “relationship,” if you have your finances in good shape, the house, and so on. As a result, of course, we absolutely destroy our children, so to speak, because we do not know how to appreciate their differences.

Now who knows what we could possibly want when we “want a child”? The idea of want in that context is about as silly as the idea that we can marry the right person. That just does not happen. Wanting a child is particularly troubling as it finally results in a deep distrust of mentally and physically handicapped children. The crucial question for us as Christians is what kind of people we need to be to be capable of welcoming children into this world, some of whom may be born disabled and even die.

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From Inhabitatio Dei: The Role of Hauerwas in Contemporary Theology

I intended to post this several days ago, but got very busy during and after Holy Week. I hope Halden doesn’t mind me directing attention toward an older post.

Good stuff from Inhabitatio Dei:

Nearly everyone who’s interested in contemporary theology has heard of Stanley Hauerwas. Indeed out of all contemporary theological figures he may be the one who today its hardest to have not heard of or read. One way or another everyone has to deal with Hauerwas. Whether you’re Jeffrey Stout, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Robert Jenson, Stephen Webb or whoever, if you’re writing on ethics, politics, or anything pertaining to the Christian use of force, you simply have to deal with Hauerwas.

However, the flip side of this is that it also seems somewhat fashionable in contemporary theology to not take Hauerwas seriously. A great many theologians seem to take joy in deriding him as little more than a cantankerous bastard with a squeaky voice who is better laughed at then engaged. Now, to my mind both of these dynamics in contemporary theological discourse only point to Stanley’s importance as a theologian. If, on the one hand a great many people find him an indispensable interlocutor and a comparable number of other folks consider him simply someone to ridicule away, it would seem a reasonable conclusion that whatever Stanley’s got to say it is either vitally important or vitally dangerous.

So this brings me to my question, what is the role of Stanley Hauerwas in contemporary theology? What position does he, or should he occupy in the cartography of doing theology today? What do people think?

{read it all}

Ok… here’s my response. I’m closing comments here because I want to encourage everyone to go over to the Inhabitatio Dei blog and leave their responses in the comments there.

Hauerwas is by his own admission a contrarian, but I think what is first and foremost is that he is a Christian contrarian, and he is someone who strives to allow the gospel to challenge his inclinations and then announces that challenge to others. Sometimes the challenge Hauerwas proclaims isn’t necessarily the one that others might see–sometimes the challenge is seen as simply part of Hauerwas’ own biases. Be that as it may, and taking into account that there are places where I disagree with him (his total commitment to non-violence for example), I can’t recall a time when he has asked a question that I’ve thought about later and said “that really wasn’t important” or “why address that?” Instead, I’ve been challenged to examine my own beliefs in light of the Holy Scripture and the Christian tradition. At times I have come to change my perspectives, while at others I haven’t. But even in the latter cases, my foundation for thinking as I do has been greatly strengthened.

Ironically perhaps, several of the critiques leveled at Hauerwas in the discussion thread seem to be highlighting aspects of this thought that he is intentional about. For instance, one commentator in particular criticizes Hauerwas for “inconsistency” because he largely focusses his criticism on liberal protestantism while remaining in “liberal” protestant institutions, i.e. teaching at a United Methodist University and attending United Methodist and Episcopal churches. As another commentator pointed out quite succinctly, to view this as inconsistent is to miss a major facet of Hauerwas’ thinking: to be a witness where God has placed you. There is a particularly poor example of “consistency” given by comparing Hauerwas to his former student R.R. Reno who did in fact leave the Episcopal Church for Roman Catholicism. This is not intended in any way as a slam on Reno (whom I have a great deal of respect for), but his move to the RC Church can hardly be considered the most “consistent” outcome of his theology.

But while Hauerwas isn’t particularly inconsistent, it is important to note that consistency as such doesn’t deem to enter into his project as any sort of laudable goal. There is consistency to be sure, but only in the sense that he tries to make faithfulness to the Jesus we know from Scripture the hallmark of his work. Hauerwas would be the first to say that any particular point of his theology that was seen to be in conflict with scripture should be rejected (of course, those pronouncements are debatable, as always). Hauerwas’ work primarily consists of “occasional theology,” that is, he writes for particular occasions or purposes, which is appropriate when one considers his Methodist/Anglican roots. Certainly he has ranged widely and been influenced by those he has come into contact with (Roman Catholics and Mennonites etc…), but perhaps there is a reason he finds himself at home among Methodists and Episcopalians.

In the occasional nature of his theology, one can also see the sense in which it is practical (one of the reasons he is not taken seriously by some academic theologians). Hauerwas’ writing serves, at least in my humble opinion, as a bridge between academic theology and practical theology without fitting squarely in either place. His work is too academic to be considered “practical” by some, and it is too “practical” to be considered sufficiently academic by others. But what he is doing is providing a framework for engagement with the world on the gospel’s terms (at least as he sees them), and in that sense he is providing a great service to the Church.

In the end, it seems that the person leveling this particular criticism of Hauerwas is simply irritated about the fact that there are people within their Church (it seems they are Episcopalian–probably could’ve guessed :-p ) who criticize liberalism. In addition to destroying any possibility for self-criticism, the commentator seems to have totally missed the differences between the various ways we use the term “liberal” in our society and instead views that as interchangeable. So, Hauerwas shouldn’t be in a “liberal” Protestant body because he critiques “liberalism” and he certainly shouldn’t be attending an Episcopal Church where the parishioners tend to be the most “liberally educated” among the various church bodies. Of course, “Liberal Protestantism” when referring to the theological movement, such as those professors of the German State Church that cozied up to Hitler, overlaps but is not coterminous with “liberal protestant” when used to refer to the mainold-line Protestant churches which is not the same as what is meant by a “liberal education” and none of the above is the same as political “liberalism,” all of which seem confused by this criticism.

In the end, I think Jonathan Wilson offers the best and most balanced assessment of Hauerwas’ place in contemporary theology. I could go on in more detail and at greater length, but this post is already very late, and I want it out of my “drafts” section. Perhaps it will be worthwhile to some of you.

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