Having completed the majority of assigned historical readings in my independent study of Anabaptist Theology, my wise theology professor saw fit to expose me to Stanley Hauerwas works.
Stanley Hauerwas is United Methodist theologian, Christian Ethicist, and Professor of Law. Hauerwas’s work is characterized by a dedication to non-violence, anti-nationalism, and a serious disregard for Biblical interpretations and/or the hermeneutic methodologies of the liberal left and fundamentalist right. He’s all about the Gospel. It is a dedication that resonates. His mentor was Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder; thus his Anabaptist tendencies in the UMC setting. So, this weekend, I’m reading Unleashing the Scripture: Freeing the Bible from Captivity to America, and The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics. I’m a little shy of halfway through each, at this point. So far, I’m saying a lot of “Hallelujahs!” Hauerwas hits the mark often, and sometimes pretty bluntly too (his thoughts on ethics are really making me think). The following are a few excerpted examples of his accuracy in the aforementioned texts:
“All ethical reflection occurs relative to a particular time and place. Not only do ethical problems change from one time to the next, but the very nature and structure of ethics is determined by the particularities of a community’s history and convictions. From this perspective the notion of “ethics” is misleading, since it seems to suggest that “ethics” is an identifiable discipline that is constant across history. In fact, much of the burden of this book will be to suggest that ethics always requires an adjective of qualifier - such as, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, existentialist, pragmatic, utilitarian, humanist, medieval, modern - in order to denote the social and historical character of ethics as a discipline. This is not to suggest that ethics does not address an identifiable set of relatively constant questions - the nature of good or right, freedom and the nature of human behavior, the place and status of rules and virtues - but any response to these questions necessarily draws on the particular convictions of historic communities to whom such questions may have significantly different meanings.” - The Peaceable Kingdom
Note the highlighted portion of this text. Ethical qualifiers are important to Hauerwas, especially “Christian,” as qualifier. This is the first time I have understood a presentation of non-objectivity, and the resultant lack of universal absolutes, as actually being beneficial to the Christian way of life and being (Hauerwas emphasizes peaceableness). In fact, such a setting seems to actually strengthen the case for Christianity as “The Way,” according to Hauerwas. I’m not pretending to understand all he is writing, at this point (I’m but a few chapters into the book). I’ll continue to read, process, understand and report.
“There is no more powerful indication of religion’s superfluity in our culture than Christianity’s acceptance of itself as one “religion” among others. It reveals an assumption of the priority of so-called “faith” over particular convictions of the Christian faith, e.g., the nature of God, the significance of Jesus, the eschatological fate of the world. As a result, Christianity, both in practice and in its sophisticated theological expression, is reduced to an interpretation of humanity’s need for meaning or some other provocative anthropological claim. I do not mean to deny that every theology involves anthropological claims, yet theology today has become particularly adept at beginning and ending there. More than ever before we substantiate Feuerbach’s claim that religion is but the projection of mankind’s hopes written large. Those concerned with the ethical significance of Christian convictions are particularly prone to this kind of anthropologizing of Christian theology. Acting on a suspicion that what is left of Christianity is its ethical component, they abstract the ethical from the religious in an effort to make Christianity relevant. Though such a strategy often appears theologically and ethically radical, it usually results in a restatement of the prevailing humanism is the name of religion.” - The Peaceable Kingdom
A call for Christians to take Christianity very, very seriously? Yes. Is Christianity merely one more religion sandwiched between others? Maybe in our present culture, but that is not the way Christians should understand/interpret Christianity, it seems. I would agree. Too, note the highlighted portion of this text. I’ve been saying this re: much of liberal ‘Christianity’ for over a year now. It’s nice to see substantial confirmation.
“Most North American Christians assume that they have a right, if not an obligation to read the Bible. I challenge that assumption. No task is more important than for the Church to take the Bible out of the hands of individual Christians in North America.” - Unleashing the Scripture
I’m not convinced we should actually take the Bible away from people, but I do understand the issue toward which such a bold act points.
“I believe that the battle between literalistic fundamentalism and critical approaches to the Bible is the result of the abstraction of the text of the Bible from such practices. The fundamentalist and the biblical critic share the assumption that the text of the Bible should make rational sense (to anyone), apart from the uses that the Church has for Scripture. Fundamentalism and biblical criticism seek to depoliticize the interpretation of Scripture on the grounds that the text has objective meaning. The result for both is the repoliticization of Scripture by giving unchecked power to some interpreters over Scripture without such power being justified.” - Unleashing the Scripture
The above excerpt from Unleashing the Scripture should be screaming from this screen, right now. Again: the excerpt should be literally screaming at every seriously interested reader of this weblog. Why? Because - All who treat Christianity seriously should be wrestling with questions re: contemporary hermeneutical superimpositions upon 1st century Christian texts and expressions. Was the point of the Christian Scriptures merely factual exchange, or the transference of raw data to be cognitively and/or hard-copy recorded for mass replication? This sounds more like modernity to me, than it does 1st Century. Or are the Scriptures evidence of “Story.” What story? The true story of God’s non-violent and love-laden act of reconciling humanity and Himself. I think the two groups mentioned in the excerpts both miss the point, and sorely so. These - and others naturally following - are important and major questions.
Again, I’m just beginning to read deeply into Hauerwas. I will undoubtedly learn more and gain a clearer understanding of his thought and work. So far, it is resonating. The more I contemplate our present setting here in America, the less I appreciate the Gospel distraction and blatant manipulation that is the left vs. right, liberal vs. conservative religious conversation babble. The Gospel is sufficient.