Teaching Stanley Hauerwas’s “Go With God”

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Yesterday was our first day of discussion in Created and Called for Community (CCC). The students read Stanley Hauerwas‘s 2010 First Things essay “Go With God: An Open Letter to Young Christians on Their Way to College.”

After some conversation about how to read critically, I asked the students what this article was doing.  We would discuss what the article was saying eventually, but I wanted to start by identifying why Hauerwas decided to write this article.  What were the problems he was trying to address?

We concluded that Hauerwas was trying to address four major issues with this piece:

  1. Too many Christian undergraduates are losing their faith in college.
  2. Too many Christian undergraduates see college solely in terms of career preparation and the pursuit of wealth or, at the very least, a comfortable middle-class life.
  3. Too many Christians do not value intellectual work as a way of worshiping God.
  4. The Christian church is characterized by anti-intellectualism, which is why it needs Christian students to take their college studies seriously.

We identified the fact that Hauerwas wrote this essay in 2010.  Were the problems he identified in 2010 still relevant ten years later?  The overwhelming answer among my Messiah College students was “yes.” In fact, most students thought the problems Hauerwas identified were even more acute than they were a decade ago.

By this point, we were running out of time.  But we still had a few minutes to reflect on two key issues in Hauerwas’s piece.

First, we talked about what it might take to think about college as something more than the pursuit of a career.  What might it mean to understand college in terms of calling or vocation?  (We will pick-up on this theme later in the course).  Hauerwas writes:

In a world of deep injustice and violence, a people exists that thinks some can be given time to study.  We need you to take seriously the calling that is yours by virtue of going to college. You may well be thinking, “What is hethinking? I’m just beginning my freshman year. I’m not being called to be a student. None of my peers thinks he or she is called to be a student. They’re going to college because it prepares you for life. I’m going to college so I can get a better job and have a better life than I’d have if I didn’t go to college. It’s not a calling.”

But you are a Christian. This means you cannot go to college just to get a better job. These days, people talk about college as an investment because they think of education as a bank account: You deposit the knowledge and expertise you’ve earned, and when it comes time to get a job, you make a withdrawal, putting all that stuff on a résumé and making money off the investment of your four years. Christians need jobs just like anybody else, but the years you spend as an undergraduate are like everything else in your life. They’re not yours to do with as you please. They’re Christ’s.

We talked about the counter-cultural nature of Hauerwas’s view of college.  Some students did not feel comfortable with the claim that the college years were not “yours to do with as you please. They’re Christ’s.”  Some said God gave us free will.  But others pointed out that for a Christian, the goal is to bring one’s free will more and more in conformity with the will of God.

Second, we talked about cultivating friendship in college.  Hauerwas writes:

You can’t do this on your own. You’ll need friends who major in physics and biology as well as in economics, psychology, philosophy, literature, and every other discipline. These friends can be teachers and fellow students, of course, but, for the most part, our intellectual friendships are channeled through books. C. S. Lewis has remained popular with Christian students for many good reasons, not the least of which is that he makes himself available to his readers as a trusted friend in Christ. That’s true for many other authors too. Get to know them.

Books, moreover, are often the way in which our friendships with our fellow students and teachers begin and in which these friendships become cemented. I’m not a big fan of Francis Schaeffer, but he can be a point of contact—something to agree with or argue about. The same is true for all writers who tackle big questions. Read Plato, Aristotle, Hume, and John Stuart Mill, and not just because you might learn something. Read them because doing so will provide a sharpness and depth to your conversations. To a great extent, becoming an educated person means adding lots of layers to your relationships. Sure, going to the big football game or having a beer (legally) with your buddies should be fun on its own terms, but it’s also a reality ripe for analysis, discussion, and conversation. If you read Mary Douglas or Claude Levi-Strauss, you’ll have something to say about the rituals of American sports. And if you read Jane Austen or T. S. Eliot, you’ll find you see conversations with friends, particularly while sharing a meal, in new ways. And, of course, you cannot read enough Trollope. Think of books as the fine threads of a spider’s web. They link and connect.

I asked the students how they made friends during their first semester of college.  They mentioned that their friendships were built on a variety of things: sports fandom, musical tastes, common tastes in video games, membership on athletic teams, proximity to one another in the dorms, etc…  Very few students said that they were building friendships around the kinds of common intellectual pursuits Hauerwas describes above.  I challenged them to go back to their dorm rooms, find some CCC students who also read Hauerwas today, and go get some coffee and talk more about the essay. Some students seemed to be inspired by this idea.  Others thought I was crazy.

By this point it was time to go. Stay tuned. In the next several class periods we will be doing some reading on the history and mission of Messiah College.  Follow along here.

Teaching this Semester

Created and Called

This semester, for the first time in my eighteen-year career at Messiah College, I will not be teaching any history courses.  Instead, I will be teaching three sections of a required first-year seminar titled “Created and Called for Community.”  This course, which uses a common syllabus, is designed to introduce a Messiah College liberal arts education to first-year students.  It focuses on the writing, close reading of texts, biblical and theological reflection on human dignity and community, and the meaning of Christian vocation.

I will be teaching these texts:

Stanley Hauerwas, “Go With God

John Henry Newman, “What is a University?

Ernest L. Boyer, “Retaining the Legacy of Messiah College

Genesis 1-2

James Weldon Johnson, “The Creation

Bruce Birch, “The Image of God

J.R.R. Tolkien, “Leaf by Niggle

Alice Walker, “In Search of our Mothers’ Gardens

Exodus 19-20

Matthew 5-7

 Acts 1-4

Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed

Harold Bender, The Anabaptist Vision (excerpt)

Alabama Clergyman, “A Call for Unity” and Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Robert Putnam, “Bowling Alone

Augustine, Confessions (excerpts)

Robert Frost, “Mending Wall

Luke 10:25-37

2 Corinthians 5:17-21

Desmond Tutu, “God Believes in Us

Plato, “The Allegory of the Cave” (excerpt)

Albert Schweitzer, “I Resolve to Become a Jungle Doctor

Henri Nouwen, “Adam’s Peace

Jerry Sittser, “Distinguishing Between Calling and Career

Jerry Sittser, “What We’re Supposed to Do”

Dorothy Sayers, “Why Work?

I will probably blog about these texts as the semester moves forward.  Feel free to read or follow along.

What Did Theologians and Ethicists Say About Bill Clinton’s Impeachment in 1998?

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Today I was talking to a reporter about impeachment and recalled a statement issued in 1998 by prominent American theologians and ethicists.  A really interesting mix of evangelical and non-evangelical moral philosophers signed this statement.  I have copied it below.

Could we bring such a coalition of thinkers together today as we watch another POTUS  impeached?

Why are we not getting the same kind of ecumenical statements of moral clarity today?  Legal scholars have commented on the legality of the entire Trump impeachment affair.  Historians have weighed-in as well.  Where are the ethicists?  Here you go:

Declaration concerning religion, ethics, and the crisis in the Clinton presidency

The following declaration can be found at moral-crisis.org, November 16, 1998

The following declaration can be found at moral-crisis.org

To be released on 13 November 1998

As scholars interested in religion and public life, we protest the manipulation of religion and the debasing of moral language in the discussion about presidential responsibility. We believe that serious misunderstandings of repentance and forgiveness are being exploited for political advantage. The resulting moral confusion is a threat to the integrity of American religion and to the foundations of a civil society. In the conviction that politics and morality cannot be separated, we consider the current crisis to be a critical moment in the life of our country and, therefore, offer the following points for consideration:

1. Many of us worry about the political misuse of religion and religious symbols even as we endorse the public mission of our churches, synagogues, and mosques. In particular we are concerned about the distortion that can come by association with presidential power in events like the Presidential Prayer Breakfast on September 11. We fear the religious community is in danger of being called upon to provide authentication for a politically motivated and incomplete repentance that seeks to avert serious consequences for wrongful acts. While we affirm that pastoral counseling sessions are an appropriate, confidential arena to address these issues, we fear that announcing such meetings to convince the public of the President’s sincerity compromises the integrity of religion.

2. We challenge the widespread assumption that forgiveness relieves a person of further responsibility and serious consequences. We are convinced that forgiveness is a relational term that does not function easily within the sphere of constitutional accountability. A wronged party chooses forgiveness instead of revenge and antagonism, but this does not relieve the wrong-doer of consequences. When the President continues to deny any liability for the sins he has confessed, this suggests that the public display of repentance was intended to avoid political disfavor.

3. We are aware that certain moral qualities are central to the survival of our political system, among which are truthfulness, integrity, respect for the law, respect for the dignity of others, adherence to the constitutional process, and a willingness to avoid the abuse of power. We reject the premise that violations of these ethical standards should be excused so long as a leader remains loyal to a particular political agenda and the nation is blessed by a strong economy. Elected leaders are accountable to the Constitution and to the people who elected them. By his own admission the President has departed from ethical standards by abusing his presidential office, by his ill use of women, and by his knowing manipulation of truth for indefensible ends. We are particularly troubled about the debasing of the language of public discourse with the aim of avoiding responsibility for one’s actions.

4. We are concerned about the impact of this crisis on our children and on our students. Some of them feel betrayed by a President in whom they set their hopes while others are troubled by his misuse of others, by which many in the administration, the political system, and the media were implicated in patterns of deceit and abuse. Neither our students nor we demand perfection. Many of us believe that extreme dangers sometimes require a political leader to engage in morally problematic actions. But we maintain that in general there is a reasonable threshold of behavior beneath which our public leaders should not fall, because the moral character of a people is more important than the tenure of a particular politician or the protection of a particular political agenda. Political and religious history indicate that violations and misunderstandings of such moral issues may have grave consequences. The widespread desire to “get this behind us” does not take seriously enough the nature of transgressions and their social effects.

5. We urge the society as a whole to take account of the ethical commitments necessary for a civil society and to seek the integrity of both public and private morality. While partisan conflicts have usually dominated past debates over public morality, we now confront a much deeper crisis, whether the moral basis of the constitutional system itself will be lost. In the present impeachment discussions, we call for national courage in deliberation that avoids ideological division and engages the process as a constitutional and ethical imperative. We ask Congress to discharge its current duty in a manner mindful of its solemn constitutional and political responsibilities. Only in this way can the process serve the good of the nation as a whole and avoid further sensationalism.

6. While some of us think that a presidential resignation or impeachment would be appropriate and others envision less drastic consequences, we are all convinced that extended discussion about constitutional, ethical, and religious issues will be required to clarify the situation and to enable a wise decision to be made. We hope to provide an arena in which such discussion can occur in an atmosphere of scholarly integrity and civility without partisan bias.

The following scholars subscribe to the Declaration:

1. Paul J. Achtemeier (Union Theological Seminary in Virginia)

2. P. Mark Achtemeier (University of Dubuque Theological Seminary)

3. LeRoy Aden (Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia)

4. Diogenes Allen (Princeton Theological Seminary)

5. Joseph Alulis (North Park University)

6. Charles L. Bartow (Princeton Theological Seminary)

7. Donald G. Bloesch (University of Dubuque Theological Seminary)

8. Carl Braaten (Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology)

9. Manfred Brauch (Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary)

10. William P. Brown (Union Theological Seminary in Virginia)

11. Don S. Browning (University of Chicago)

12. Frederick S. Carney (Southern Methodist University)

13. Ellen T. Charry (Princeton Theological Seminary)

14. Karl Paul Donfried (Smith College)

15. Richard Drummond (University of Dubuque Theological Seminary)

16. Jean Bethke Elshtain (University of Chicago)

17. Edward E. Ericson, Jr. (Calvin College)

18. Gabriel Fackre (Andover Newton Theological School)

19. Robert Gagnon (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary)

20. Joel B. Green (Asbury Theological Seminary)

21. Robert H. Gundry (Westmont College)

22. Scott J. Hafemann (Wheaton College)

23. Roy A. Harrisville (Luther Theological Seminary)

24. Stanley M. Hauerwas (Duke University)

25. Gerald F. Hawthorne (Wheaton College)

26. S. Mark Heim (Andover Newton Theological School)

27. Frank Witt Hughes (Codrington College)

28. Robert Imbelli (Boston College)

29. Robert Jenson (Center for Theological Inquiry)

30. Robert Jewett (Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary)

31. Jack Dean Kingsbury (Union Theological Seminary in Virginia)

32. Paul Koptak (North Park Theological Seminary)

33. John S. Lawrence (Morningside College)

34. Walter Liefeld (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)

35. Troy Martin (Saint Xavier University)

36. James L. Mays (Union Theological Seminary in Virginia)

37. S. Dean McBride (Union Theological Seminary in Virginia)

38. Sheila E. McGinn (John Carroll University)

39. John R. McRay (Wheaton College)

40. Robert Meye (Fuller Theological Seminary)

41. David Moessner (University of Dubuque Theological Seminary)

42. Grant Osborne (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)

43. Carroll D. Osburn (Abilene Christian University)

44. William A. Pannell (Fuller Theological Seminary)

45. Jon Paulien (Andrews University)

46. John Piper (Bethlehem Baptist Church)

47. Stephen Pope (Boston College)

48. J. E. Powers (Hope College

49. Mark Reasoner (Bethel College),

50. John Reumann (Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia)

51. David Rhoads (Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago)

52. W. Larry Richards (Andrews University)

53. Daniel E. Ritchie (Bethel College)

54. Joel Samuels (University of Dubuque Theological Seminary)

55. David Scholer (Fuller Theological Seminary)

56. Keith Norman Schoville (University of Wisconsin)

57. J. Julius Scott (Wheaton College)

58. Mark Seifrid (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary)

59. Christopher R. Seitz (St. Andrews University)

60. Klyne Snodgrass (North Park Theological Seminary)

61. Max Stackhouse (Princeton Theological Seminary)

62. W. Richard Stegner (Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary)

63. Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner (University of Dubuque Theological Seminary)

64. R. Franklin Terry (Morningside College)

65. David Tiede (Luther Theological Seminary)

66. Reinder Van Til (Eerdmans Publishing Company)

67. Warren Wade (North Park University)

68. J. Ross Wagner (Princeton Theological Seminary)

69. David H. Wallace (American Baptist Seminary of the West)

70. Timothy P. Weber (Northern Baptist Theological Seminary)

71. Merold Westphal (Fordham University)

72. Jonathan R. Wilson (Westmont College)

73. Edward and Anne Wimberly (Interdenominational Theological Center)

74. Harry Yeide (George Washington University)

Stanley Hauerwas on Writing

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Time once named him “America’s Best Theologian.”  Over at The Chronicle of Higher Education, Stanley Hauerwas talks writing with Rachel Toor.  Here is a taste of the interview:

What does it mean to write “interestingly”?

Hauerwas: Well, trying to help us recover what extraordinary and odd things we believe as Christians — things such as God is to be found in a Palestinian Jew. That is a conviction that calls into question the sentimentalities that are confused with Christianity in the world as we know it. When you take seriously what we believe as Christians, it puts a pressure on how you say what needs to be said. I think that is why some of the greatest theologians — people like John Henry Newman — were also some of the greatest writers of their time.

I still have occasion from time to time to have to read something I wrote in the past that is clear evidence that I did not know how to write. I’ve learned that I think by writing. There is just no substitute for writing over and over again.

I am still not happy with everything I write, but every once in a while I write a sentence I take pleasure in. I tell my graduate students that they must learn to write well, and the way that you learn is by doing. I want them to copy me. I often say I do not want students to make up their own minds. I want them to think like me as well as write like me — only differently. By that I mean they should care about what I care about, but what I care about should force them to find their own voice.

How did you develop as a writer?

Hauerwas: I am a reader. Perhaps undisciplined, but reading makes writing possible. Reading will not necessarily make you a good writer, but it cannot hurt. I’ve learn to write through imitation.

Genre also matters. In particular, I have the opportunity to preach occasionally, and sermons allow me to engage in a rhetoric that I like to think is eloquent. I publish sermons along with more-academic essays because I want to show how they are interrelated. Namely, I try to show how, if you believe that out of all the peoples of the world God chose Israel to be the promised people, you cannot help but write with a difference. That difference, I hope, reflects the glory that is God.

You are known for doing “narrative ethics.” Can you talk about that?

Hauerwas: I was in graduate school at Yale, training to be a Christian ethicist. Both philosophical and theological ethics was focused on decisions allegedly determined and justified by deontological or teleological systems. I was reading Aristotle, for whom the virtues were central. I was also influenced by Iris Murdoch’s claim that decisions are what you do when everything else has been lost. So I focused on character, which, as most novelists will tell you, is captured through a narrative. It is only through stories that we can make sense of the seemingly unrelated events that we call our lives.

I also began to think that practical reason is fundamentally about how we can narrate our lives. Such a narration draws on the contingent facts that make us who we are — I am a Texan. I am a Yalie. I am a Christian.

I was playing around with these ideas when Alasdair MacIntyre’s book After Virtue was published — and the rest is history. He made the intuitions with which I was working respectable. Alasdair is a great philosopher who claims me as a friend. I have learned much from him.

There is, of course, a theological side to all this. I believe Christianity is one hell of a story about the way things are, not least being that our very existence is a gift. That is the contingency rightly called “creation.” I was fortunate to have Hans Frei as a teacher. It was from Frei I learned to read Karl Barth, whose work can be read as one long story — long because the story has many subplots.

Your publishing output is astronomical. How do you get so much done?

Hauerwas: I was raised a bricklayer. All I have ever known is work. In my memoir, Hannah’s Child, I tried to describe what it means to come from working-class people and end up in the academy. We lack the manners and gestures of the classes — and it is a class matter — that dominate life in the university. I have been a teacher for over 45 years, which means, given my family background, I have never had to work for a living.

I have tried to do what I have been asked to do. I have written books, but most of my books are collections of essays written because someone asked me to write or lecture about this or that. I bring the essays together to give the impression that they constitute a book. I do not want to be too self-deprecating, because I think I do make some interesting and coherent arguments.

Read the entire interview and Toor’s introduction here.

What a Historian Does During Vacation

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Ezra Fitz

With the first leg of the Believe Me book tour behind me, I decided to spend a few weeks in August (including an Outer Banks ,NC vacation), relaxing and consuming things that I do not usually consume during the rest of the year:

I read Rod Dreher’s The Little Way of Ruthie Leming.  Anyone familiar with Dreher’s The Benedict Option should read this book as well.  Dreher’s memoir about his sister and his Louisiana hometown made me think differently about The Benedict Option.

I read Carlos Eire’s moving memoir Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy.   This book will be with me for a long time.  Eire, a Yale religion professor, tells the story of his Cuban childhood in the years before and after the revolution.

I read Hannah’s Son, Stanley Hauerwas’s “theological memoir.”  Hauerwas, the man who Time once called the “America’s Best Theologian,” writes about his upbringing in the Texas working-class, his close relationship with his son, his experience with a mentally-ill wife, his engagement with the world of academia, his spiritual journey, and, of course, his theological views.

I went back and reread Huxley’s Brave New World.  Many are reading this book again in the age of Trump.  The comparisons between the World State and Trump’s America are a bit of a stretch, but Huxley’s points about the differences between building a society based on “truth” and “beauty,” and building a society based on “happiness” and “comfort,” are always worth thinking about.

I learned a lot about Dominican culture from reading Junot Diaz’s novel The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.  I don’t understand Spanglish very well, and had to look-up the meaning of some of the words, but overall it was worth my time.  There are some great New Jersey scenes in the novel.

My daughters sucked me into binge-watching the ABC Family drama Pretty Little Liars.  Don’t judge me!  My favorite line of the show came in Season 7 when Aria Montgomery asks her fiance, a novelist named Ezra Fitz, to remove a dead body from the trunk of her car.  Fitz tells Aria that they “need to deal with the problem in your trunk.”  Aria asks, “how?”  Fitz replies: “I have a master’s degree in American literature.  There’s nothing I can’t handle.”

Bring on the new academic year!

“Every age needs its Puddleglum”

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Over at Mere Orthodoxy, John Shelton invokes a well-known C.S. Lewis character to describe the life and work of Duke theologian Stanley Hauerwas.  A taste:

Every age needs its Puddleglum. For without Puddleglums, we cannot escape the web of lies and see the world as it is truly meant to be. It is the work of the Puddleglums, often with stink and pain, to show us that there is something wrong with the way things are, and that there is a better country to long for. Prophets (which are much the same as Puddleglums) are always met with stones and crosses in their own age, and only in later ages are those stones and crosses used to build them venerable graves. We need, then, only follow the trail of projectiles to learn that our own Puddleglum is an American theologian named Stanley Hauerwas, and he is every bit as odd, exaggerated, and discomforting as the marshwiggle of C. S. Lewis’ novel.

Hauerwas is a bundle of contradictions. A theologian, he is infamous for matching brusque, blue-collar vulgarity with a thoroughgoing call for christocentric pacifism. In a nutshell: “Jesus is Lord, and everything else is bullshit.” Time Magazine has heralded him as “America’s best theologian” but, perhaps more than any other living theologian of his stature, Hauerwas has railed against American identity in all its manifestations. For this, Hauerwas has been accused of peddling “anti-world theology” (James Davison Hunter), “inflam[ing] Christian resentment of secular political culture” (Jeff Stout), and demonstrating remarkable unconcern towards “the tens of thousands of lives being lost to violence,” and ignoring “America’s singular capacity, and thus unique responsibility, to stop the slaughter” (Jean Bethke Elshtain).

Some think Hauerwas’ penchant for profanity discounts him as an ethicist. Others hear “pacifist” and mistake him for a liberal sentimentalist. To dismiss him out of hand, however, would be a mistake. Odd though he may look, especially to the tribe of Christians called “Evangelical,” Hauerwas packs a punch necessary to shake us from our small, settled understanding of the gospel. Like the protagonists in Lewis’ The Silver Chair, we are lost in the sweet smoke of a sinister spell and desperately need a marshwiggle to drive his stinky duck-feet into the fire. We need someone to expunge the witch’s magic with an offensive odor. As should be clear from the litany of invectives against him, Hauerwas, the bricklayer-turned-theologian, is that abominable stench.

Just as Puddleglum cleared the air for the others to think, Hauerwas shocks us awake and offers another way of seeing the world unleashed in scripture. Often, we cannot begin to name the smoke until we have been so jolted. But with Hauerwas we will come to see that Modern Americans (especially modern American Christians) suffer under disordered loves of liberalism, nationalism, and individualism. Hauerwas delivers the antidote to these in the cocktail formula of narrative, community, and the alternative politics of the church.

Read the entire piece here.

Stanley Hauerwas on the Protestant Reformation

Stanley Hauerwas is in Your FaceAccording to theologian Stanley Hauerwas, the Protestant Reformation is over and the Protestants won.  But the victory has also put Protestants in a state of crisis.  What is a theologian to do?

Here is a taste of his recent piece at The Washington Post:

…Over time, historians have helped us see that there was no one thing the Reformation was about, but that if there was a single characteristic at its heart, it was the recovery of the centrality of Christ for making sense of why Christians are not at home in this world. That emphasis turned out to be the overriding insight that shaped the work of Vatican II, meaning Catholics have overcome the major thrust of the Reformation.

That the Reformation has been a success, however, has put Protestantism in a crisis. Winning is dangerous — what do you do next? Do you return to Mother Church? It seems not: Instead, Protestantism has become an end in itself, even though it’s hard to explain from a Protestant point of view why it should exist. The result is denominationalism in which each Protestant church tries to be just different enough from other Protestant churches to attract an increasingly diminishing market share. It’s a dismaying circumstance.

But I am still a Protestant, even though I’m not sure I know what I am saying when I say I am a Protestant. I can think of my life only as a living ecumenical movement — I was raised Methodist, taught Lutherans (Augustana College), was overwhelmed by the Catholic world, was deeply influenced by the Mennonites and finally returned to the Methodists at Duke. All of which, of course, means I have ended up worshiping at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Family in Chapel Hill, N.C. That I am a theologian more defined by where I went to graduate school than by any ecclesial tradition mirrors changes in the Protestant world — in particular, that the gulfs between the denominations seem only to feel smaller and smaller. And so does the gulf between Catholicism and Protestantism.

Read the entire piece here.  Hauerwas also wonders why so many of his students have converted to Catholicism.

Stanley Hauerwas Thinks Historically About Bonhoeffer

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Stanley Hauerwas, the Gilbert T. Rowe Professor Emeritus of Divinity and Law at Duke University, recommends the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but not before he chides clergy for their lack of theological reading and theologians for their failure to write for the church.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a theologian who should be studied by those in the ministry. Indeed, I suspect he is one of the few recent theologians who has been read or at least admired by those in the ministry.

I worry that he may be more admired than read, but I have no way of judging how deeply his theological work has shaped those in the ministry. My worry is not just about whether Bonhoeffer has been read, but the extent to which those in the ministry have read anything, much less theology.

I do not mean this to be critical because for some time theologians have written primarily for other theologians. They have done so because theologians now think their primary constituency is the university and not the church. As a result, we get the disastrous distinction between theology proper and practical or pastoral theology.

This comes from a long essay at the ABC’s “Religion and Ethics” page. After he chides ministers and theologians, Hauerwas engages in some historical thinking about Bonhoeffer and his usefulness today.  A taste:

Yet one may wonder how Bonhoeffer should be read by those in the ministry in our time. The challenges he faced are so different from the everyday tasks incumbent on those in the ministry in our day. Bonhoeffer confronted the Nazis and Hitler – it is hard to imagine a more dramatic conflict. Dangerous though it may have been, those confronted by the Nazi’s knew what sides they needed to be on. We seldom enjoy such clarity. The result is often a stark divide between activities associated with pastoral care and the social witness of the church.

Those in the ministry today must negotiate a very different world than the world Bonhoeffer encountered. We are unsure who our enemy is, or even if we have an enemy. We lack the clarity Bonhoeffer enjoyed – which, of course, is not a bad thing. But it leaves us confused about how to discern in the world in which we live what the primary challenge facing the church may be. Bonhoeffer saw quite early who the enemy was, though he was surrounded by many who did not see what he saw in the Nazis. Indeed, one of the interesting questions for Bonhoeffer’s relevance for pastors in our time is what enabled him to see the threat Hitler represented.

Accordingly, a crucial question that needs exploration in order to gauge Bonhoeffer’s continuing importance for the church in our day is what made it possible for him to see the character of the regime Hitler represented when so many others did not. That he came from the upper classes no doubt played a role, but surely what Muller and Schoenherr identify as his “grounding the concrete community in the reality and activity of Christ” was crucial if we are to understand his early opposition to the Nazis.

The question for us is how that “grounding” might help us know better the challenges before us. I suspect it is a mistake – and a quite understandable one – to assume that what you are against is sufficient to define your moral identity, rather than what you are for.

Read the entire piece here.

 

Can Progressive Evangelicals Claim the “Anabaptist” Label?

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Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church: Goessel, Kansas (Wikipedia)

Richard Beck of Abilene Christian University has written a very interesting piece explaining the difference between progressive evangelicalism and Anabaptism.   The election of Donald Trump has led many progressive Christians to claim the Anabaptist mantle But as Beck explains, this progressive approach to politics does not always conform to Anabaptist political teaching.

Here is a taste of Beck’s piece at Mennonite World Review:

The story starts in 2003, with George W. Bush and the invasion of Iraq. Many progressive Christians mobilized against that war. At the time, social media was just exploding. Blogging was in its Golden Age. Twitter would show up in 2006, just in time for the 2007-2008 Presidential campaign where we debated the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, torture and Guantanamo Bay.

As these debates raged on social media, Anabaptist theology, with its criticisms of nationalism and war, became a powerful theological tool in the hands of progressive Christians to level indictments at the Bush administration.

In addition, emergent and post-evangelical expressions of Christianity were going strong. Many disaffected and disillusioned evangelicals were looking around for theological positions that critiqued how evangelicalism had been co-opted by politics. With its strong criticisms of Constantinianism, Anabaptist theology also fit that bill.

And so it was during these years that many progressive Christians, in using Anabaptist theology so effectively to critique the Bush administration and the politicization of evangelicalism, convinced themselves that they were Anabaptists.

But they weren’t Anabaptists, not really.

Why weren’t progressives Anabaptists? Two reasons.

First, there’s more to Anabaptist theology than its peace witness. Anabaptist theology also espouses a robust ecclesiology, the church as the locus of life and political witness. This aspect of Anabaptist theology doesn’t sit well with many progressive Christians, who would rather work as political activists than invest in the daily life of a local church. To be sure, many post-evangelical progressive Christians harbor nostalgia for the local church, memories of hymn sings, youth camps, vacation Bible school and pot luck casseroles. But at the end of the day, progressive Christians tend to think calling Congress, community organizing and marching in protests are the best ways to make the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

Second, the robust ecclesiology of Anabaptist thought and practice works with a strong church-vs.-world distinction. This contrast has been famously captured by Stanley Hauerwas: “The first task of the church is not to make the world more just but to make the world the world.” In Anabaptist thought the church is set apart from the world, its goal to be a witness to the Powers by making a stark contrast between the kingdom of God and Babylon.

Read the entire piece here.

Stanley Hauerwas and Jonathan Tran on Christian Support for Trump

9143b-hauerwasStanley Hauerwas, considered by many to be one of the turn of the twenty-first century’s greatest theologians, has written an essay with Baylor theologian Jonathan Tran which, as far as I can tell, is his most thorough treatment of his views on the role of Christians in the age of Trump.

Here are a few snippets from their piece at the Religion and Ethics page of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation website:

On the failure of the Christian political imagination:

To us the most troubling thing was not that Christians voted for Trump when they had plenty of reasons and ways not to do so. While regrettable, that mistake follows a more basic one. We are most troubled by the ongoing belief Christians hold that the nation-state, not the church, is the arbiter of Christian political action. This belief obligates Christians to modes of statecraft in order to fulfil their moral commitments. In order to play at statecraft – again, for one’s “vote to count” – Christians will have to prioritize those commitments that will survive the state’s political processes over those that will not.

On abortion:

Take for instance the political issue of abortion, which some Christians cited as their reason for voting for candidate Trump. When Christians think that the struggle against abortion can only be pursued through voting for candidates with certain judicial philosophies, then serving at domestic abuse shelters or teaching students at local high schools or sharing wealth with expectant but under-resourced families or speaking of God’s grace in terms of “adoption” or politically organizing for improved education or rezoning municipalities for childcare or creating “Parent’s Night Out” programs at local churches or mentoring young mothers or teaching youth about chastity and dating or mobilizing religious pressure on medical service providers or apprenticing men into fatherhood or thinking of singleness as a vocation or feasting on something called “communion” or rendering to God what is God’s or participating with the saints through Marian icons or baptizing new members or tithing money, will not count as political.

On populism:

The nationalism of senior Trump advisor Steve Bannon and the so-called “Alt-Right” presents itself as a compassionate friend to those dispossessed by capitalism, bemoaning the loss of virtue and character and intoning a crisis of Western civilization. But when its antidote to global capitalism turns out to be the establishment of a 1950s version of Judaeo-Christian Victorian society without the recognition of that culture’s stewardship of capitalism or America’s guiding role in its operations, then its nationalism turns out to be only that, nationalism, and of the most nostalgic kind: to make America white again. The end result will be a nationalist-because-anti-globalist agenda that can achieve little more than a protectionist version of capitalism and a pseudo-intellectual endorsement of white supremacist activity. Not particularly original, but highly dangerous.

On lying:

Much has been made of President Trump’s shaky hold on the truth. When everything disagreeable is “fake news” then reality goes out the window. One approach to this state of affairs is to get the media to pile on as much discrediting evidence as possible with the expectation that Trump will be found to be caught in a lie. While this strategy has worthwhile benefits, we think it also has serious limitations, not least of which is that it positions the media politically in an endless troll/counter-troll game that will over time erode the public trust that is the source of its authority. The strategy also presumes that Trump is capable of lying. The way he presents himself makes us unsure that he is. Lying first requires an ability to distinguish truth from fantasy, an initial capacity to differentiate how things are from how one wants them to be. For anyone who has given himself to self-deception as constantly and continuously as Trump seems to, no amount of evidence will matter.

On sanctuary churches:

Acting as the church hospitable, Christians welcome those fleeing poverty, violence and oppression. As the powers threaten this hospitality because it challenges unjust political orders, the church militant responds with the grace and truth expressed in the sanctuary statement, against the grain of a crucifying world and with the grain of the universe. Upending oppressive arrangements, the church as sanctuary, a true international, attests to the absurdity of borders when millions starve and the thievery of states in a world given as gift.

On fear:

Shockingly there remain to this day Christians who support Trump’s anti-migration policies because they believe his policies will “keep us safe.” Surely one could not wish for a more misleading understanding of what it means to be Christian. Christians worship at the church of martyrs; they seek fellowship with the crucified Lord. Being a Christian is not about being safe, but about challenging the status quo in ways that cannot help but put you in danger. Thinking it possible to be safe in a world where Christians are sent out like sheep among wolves is about as unfortunate an idea as thinking that war is necessary to secure peace. We can only guess that those Christians who voted for Trump because of his willingness to use questionable tactics to keep them safe have forgotten what it means to be Christian.

Read the entire piece here.

Stanley Hauerwas Headed to Aberdeen University

For those of you who are interested in the American theological scene, Stanley Hauerwas, the man who Time Magazine described as “America’s Best Theologian,” has accepted a part-time endowed chair in theological ethics at Aberdeen University.  Here is a taste of the press release:

The University is delighted to announce the appointment of Stanley Hauerwas to a Chair in Theological Ethics. Professor Hauerwas will take up his part-time post within the School of Divinity, History &Philosophy this autumn. Respected worldwide for his influential and wide-ranging scholarship and acknowledged as a leading public intellectual both within and outwith the churches, Hauerwas—who previously helda professorship at the University of Notre Dame and is currently the Gilbert T. Rowe Professor Emeritus of Divinity and Law and a Senior Research Fellow the Duke University Divinity School—continues decisively to shape the field of contemporary theological ethics.
Hauerwas is the author of countless articles and over forty books including Community of Character (1981) and The Peaceable Kingdom (1983), God, Medicine and Suffering (1994), With the Grain of the Universe (2001), and most recently Working With Words: Learning to Speak Christian (2011) and Approaching the End (2013). His body of work engages a vast range of issues in theology, ethics, law, education, literature, disability studies, and medical ethics. He is also well-known for his commitments to pacifism and radical politics. His contributions have been recognized by award of honorary Doctorates from DePaul University, the University of Edinburgh, Virginia Theological Seminary and the University of Geneva. In 2001 he was named by Time Magazine as ‘America’s Best Theologian’.
Professor Sir Ian Diamond, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen, said: “The appointment of Professor Hauerwas confirms the world-class stature of our Divinity department and the strength of our ambitions. Hauerwas is internationally acknowledged to be one of those very few scholars of whom it can be said without exaggeration that he has changed the face of his discipline. We are pleased to welcome to our ranks a major public intellectual whose scholarship is a touchstone for anyone working in ethics and related fields.”
John Swinton, Professor of Practical Theology and Master of Christ’s College added: “Stanley Hauerwas is one of the finest theologians of our time and we are delighted that he has chosen to come and work with us at Aberdeen. His appointment is a fantastic opportunity with huge potential and we look forward with anticipation to what will undoubtedly be an exciting and creative future.”

Stanley Hauerwas on the Problem of Protestantism

Duke Divinity School theologian Stanley Hauerwas is a Protestant, but he does not like having to preach on Reformation Sunday because, as he puts it, “it does not name a happy event for the Church Catholic; on the contrary, it names failure.”  Here is a taste of his sermon:


Reformation names the disunity in which we currently stand. We who remain in the Protestant tradition want to say that Reformation was a success. But when we make Reformation a success, it only ends up killing us. After all, the very name ‘Protestantism’ is meant to denote a reform movement of protest within the Church Catholic. When Protestantism becomes an end in itself, which it certainly has through the mainstream denominations in America, it becomes anathema. If we no longer have broken hearts at the church’s division, then we cannot help but unfaithfully celebrate Reformation Sunday.