Stanley Hauerwas lectured this morning at the Fall Colloquium for the School of Theology & Ministry. The following are my notes, following by some brief reflections. I trust this will be of special interest for our online seminary students who cannot attend such extracurricular events. Whatever conclusion you come to with regard to the ideas set forth below, Hauerwas’ confidence in the gospel and commitment to the church is challenging and quite compelling.  I am certain that exposure to and reflection on his driving themes will be fruitful for you.  I know that I have learned much from him since I discovered his work 10 years ago, first by adopting his positions, then slowly finding myself in disagreement with him and having to figure out why.  So, welcome to the conversion.

I know I’d be particularly interested in hearing your thoughts on what some of these claims might look like in local church practice.  For instance, if Hauerwas is even half-right that “the first task of the church is not to make the world more just, but to make the world the world” (see below), then how does that reframe the relationship between evangelism and social action, a recurring topic in Wesley Seminary’s curriculum?

Well, here’s my notes for your use and enjoyment.

Stanley Hauerwas

Asked to address what it means to be a public intellectual theologian in America.

Background to this question is that he is criticized for ghettoizing Christianity, i.e., he’s a “sectarian fideist tribalist”

Christian Ethicists tend to assume we won’t let our Christianity get in the way of our public discourse.

His response: “I think the way I think, and if you don’t agree with me you can go to hell.”

Pluralist context should mean that Christians, too, can speak from their own particularity.  Restricting Christianity, but not other religions, is a way of covertly asserting that we’re in control.

Part of being a Christian today is learning how to be out of control.

If he is asked to say something in public, it is because they think he has something to say.  That “something” arises from our unique Christian grammar.

Our Christian speech teaches us to reconfigure the imagination in order to show what

The great enemy in our time is not atheism — if only we could create interesting atheists! — the great enemy in our time is sentimentality, i.e., the assumption that Christians can have children without worrying about them suffering for their faith.

Reflecting on his earlier essay during the controversy over gays in the military, entitled, “Why gays as a group are morally superior to Christians as a group.”

Why can’t Christians get themselves banned from military as a group?

This thought experiment is meant to reframe the debate over gays.  E.g., we Christians aren’t interested in your sexual fulfillment. We’re trying to make war less frequent, which means we don’t have time for your sexual fulfillment.  We’re going to give you something else to do that’s more important.

This produces slogans, aimed generating thought:

(1) “The first task of the church is not to make the world more just, but to make the world the world.”

The world doesn’t exist without its opposite in the church.  That sounds offensive, which is the point.  Because it is equally offensive that the church has to     Learn to say that Christ is God’s justice.

(2) “We don’t want to eliminate mental retardation.”

When living in South Bend, IN, was on a council concerning mental disability.  The national group produced a video promoting pre-natal counseling, ending with “help us eliminate mental retardation” — treats it like cancer.  This is code for murder!  Theological language does the work of changing the assumptions.  Christian’s say: “We don’t want to eliminate retardation.”  We want to learn to live with them as Christ’s people.  That’s the kind of public work Christian theology is supposed to do.  Showing that we live in a different world than those who do not speak our language.

Hauerwas’ audience: Christians!  He has someone to write for, unlike most academics who are condemned to only write for each other.  Theologians have an audience that claims to be obliged to read us.

The problem of being a public intellectual is actually part of the pathos of the modern university, which has no public to which to speak.  The University has lost its public.  That means that IWU better make hay while the sun shines, because we still have a public!  You better care about your scholarship, because it is actually for someone.

What legitimates the modern university?  Science!  The public doesn’t understand science, but we believe it advanced technology, esp. medicine, because we think if we get good at it we can get out of life alive.

This is why medical school is more interesting to people than divinity school, even though medical school doesn’t tailor its curriculum to students they way seminary tries to.  Why?  Because no one thinks an inadequately trained minister can put your life at stake!

Today, if you ask people how they want to die, they would say quickly, painlessly, in their sleep, and not be a burden on others.  They don’t want to be a burden because they don’t trust their children.  And they want it to be painless because living a life without pain is the driving goal of modern life.

But the Christian litany used to say, “Save me from sudden death.”  Because in the past Christians wanted to be reconciled with God and others before they met God.  They were more afraid of God than of dying.

The practice of dying and the language surrounding it is what we need to be shaped in to be converted to bear witness to the gospel in our day.

This all has to do with the place of humanities in the university:

science is about truth, humanities is about opinion; theology is located in the humanities.

The presumption that I have an audience means that I have a language upon which to draw in order to learn how to say what needs to be said.  This language teaches us to overcome the sentimentality that makes today’s society incapable of dealing with death.

In what kind of genre should Christian theology be written?

He writes in varied genres…

E.g., Better Hope – patience is a crucial Christian virtue; those who are born mentally handicapped teach us this patience; analogous to the patience needed to ;  Christians don’t necessarily try to make the world less violent, but rather seek to be non-violent.  Christians are not about winning, but about enduring, with the virtue of patience in an impatient world.

The charge that he’s a sectarian, fideist, tribalist is completely false, because Christian language actually reframes the way we see the whole world, so that the world might see it and say, “Wow!  That’s interesting.”  The world is dying from boredom.  Christians have the most interesting story in the world, but only if we don’t truncate it.

So, what do it mean to be a public intellectual theologian in America?

The answer is: “I’m a Christian; isn’t that interesting?”

Respondent #1: Billy Abraham (SMU)

He’s a lapsed Irishman, who’s ended up in Texas.  So he

Throat clearing:

Why he agrees with Hauerwas.

He was asked to preach at commencement. The chaplain warned him, “Don’t be too Christological.” He answered, “When you get me, you get Jesus.”  Preached from Exodus story on the hind side of God, and ended with the Orthodox liturgy

He’s been at SMU very long, and loves Texas.

Started out teaching evangelism.  Made a bet with Babcock: every time someone makes a first-order statement about God, I’ll take you out to lunch.

I agree that we must go into the public square with our Christian underwear showing!

Two Questions:

(1) If you’ve got a high Christology, doesn’t it require to believe that the Logos in Christ is also present and at work throughout creation, and therefore, in the ideas of non-Christians?  Lewis: The Greeks have “good dreams.”  The sharp disjunction in Hauweras, which is just a joy to behold, needs clarification and

* Hiding behind Hauerwas’ sharp disjunction is a robust understanding of divine revelation.

(2) He doesn’t share Hauerwas’ view of war. Given a robust divine revelation, then why do Christians come to such radically different interpretations of this revelation?  Perhaps he should go to Rome, where the interpretive tradition

Respondent #2: Bart Bruehler (IWU)

In the past, he didn’t read much Hauerwas, because he was worried that he’d find a kindred soul.  He has.

Bart asks: Why am I enjoying reading his memoir?

(1) Hauerwas unflinching honesty.  If theology (and testimony as its subgenre) is about telling the truth about God, then honesty is crucial.

(2) How theology and experience are woven together for Hauerwas.

Four Questions:

(1) Formative effect of bricklaying.  An apt symbol for Christian practice and virtue.  However, my generation and that of my students, the formative practices is technologically, and so practices become techniques to control and to “effect.”

(2) Can you explain to me why liturgy is at the heart of the church?

(3) Contingent nature of our lives, understand through Christian narrative.  Rightly say that many of our practices try to hide and avoid this contingency, and that Christianity asserts the.  But what about those who embrace a sort of chaotic random contingency, which is another form of avoiding avoiding the genuine contingency before God?

(4) Public theology — How can we as the body (not just as individual theological personalities like Hauerwas) enter the public square?

Respondent #3: Chris Bounds (IWU)

Born in Texas and raised in Arkansas.

More importantly, a brother in Christ and lover of Christ’s church.

Comments come both from the lecture and from the memoir, Hannah’s Child.

Wesleyan in the Pietist tradition, and so enjoys hearing a personal, introspective narrative — esp. because he’s criticized pietism for its individualist testimony!

First and foremost, Hauerwas is a theologian of the church and only as such a public theologian.

Hauerwas focuses on local churches in his Christian formation.  Consistent with his critique of evangelical overemphasis on direct, unmediated relationship with God.

Bounds’ Questions come from this ecclesial perspective:

(1) Hauerwas has a decidedly negative view of the church growth movement.  Even left a local church over this.  Elaborate on this view.

(2) Homosexuality in the church. A deeply divisive issue. Hauerwas seems unsure on the question of gay membership, marriage, ordination, etc.  Elaborate more on this.

Response to the Respondents: Hauerwas

RE: Christology (Abraham)

Of course Jesus is the Logos, and you never know where the Logos is going to turn up, and that’s a matter of discernment.  But Jesus IS the logos, and so he’s suspicious of accounts of the Logos in which Jesus is the exemplification of otherwise grounded principles.  Need to start from the particularity of Jesus in his cross and resurrection.   You move from Jesus to the Greeks, not the other way around.  All is God’s creation, so yes we would expect Godliness outside the church, oftentimes in way that judges the church itself.

RE: Christian Division (Abraham)

Hauerwas has a poster on his door: “A modest proposal for peace: let the Christians of the world resolve not to kill each other.”  Undermines Christian witness when we    So the disagreements are not just about different theological claims, but a fundamental willingness to have our convictions be determined .  I don’t going to Rome will help that.  If I thought it did, I would.  After 14 years at Notre Dame, he’s seen how divided they are internally.  Wesleyans that don’t hunger and thirst for Christian unity betray the charism of

RE: Craft (Bruehler)

Worries a lot about the loss of craft in students today. Hauerwas started bricklaying at 7 years old, for years of training. Modern architecture avoids craft because of its cost and time.  Technology replaces craft, and we suffer for it aesthetically.

RE: Liturgy (Bruehler)

This beauty has everything to do with the centrality of the liturgy for the church.  Liturgy just means the work of the people.  He cannot imagine

RE: Church Growth (Bounds)

Which has to do with church growth.  Church growth is ugly.  Trying to compete with television — TV will win!  The kind of worship producers

RE: Contingency (Bruehler)

It’s contingency all the way down, because God became a man, Jesus.  You shouldn’t be surprised that if you don’t worship this God-man, then contingency is chaos.  The great prophet of this is Nietzsche.

RE: Gays (Bounds)

Never start thinking about that issue from “sexuality” but from singleness and the vocation of marriage.  The first call of a Christian is to singleness.  Christianity is radical because you can be a Christian without having children!  Why?  Not because we hate sex, but because it is a missionary sect that grows by conversion not biological conscription; we even have to witness to our own children.  If you want to be married in the church, you bear the burden of proof.  Marriage in our society has become our only hedge against loneliness, so it has become a necessity.  The way to respond to the challenge of homosexuality starts with creating communities in which marriage is not the only remedy for loneliness.  What is means to be a Christian is to have a genius for friendship!

Q&A (audience):

Q1: Expound on “first task of the church is to make the world the world”

A1: The world is all that which takes God’s patience to not be God’s world.  The world needs to see that it is in fundamental rebellion against God’s governance, such that the world is able to see in the church an alternative way to be the world.  The church/world distinction is the fundamental dualism that shapes Christian theology — and it runs even through each of us as Christians!  It doesn’t make us the righteous over against worldly unrighteousness, but that we are troubled worldly people who are learning to be thankful for God’s governance.

Not: creation/redemption (Niebuhr, et al)

Not: nature/grace (Roman Catholic)

The church/world dualism is eschatological concept. Eschatology shapes reality.  Requires constant discernment.  Which makes Christianity interesting and compelling!


Agree: We don’t understand anything in the world until we understanding .  You can even find this in Descartes!

Disagree: Distinction between what is the case without the world ontologically and what we should say about the world in particular cases.  E.g., science has made discoveries, despite it’s overblown claims for itself in our society.

Logos already available in creation but as unnamed, but has a derivative significance.

He agrees that you can’t always trust pious sentimental Christians.

Q2: Should we ignore social justice entirely?

A2: First of all, don’t use the phrase social justice.  If it’s justice, how can it be anything other than social?  What’s the opposing term?  Private justice?  Justice is justice, both as virtue and structure.  Social justice is code for the fact that people today want societies to be just without persons being just.  They want just institutions without the virtue of justice.  Justice is a complex process that includes the discernment of difference (contra egalitarian concepts of justice). Aristotle: The deepest injustice is the unwillingness to claim an honor that is due you!  Augustine, City of God, Book 19: Justice is the right worship of the triune God.  Any society not based on this is not truly just, because it cannot produce just people whatever its polity.  Hauerwas: “I’m not really a sectarian; I’m a theocrat!”  Open to discussing whether retributive justice can be internal to reconciliation.  But the criminal justice system in American is fundamentally wrong-headed. Cf. Matthew 18.

Q3: What do you believe the role of the Holy Spirit is in the church and in society?

A3: The role of the Spirit is always to point to Jesus.  The Spirit in the NT identifies.  Appeals to the Spirit often function to underwrite my experience in order to be self-verifying.  Hauerwas aims to be Wesleyanly Charismatic: the Spirit constitutes the church and is active in the world.  Acts 2 often read as if we all become the same; but they still spoke in different languages, understanding each other through the agency of the Holy Spirit.  That is the hope we have for the church being uniting as a people in the world who refuse to let the divisions in the world to be our divisions.

Q4: Unapologetic theology.  You [Hauerwas] criticize apologetics.  Does the church also have the task to teach Christian grammar to world?

Q4: Hauerwas is going to teach a course next year called, “Doctrine and Apologetics” – because the best apologetics is beautiful doctrine!  His problem is that you can’t get to God by starting with the doubter’s questions, esp. the language.  However, he does apologetics all the time, i.e., reframe contemporary issues with Christian language is apologetics.  “The world is dying to be shaped by the gospel.”  For Christians to be hesitant to say “I’ve got what you want” is travesty.  The basis for what we say as Christians is we believe it is true — and truth prevails!  Of course you are going to find yourself speaking to those outside the church, hence why we need to submit ourselves to those who are more adequate speakers of the gospel.  Apologetic mode is the mode of protestant liberal theology, and he’s not going to do it!