I hope you’ll read this…

hauerwasI just came across Albert Mohler’s interview of Stanley Hauerwas, who may become regarded as the most important theologian of our generation. I would love for you to read the whole interview transcript [sadly riddled with typos, but still worth reading].

Hauerwas is deep and brilliant, and you’ll get a nice sample of his whole project in this interview. Mohler’s questions are helpful, and his critiques of Hauerwas are gracious and fair. I have frequent and profound disagreements with Mohler, so I was surprised to see his open engagement with Hauerwas’s work.

That interview is long and at times academic. So I’ll point you to John Meunier’s brief reflection on it (which is how I found the interview in the first place). Meunier’s reflection is honest and pastoral. Here, as usual, I find myself in agreement with him.

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler

You’ve probably heard the line before: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”[1. Often attributed to Albert Einstein, but unverified. It’s, at the least, a pretty good definition of Occam’s Razor.] You may have seen people violate this in one of the areas you really know––politics, social issues, relationship dynamics… Our public versions are often simplistic and naive. They leave out all the complexity of the real situation. We try to simplify issues to make them easier to understand, but we often go too far.

I think Hauerwas’s critique of American evangelicalism may fit here. We’ve tried to define Christian faith and salvation as simply as possible, but we’ve gone too far (and if forced to choose, in the wrong direction). We’ve become simplistic and disregarded important nuances in the Christian faith. We’ve said yes/no when we should have said both/and.

When we’ve asked and answered––”Which faith saves? The faith of the individual or the faith of the church?”––I think Hauerwas might say that we’ve already made things simpler than we should.

Several of my articles are probably unwittingly influenced by Hauerwas and those who’ve echoed him. “Absent from flesh” and “Reaching out without watering down” are two recent examples. If those hit on something you’d like to hear more about, I recommend Hauerwas to you. If you didn’t understand what in the world I was doing in those, Hauerwas’s work at least explains me a bit more.

A few highlights

From Hauerwas:

[O]ne of the great problems of Evangelical life in America is evangelicals think they have a relationship with God that they go to church to have expressed but church is a secondary phenomenon to their personal relationship and I think that’s to get it exactly backwards: that the Christian faith is meditated faith [sic –– I think this should be “mediated faith”]. It only comes through the witness of others as embodied in the church. So I should never trust my presumption that I know what my relationship with God is separate from how that is expressed through words and sacrament in the church.

[T]here’s much to be said for Christianity as repetition and I think evangelicalism doesn’t have enough repetition in a way that will form Christians to survive in a world that constantly tempts us to always think we have to do something new.

[O]ne of the things I would have us to go [sic] is a much richer, liturgical life than I think is the case in many evangelical and Protestant mainstream churches. I think a recovery of the centrality of Eucharistic celebration and why it is so central is just crucial for the future of the church.

[R]emember one of the things that is so impressive about the Church Catholic is that it is the church of the poor. We Americans cannot imagine being a church of the poor; we can imagine being a church that cares about the poor but we cannot imagine the poor being Christians but Catholicism has done that in a way that is interestingly enough a very deep critique of empire.

From Meunier:

I think if forced to side, I’d have to say the participation in the body is primary [over personal relationship with Jesus] because it is the way by which we come to know who Jesus is and what it means to be one of his followers. The Holy Spirit works through means of grace that are in the stewardship of the church.

But then my “both/and” emerges because I also believe that Christianity is not something you get by osmosis. It is not a T-shirt you by [sic] at the gift shop. It is something that changes you. It is personal. And if it is not personal, it is ultimately incomplete.

If you find those highlights interesting, take the time to read the full pieces. The original interview here. John Meunier’s reflection here.

UPDATE: John Meunier has just posted a second reflection, focused on Hauerwas’s treatments of conversion, gospel, and forgiveness. Once again, I think I can say I’m in full agreement with John. He says here what I would say if I were more articulate and had more time to spell out my own thoughts


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