Quote of the Day

Many who become theologians in our time think their task is to try to determine how much of what has passed for Christianity they still need to believe and yet still be able to think of themselves as Christians.

This is from Stanley Hauerwas, writing about the response to his memoir, Hannah’s Child.  I have a bit of a love-hate feeling for Hauerwas; on probably 80% of things involving the church and the thought of the church (theology), I greatly agree with and admire him.  But that last 20% includes much of what he is most vocal about: particularly on the just war tradition, pacifism, and the “Constantinianism” of the church and/or theology.  I find I dislike Hauerwas most when he is being distinctively Hauerwas (probably why I most enjoy his The Cross-Shattered Christ).

Nevertheless, I thought the above quote was a gem.  And he is more correct than I care to think about; too much of what passes for theology involves finding a lowest common denominator for the designation “Christian” in order to be culturally or philosophically acceptable.  Here’s looking at you, John Shelby Spong.  (Feel free to insert your own name of a quasi-theologian here).

6 thoughts on “Quote of the Day”

  1. I went to hear John Spong speak once and later wrote about it here:


    I have not read Hauerwas. But from the pacifism issue you raise, I wonder if he’s one of those theologians I’ve noticed who teach, or appear to teach, that you can be a Christian or an American, but you cannot be both. I’ve seen that kind of thinking a lot among theologians and religious writers.

    Be well today.

  2. Chris, as usual, you are more charitable than I. I suppose Spong and I differ over whether he is searching for new forms of Christianity, or profoundly harming it. At least Bart Ehrman has the decency to not pretend to be a Christian anymore.

  3. Chris, Stanley Hauerwas has written that he is a lover of America, but that he is intent on helping Americans rightly order their love of America to their love of God (See the Faith of Fifty Million, p. xiv)

  4. Jonathan, I think you’re prooftexting Stanley! In his teaching and in the vast majority of what I have read from him, he has very few positive things to say about America qua America. Of course it is not simply America he has a distaste for, but anything that smacks of the Enlightenment project (which is the whole of the Western democratic experience).

    I would think that much of what Hauerwas dislikes about the States, many of us pastors would agree with (a consumerist culture worshipping mammon, a hyper-sexualized culture, etc.). He is so vitriolic, though, that too many pastors fall into the trap of trying to be him in the real, flesh and blood church – and it doesn’t work.

    I once read a great article called “the very American Stanley Hauerwas,” by Stephen Webb. It was very interesting and it named the ways in which Stanley is a typical American academic. My own thought is that he is as radically anti-American as many of the folks in English departments across the country; he’s just one of the first public intellectuals to have a Christological reading on his anti-Americanism.

  5. Pastormack, I presented you with some new information. You should allow it to challenge your original hypothesis rather than just dismiss it out of hand by saying that I’m prooftexting. I’m familiar with almost everything Hauerwas has written and the article by Webb. I think that what he wrote on p. xiv of The Faith of Fifty Million is a legitimate representation of his work. You are putting yourself in the position of knowing the man’s work better than he knows it himself. That’s a dubious project.

  6. Jonathan, a tree is known by its fruits, as we say. Many of us say we love God, but act in contradictory ways on a regular basis (myself included). I have no doubt that you are quoting Stanley accurately; but his actions and the writings that I am familiar with do not lead me to believe that he ‘loves’ America in any discernible manner. And if he really did, I think all of his Anabaptist-minded students would be sorely disappointed.

    To cite just one example of the typically anti-American Hauerwas, from an ABC interview:

    “I’m certainly critical of the kind of patriotism that we find in America. That is the worst kind possible, because it’s not just a loyalty to the particularities of history and geography, but because of America’s basis within the fundamental norms of the Enlightenment – freedom, equality, abstractions like that – then that means American patriotism cannot help but be a form of imperialism. And that’s always the way it has been. And I think it’s one of the most dangerous forms – indeed it’s virulent on the world stage.

    Americans can’t understand – I mean, we just – Americans assume that if you just had enough education and enough money, you would want to be just like us – because we’re what free people look like. And therefore American patriotism, I think, is one of the worst forms that could possibly be present in the world.”


    I am interested, though, as to why you are invested in this conversation? In other words, I’ve never met a staunch fan of Stanley’s who was remotely interested in whether and to what degree he loved/liked America. I just find it fascinating that you feel the need to be apologetic on this point.

What do you think? Share your thoughts below...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s