Sunday, November 25, 2012

What It Means to be a Christian

In A Dialogue Between a Theologian and a Lawyer, Stanley Hauerwas was asked this question:

What does it mean to be a Christian? Is it a community of practice? A community of faith that believes in certain things? Do you think you can be a Christian or claim to be a Christian if you really don’t believe in the faith but you believe in the community?

His answer is, well, the kind of answer you'd expect from a high church Mennonite:

Well, I’m not one to take my subjectivity that seriously. The idea that I might know whether right now I am exhibiting deep faith in God, I wouldn't have the slightest idea and I don’t find it interesting. The question is: What do my enemies think? I always say one of the most important questions you can ask a theologian is “Where do you go to church?” because the liturgy is central to the intelligibility of the language we use. So I am not that impressed by justification by belief. It seems to me that the Protestant focus on thinking that you need to believe very hard that God exists and therefore that makes you a Christian shows a kind of desperateness that fails to indicate that what it means to be a Christian is to be embedded in practices that are so determinative you cannot imagine that God has not redeemed the world in Jesus Christ. And that sounds like a belief, but it is much more embeddedness in a whole language and community that exemplifies the language that makes our lives intelligible.

Hauerwas's answer flies in the face of Protestant wisdom. The subject that Hauerwas cares about is not the individual but the church. He is not much interested in what Stanley Hauerwas believes or doesn't believe. He is interested in what the church believes, i.e., what the church says and does, with his own life intelligible as "his own life" only as part of that particular community.

This would be an interesting understanding of Christianity to bring into an Irish context, where there is sometimes a tension between evangelicals who have a personal relationship with Jesus and their Catholic family members who don't seem to care too much about what they do or don't believe about God but who know that being part of a local faith community is good for their souls.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Charismata, I agree with you about bringing such thinking into an Irish situation. Once when I offended our local village Catholic priest he said to me one word for church in irish is 'pobal' meaning community. So to offend the church is to offend the community. Apart from the obvious critique of me here, as an evangelical I am jealous of what the Catholic Church in their sense of 'oneness' and community. 'Personal faith' is a bit too 'personal' and not enough of community.