Monday, November 25, 2013

Critiquing Hauerwas

In a provocative essay that is a response to Richard Hays, Stanley Hauerwas addresses Hays's suggestion that Hauerwas's "hermeneutical position" requires him to become a Roman Catholic. This is a perfectly reasonable suggestion for anyone who has read Unleashing the Scriptures to make. In response, Hauerwas says that he cannot become a Roman Catholic because "that would mean that I would belong to a church that holds positions on major ethical issues such as war and the role of women that are at odds with my commitment to Christian nonviolence and my support of the ordination of women."

With such a response Hauerwas falls on his own sword, so to speak. Can I only belong to a church if that church is committed to nonviolence? Surely that leaves me with little choice but to join a Quaker meeting house. What's more, in Unleashing the Scriptures Hauerwas is firm in his conviction that the church is the only community in which the Bible can be read rightly. If nonviolence is so central to Hauerwas's faith that he will not join a church that is not committed to it, then one has to wonder what church Hauerwas is talking about when he talks about the church being the place where Scripture is rightly read. Clearly he cannot be talking about the majority of churches in the history of Christianity, which have not read the Bible in such a way that makes nonviolence necessary, and have thus not read the Bible rightly.

All of this leaves Hauerwas to be a "high church Mennonite" - a humorous moniker that exposes a flaw in Hauerwas's theology - it leaves one to be a member of a church that doesn't exist, an invisible church that always lives up to my own commitments and positions. Of course in a place like America, or Europe's version of America, Northern Ireland, there is a decent chance of finding a local church that lives up to our ideals. Or if not, we can start one. Or just go to an Ikon event every 3 months. But I think that is to miss the point of church.

I grew up in a church that had nothing to say about Christian nonviolence, and that ordained neither men nor women! It was, quite simply, the church I was given. Hauerwas's response to Hays would be far more in line with his own "commitments" if he said that he was not a Catholic because that is not the particular community he was given. The problems arise when we bring choice into the equation. Arranged church membership, anyone?


  1. In Hannah's Child Hauerwas describes how a church he used to be a part of appointed a minister who wanted to be like Bill Hybel and adopted many of the same practices. Hauerwas subsequently left the congregation. I've always wanted to ask how and on what criteria he made that choice.

    By the way, if your blog were the FA cup this would be a giant killing shock of the season... Declan criticising Stanley!!!

  2. Ha I would say this is more like the pre-match interview with the captain of the plucky underdogs, who says that while they respect the other team, they're not going to be in awe of them. "They're not unbeatable," he finishes with.

    Then plucky underdogs go on to lose 4-0. Still, it was a great day out.