Thinking in Public with Stanley Hauerwas
April 21, 2012
Mohler: This is Thinking in Public a program dedicated to intelligent conversation about frontline, theological and cultural issues with the people who are shaping them. I’m Albert Mohler, your host and President to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
Stanley Hauerwas is the Gilbert T. Rowe Professor Emeritus of Theological Ethics at Duke University where he holds appointments in the Divinity School and Law School. He has written an entire library of articles and books dating from 1969 to the present. He is a board member of the society of Christian ethics. He is associate editor of a number of Christian journals and periodicals and a frequent lecturer at campuses across the country. He holds his PhD from Yale University and a Doctor of Divinity from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. His most recent work is Approaching the End: Eschatological Reflections on Church, Politics and Life.
Mohler: Professor Hauerwas, you have been in an ongoing conversation partner with me, perhaps without even knowing it. I read everything you write and always find a great deal in it that makes me to think. Sometimes, quite frankly, that aggravates me; other times that pleases me. You are one of the most unusual writers and thinkers that I engage with quite regularly. You’re newest book is entitled Approaching the End: Eschatological Reflections on Church, Politics and Life. How in the world did you get there?
Hauerwas: Well, eschatology has always been at the center of my work and I thought it was time to try to make that as explicit as possible. Plus, I am seventy-three. I am approaching the end and I am realizing death is not a theoretical possibility, even for me. So, I thought that the title had a double entendre, in a way that would show the interrelationship of those themes.
Mohler: Well, the themes of your life are so well documented in your writing and the major streams of your thought. And there are so many of them that I would like to pursue with you a bit. But in this book, I’ll tell you, the most interesting essay to me is the one entitled “Church Matters on Faith and Politics” because in this essay, and the book is actually a collection of very, very pointed and perceptive essays, you make a stunning point. That is that the church in the western world is losing its ability to maintain any identity. You write that the church is in a buyers’ market that makes any attempt to form a disciplined congregational life very difficult. Is this just part and parcel with the modern age or is this a characteristically American moment?
Hauerwas: I honestly don’t know how to answer that, Al. I think it’s certainly the case that America is the prismatic example of it. But I suspect its true in most places because basically a buyers’ market, that very description, reproduces the presumption that you live in a demand economy that says that the buyer is supreme and they get to buy what they want and therefore… I tell my students for example, if they are to sustain their life in the ministry without self-hatred there are two things they should not do: They should never have the Christian funeral in a funeral home. It is to be in the church. And they should never marry someone off the street. And they say well if we try to do that, they will just go to the church down the street and be buried in a funeral home or to marry people off the street. And I say “yeah, but that’s why they’re a bad church and you’ll be a good one!” We won’t have many members. So that’s the way I think that it works, namely that the consumer gets to consume the kind of faith they want.
Mohler: The very next essay in this book you write about the end of Protestantism and that leads me to ask a very personal question: as an American evangelical Christian, do you think that Evangelicalism is in many ways the quintessential representation of the American faith and do you think that even as you write about the church in general - I actually don’t want to put a message in your mouth, I’d rather here it from you, but I get the impression that when you look at American Christianity in general, and American Evangelicalism in particular, you appear to see a church that is looking less and less like the church.
Hauerwas: That’s true. I have great admiration for evangelicals for no other reason than they just bring such great energy to the faith and I admire that. But one 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. 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. So evangelicals, I’m afraid, often times, with what appears to be very conservative religious convictions, make the church a secondary phenomenon to their assumed faith and I think that’s making it very hard to maintain disciplined congregations.
Mohler: I have to tell you that one of the statements in one of your books that aggravated me was a statement in which you said that conservative evangelicals should read this book, but they won’t because they don’t read this kind of book. Actually, it aggravated me because I was reading it at the time. But I understood the point you were making, and I want to come back and just press you on this just a bit because, as an evangelical concerned with many of the same things, I just want to come back and ask: When you look at evangelicalism and you look at evangelical churches, what do you see as the particular moment that now presents us with a completely different set of challenges? In other words, be a prophet for a moment. You can do that. In other words, where is evangelicalism going to be given the increasing secularization and the hyper-modernity of our culture?
Hauerwas: I think evangelicalism is destined to die of its own success and it will go the way of mainstream Protestantism because there’s just—it depends far too much on charismatic pastors, and charisma will only take you so far. Evangelicalism is constantly under the burden of re-inventing the wheel and you just get tired. For example, I’m a big advocate of Morning Prayer. I love Morning Prayer. We do the same thing every morning. We don’t have to make it up. We know we’re going to say these prayers. We know we’re going to join in reading of the psalm. We’re going to have these Scripture readings. I mean, there’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.
Mohler: Well you are well-known for arguing that spirituality is practice and that ethics is virtue; just to put it in, perhaps, too short a compression there. But when you look at American spirituality in general, there doesn’t appear to be much practice or much on emphasis upon practice. And is that because our congregations have lost that set of habits?
Hauerwas: It’s hard for me to generalize. I can’t pretend to be someone that has studied these matters from a sociological point of view—not that I particularly trust sociology—but I do think that Hagel made the comment at one time, “Christians arose in the morning and said their prayers. Now they read the newspaper.” Of course, that’s changing too. They probably look at their smartphone now. But I think that the fundamental habits of the faith have been in decline and that leaves us with insufficient resources to sustain our lives as Christians in a world in which we find ourselves. I think, again, it has to do with the loss of fundamental practices, such as reading the Bible, but reading the Bible, I don’t trust necessarily to me as an individual. I need to read the Bible with other people. And that has pretty much been lost. Let me say in that regard that one of the other things that worries me about evangelicalism is I’m afraid it’s got the Bible and now, and exactly how it is that you reconnect evangelical life with the great Catholic traditions, I think is part of the challenges for the future because you need to read the fathers reading Scripture as part of our common life if we are to sustain a sense that we don’t get to make Christianity up. We receive it through the lives of those who have gone before and that just becomes crucial for us to be able to survive in which we find ourselves.
Mohler: I find it very difficult to predict sometimes where you’re going to go when you begin an essay or a book, for that matter, or a sermon. And I’ve also read your most recent collection of sermons entitled Without Apology: Sermons for Christ’s Church.
Hauerwas: Thanks again.
Mohler: But, as you surprise me, you always make me think, and in your essay on the end of Protestantism—and, by the way, written at the same time that so many others are arguing the case or analyzing the situation from different perspectives—I had this question: Are you suggesting that Protestantism was a failed experiment or that it’s basically been—well, as you said of evangelicalism, it’s died of its own success. In other words, mainline Protestantism, the big brands of Protestantism now famously in decline in the United States. How do you explain that? What do you say about that?
Hauerwas: Well, Protestantism, by the very name, protest, was a protest movement within the church catholic that never was meant to be an end in itself, but a reformed movement for the church catholic to criticize where it had gone wrong. It has been successful. I think Roman Catholicism has responded fundamentally to many of what the Protestant revolt was about, but when Protestantism becomes an end in itself, rather than a reform movement that looks for and desires Christian unity—and that can come in many different ways—then, as a matter of fact, we become unintelligible to ourselves. And so—I’m going to die a Protestant, let me very clear, because I think I owe my Catholic brothers and sisters that continuing witness and, therefore, I am determined to remain Protestant. Though, after I taught fourteen years at Notre Dame, certainly Catholicism leaves a mark on you. But I, nonetheless, hunger for Christian unity in which, and at the very least that means that Christians learn not to kill one another in the name of being Christians or the name of certain national loyalties, etc. Because Christian unity isn’t just the bureaucracies getting together where no one loses their job, but it is the fundamental recognition that in this brother or sister I see Christ for me.
Mohler: I think it was George Lindbeck who pointed out as a word of critique that you seem to have no interest whatsoever in institutional ecumenicalism.
Hauerwas: Yeah, I’ve tried to respond to that, but I’ve never been terribly taken up with the ecumenical movement, particularly among the Protestant churches. In fact, the buyer’s market has meant that denominational identities have become less and less interesting. And so it’s very unclear—I mean, what good would it be for Presbyterians and Methodists to become united today? I mean, basically, all we’ve got a certain kind of emphasis they try to find that makes them somewhat distinctive in order for them to get their buyer-share of the diminishing market.
Mohler: When Stanley Hauerwas talks about the buyer’s market for religion in America, he’s onto something that evangelicals ought to notice and notice very carefully. And that is in fact that that is indeed an apt metaphor for our society at large, but it also, if we’re not very careful, a dynamic that is experienced by many churches and denominations, not only in the Protestant mainline, where he mentions all those brand-named denominations jockeying to retain their membership and a declining membership base, but it’s also the case that there are many in American evangelicalism who basically think of the gospel as something to be packaged and sold. The problem with that, of course, it that it is the same pattern as that which was the besetting sin of Protestant liberalism. Protestant liberalism sought to accommodate the message of the gospel to the larger and secularizing culture in order that it would be, well, saleable. It would be acceptable. But the Bible and the gospel can’t be reduced to a product and that’s a warning that evangelical Christians had better heed and understand very carefully. Because just as there was that temptation amongst the Protestant liberals and perhaps the jockeying for position among the brand names of mainline Protestantism today, we can be involved in the same kind of strategizing in which we betray the fact that somehow we think the gospel’s a product to be sold as well. And if it’s a product to be sold, then, like any other product that’s successful, it has to meet the demands of the marketplace, and that is the antithesis of evangelism.
In your writings, you also make another very interesting case that has direct reference to mainline Protestantism and perhaps an indirect reference to evangelicalism as well. You argue that Protestant liberalism followed the apologetic strategy of trying to make the Christian faith rational in the aftermath of the Enlightenment. And, yet, as you in conversation with several others have remarked— Alasdair MacIntyre, I’m thinking of here, in particular—that when liberals made the Christian faith rational, they made the Christian faith irrelevant and unnecessary.
Hauerwas: Right. Well, I want to be careful with that word rational because I think nothing is more rational than Christian Orthodoxy. I think the Nicaea account of Trinity is an extraordinary development that is a tradition thinking through its fundamental commitment in a manner that is intellectually compelling. So the rationality that I was criticizing was the kind of rationalizing that presupposed that there was some kind of reason that didn’t reflect a tradition-determined mode of investigation. So I want to say that the problem with the response to the Enlightenment was it accepted the Enlightenment’s account of reason as reasonable, which was a deep mistake.
Mohler: Well, I appreciate that clarification because I certainly emphatically agree that there is nothing more rational than Christian Orthodoxy in terms of the right exercise of reason. But the attempt to make Christianity rational in Enlightenment terms with the autonomous reason, I just have to say, I think you make that point very compellingly, and it leads me to wonder sometimes if evangelicals aren’t methodologically sometimes following the same kind of trajectory that the mainline Protestants did, but just a century late. You know, perhaps many evangelicals are arriving at a new form of liberalism just about a century late.
Hauerwas: Well, I think pietism and rationalism went hand-in-hand because each privilege the individual presumed capacity for rationality in and of itself. And so in so far as evangelicalism has reflected that pietistic background, it interestingly enough is the most determinative exemplification of rationalism. I mean, I know evangelicals are not necessary fundamentalists, but I can’t imagine a more rationalistic account of the Christian faith than some forms of how scriptural inspiration is understood. So I think that is exactly right that a good deal of contemporary evangelicalism has a kind of rationalism to it that is reproducing what Lindbeck identified in the nature of doctrine as the experimental expressive form.
Mohler: Well I hope not to be guilty of that, but I speak as one who clearly as an evangelical feels the necessity to defend the faith once for all delivered to the saints and to do so in the contemporary moment and to make very clear that, indeed, Orthodox, biblical Christianity is the most rational worldview imaginable, so in thinking about the challenge on the other side of the Enlightenment where evangelicals, as much as Protestant liberals, we find ourselves. So let me just ask you. Rather than wonder what would Stanley Hauerwas have us to do. Let me just ask you: So what should we do?
Hauerwas: Well I think the first thing we need to do is confess our sin; that we have pridefully tried to make our faith a faith that suits us, and, in particular, underwrite the American experiment as central to the Christian faith. So one of the things I think that we desperately need to do is recover the ecclesiastical center of the Christian faith in a manner that unites us with Christians around the world, in a manner that frees us from the kind of nationalistic presuppositions that have gone hand-in-hand with American Protestantism. That’s called becoming catholic.
Mohler: Well I certainly appreciate the critique. I often, though, in reading your works, come to this question: Okay, so what if we handed everything over to Stanley Hauerwas, what would he do with it? In other words, where would you have us to go?
Hauerwas: Well, let me say one of the things I would have us to go 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.
Mohler: Okay, now that really intrigues me. I’m not surprised by that. But in terms of the shape and substance of the congregation, of the church of an ecclesial center, how does one become a Christian? In other words, that’s another question I had in reading your works from beginning to end. There just isn’t much reference to conversion.
Hauerwas: Ah. Yeah, I guess I stayed away from that term because it has been so associated with Billy Graham’s football-field evangelism. Billy Graham’s football-field evangelism and conversion is not without value, but to be a Christian means that from baptism forward you are living a life of constant transformation in a manner that you are able to have the sinfulness of our lives located in a manner that through the good graces of others I have some hope of living a life that is more, to use Wesley’s phrase, perfect. And so I think that conversion is the name of an ongoing process from birth to death that we as Christians are invited to live.
Mohler: Well, again, looking at your writings, and even preparing for this conversation, and feeling the weight of your critique at many points and just very catalytic thoughts, I came back to another question, and that is, for Stanley Hauerwas, what is the gospel? What is the good news that is at the center of the Christian faith? Because I think I could hypothesize several answers, but I would just love to hear you to respond to that. What is the gospel?
Hauerwas: That through Jesus Christ, very God and very man, we Gentiles have been made part of the promise to Israel that we will be witnesses to God’s good care of God’s creation through the creation of a people who once were no people that the world can see there is an alternative to our violence. There is an alternative to our deceptions. There is an alternative to our unfaithfulness to one another though the creation of something called church. That’s salvation.
Mohler: What about the forgiveness of sins? How does the cross and atonement play into your understanding of the gospel?
Hauerwas: Well, I think that what it means to have our sins forgiven is you’ve been made part of a narrative that you do not have to justify the path in a way that means the past continues to haunt you because you’re determined to live righteously. Interestingly enough, forgiveness of sins does say you do not have to be determined by the path because you’ve been given a future that is so compelling you don’t have to constantly try to renegotiate a world in which you are trying to be righteous even though you’re not.
Mohler: Very interesting. Once one understands the gospel on those terms then becomes a part of the faith and practice of the church and is then shaped by the congregation’s life and those regular practices in what you describe as a rich liturgical life, what difference does it make for that individual as a citizen of this world? To use Augustine’s dichotomy—to be in the earthly city—what is the role of that Christian and the church in this earthly city?
Hauerwas: To tell the truth. Very simple. Just tell the truth and see what kinds of tensions that produces. I think Augustine’s “Two Cities” have too often resulted in an apology for Christians not really being Christian because the church is really made up of sinners and non-sinners or at least people who are not quite as sinful and therefore you can’t tell that much difference between the church and the world. Well, we are sinners and that is a great achievement. That and the world doesn’t know that it is possessed by sin in the way that Christians do. So, there is a truthfulness to being able to be a Christian in a world that knows not God. This is our gift to the world, to be able of truth.
Mohler: Here is another one of the tension points. I try to resolve in thinking about your proposal and the larger fabric of your though. You did teach at Notre Dame and you speak with incredible respect for the Roman Catholic Church and of its tradition. And clearly, even as you speak of your determination to die a Protestant, you speak of the fact that you have a Catholic identity. You warn about the dangers of “empire” and to such an extent that one of your critics says that “for Stanley Hauerwas, the original sin was desire for empire.” So, I cannot find any example in the history of the Christian church better than the Catholic church in terms of making peace with that empire. Is that not the problem?
Hauerwas: I celebrate the fact that the church is a Catholic church is losing its control of the earth but remember 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.
Mohler: You offer a penetrating critique, that’s one of the reasons why I never let one of your books pass by before it is fairly quickly read. Just in terms of social location, you have taught at Notre Dame and then for years now you have been teaching at Duke University. The last time I saw you I think was in the Gothic book store there at Duke, which has now been reduced, and I mourn that with you, but you are there at Duke. And if there is any institution, especially in the south, that represents the empire of reason and frankly the empire of wealth when it comes to this. . . so I have to wonder, Does Stanley Hauerwas’s thought exist mostly within an Academic world represented by the institutions that are basically the enemy of everything he talks about?
Hauerwas: Well, institutions like Duke are many-sundered of things and so I try to serve it as best I can without . . . I don’t have to lick the hand that feeds me. I hope that Duke University, somehow through accidental reasons, has a Christian theologian in its midst and many other good Christians around. This is an indication that it may be incoherent but it nonetheless is an institution that may have the possibility of making the world just a bit better.
Mohler: Back in 1989, you and your colleague William Willimon, now and once a retired Methodist bishop, wrote a book entitled “Resident Aliens” in which you argue based upon New Testament evidence and your own theological analysis that this is the proper way to view the church and always has been. And if I could summarize this book it seems that you are saying that liberal Protestantism was coming to a rather reluctant and perhaps inevitable understanding that the church is made up of resident aliens in a culture where we once felt at home but no longer do. And it seems to me that it might well be that evangelicals are discovering this same thing again, in this case about a generation after you wrote that book.
Hauerwas: Yeah, the book has just come out with its 25th anniversary edition, in which Will has a forward and I have an afterword to it. So, if evangelicals would find that useful, we would be very happy.
Mohler: Well, I think you will probably find it widely read and much quoted. By the way, Dr. Willimon’s second book on that issue, I wrote a review on it in Preaching Magazine and you won’t remember this but more than two decades ago you wrote me a very nice letter thanking me for that review. Again, not only do we love bookstores, letters still matter. And I still have that letter from you today
Hauerwas: I am not much of an “e-mailer” but I do write letters.
Moher: Well, they will survive when the emails do not and the historians will appreciate that.
But when I think about the state of the church and of Christendom in this post-Christian age, just to stress the point a bit further, it is clear that many of the things that trouble most Christians you seem actually to celebrate the end of Christendom and the collapse of a Christian worldview and Christian influence in the society. Just play that out a bit.
Hauerwas: I think isn’t it wonderful, we are free! The idea that now that now somehow or the other, America has to be a Christian nation is gone and we are free. Now all that we have left as Christians is to say the truth and I think that is a great thing God has done for us.
Mohler: Where, then, does that take us? In other words, what should we be thinking about as we anticipate the next twenty years of Christian existence in America? And even though you are writing about eschatology in your early 70s, I am hopeful that you will be here for the next twenty years. What do you expect to happen in that time?
Hauerwas: I think that the church will be leaner and meaner and that will be a very good thing. I think that we will discover how much we need one another for survival and that is a very good thing. I hope that the world in which we find ourselves will be not as violent as it has been but I don’t have much confidence in that. I think the humanisms that prevail in our world today are tempted to murderous forms of life that there is little control over.
Mohler: I want to give you an opportunity here in closing to speak to a largely evangelical audience, that is a listenership of at least a good many evangelical Christians and many of them young and thinking about the future. As someone who watches us and knows us and lives in a center where evangelical culture is all around you there in North Carolina, as you think about these things, what would be your word, if you were to write a letter right now to a young evangelical what would you say to him or her?
Hauerwas: I would say . . . I wrote a letter fairly recently to young people going to college in which I said, “we need you, so you must acquaint yourself with the great literature of our culture, which is a Christian literature, in a way that you become articulate for the world in which we find ourselves so that we will not lose our ability to be people of substance in a world filled with superficiality. That’s what I would tell young evangelicals.
Mohler: You ended your book that is actually focused upon eschatology entitled Approaching the End without ending it. It is just stops.
Hauerwas: Yes, that’s just about how all my works end.
Mohler: But on eschatology that sort of begs a certain kind of closure, so if you did anticipate a final word, what would that be?
Hauerwas: Be a person of joy because you are God’s good creature who was created for the glory of God which is joy.
Mohler: Professor Stanley Hauerwas, thank you for joining me for Thinking in Public.
Hauerwas: Oh, thank you, Al. It has been lovely talking to you again.
Mohler: A conversation with Stanley Hauerwas is never boring. It can’t be because he is simply one of the least boring human beings who have ever lived. As a matter of fact, in his books and there are so many of them, he is often, at least in places, seemingly in conversation if not in contradiction with himself. And yet there are some persistent themes. He is a critic of American Christianity, both modern and western Christianity. He is a severe critic of the kind of Christianity that makes peace with the empire, whether it was the Roman Empire in the time of Constantine or the American empire in terms of late modernity in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. He is also a man who very clearly, as a Christian critic, wants to accuse the church of reducing all of the truth claims of Christianity and the gospel itself to a form of product marketing. And he points out that this was indeed what the Protestant liberals did when they sought to make the Christian faith rational on the grounds of a purely secular reason. And he pointed out, very perceptively, that when the liberals did that, they succeeded in making Christianity unnecessary and irrelevant, because if all you need is autonomous reason in order to come to terms with Christianity then you can live on that autonomous reason alone. But one of the most perceptive of his arguments is that modern Christianity has lost an understanding of the necessity of certain practices in terms of Christian formation. And this is something that particularly afflicts contemporary evangelicalism. It afflicts us because we often treat these things as if they are merely means by which the Christian can move into a deeper and deeper faithfulness. We actually do not treat them often with the same seriousness we see them discussed in the Scriptures where they are discussed as necessary means of grace and as necessary means of being authentically Christian. In other words, in the New Testament you simply can’t envision a Christian who isn’t reading the Scripture and isn’t gathering together with fellow Christians, who isn’t involved in Christian service, and isn’t deeply devoted to prayer. You have the entire New Testament that is witness to this and certainly something like the book of James.
And so along comes Stanley Hauerwas who is not an evangelical and has described himself as something like a High-Church Mennonite, a person who is largely famous for trying to resuscitate the Anabaptist tradition in terms of the understanding of the church and especially the church in relation to the culture. And many evangelicals would wonder, how exactly do we involve ourselves in conversation with such a thinker? And the answer is, we read him on his own terms. This is a good example for how evangelicals need to read someone who is not an evangelical. We read him on his own terms. We understand who he is; we understand his basic worldview—how he sees the world, how he understands the church, how he engages the Scripture; and then we allow him to speak on his own terms and this gets to a second point that evangelicals particularly in this generation need to understand very clearly: We desperately need critics outside evangelicalism to help us understand not only the world outside but also the temptations within. And that is where someone like Stanley Hauerwas is a very invaluable partner in terms of thinking through so many of the issues that evangelicals now face. We are living in a post-Christian age. Stanley Hauerwas celebrates that. Many of us find great reason for grief and tragedy in that. But we see the inevitable loss of so much human flourishing and the descent into so much darkness abandoning light. But at the same time we have to be chastened by Stanley Hauerwas, not to miss empire too much, not to miss that kind of cultural influence too much, because he is exactly right, if we have to trade one for the other we must retain faithfulness and gospel witness and let the cultural influence go.
That gets to another one of my vexing issues when I read Stanley Hauerwas. What if he were in control? What if he actually got what he wanted? How would this High Church Mennonite, this resuscitator of the Anabaptist tradition, this enemy of empire, this one who has taught at Notre Dame and Duke Divinity School, how would he reshape the church and its beliefs, practices, and understanding of its place in the world? The answer is that I am profoundly unclear about the answer to those questions. A conversation with Stanley Hauerwas doesn’t necessarily clarify them much because one of the things we have to keep in mind while we’re reading him is that he is writing in an academic world in which he is actually located at Notre Dame and at Duke University, very privileged places, and he is able to see things from that very privileged viewpoint. Yet, I don’t think he is able to see how they might be seen outside those social locations. That’s not just a critique of Stanley Hauerwas. That’s a critique of all of us. We see only what is possible to be seen from where we are. That’s why I’m in agreement with him that we need to have an ongoing, substantial conversation with the Church, the Church through the centuries, with the democracy of the dead, with those who have gone before us, with the Apostles, with the Fathers, with the schoolmen, with the Reformers, with the Puritans, and with so many others coming down to the present age.
Yet, if we do so, it will be a different conversation than the one that Stanley Hauerwas envisions. In all honestly, I think it would be a different conversation than what I would envision. I think there will be much conversation about the necessity to hold on to certain theological verities of the faith once for all delivered to the saints in order that the Church would have the right beliefs that would then be validated and supported by the right practices. I think Stanley Hauerwas is exactly right. You can’t have disembodied truth. That is antithetical to the biblical worldview. Disembodied truth, in terms of the Church’s understanding of the faith once for all delivered to the saints, doesn’t exist. That’s why we have the Church. That’s why it is the Church which is to confirm and defend that faith. After all, it’s delivered to the saints. That is the Church. Yet, there are definite truth claims that are made there. There are definite truth claims that are the focus of that command given to the Church.
It seems to me that as we learn to hear the critique of Stanley Hauerwas in terms of how we so often reduce the Gospel to a marketing plan and a consumer product, how we so often try to divorce spirituality from practice, how we so often want to talk about ethics as some theological formula rather than the assertion of the centrality of the virtues, how we so often want to have the power of empire behind us in order so that we can have influence and in order that we can shape the lives and worldviews of individuals around us in the community around us and the culture around us, as much as we hear that critique, we have to be aware that we have do have to make an issue of truth, the truth revealed in Scripture. It is the faith, which Paul revealed to Timothy was that “pattern of sound words.” It has to be very central. In this post-Christian age, those truths, those verities, those doctrines, and those revealed realities are under sustained subversion. Only the Church knows why they are so eternally true and why they are so transformative if the Church is indeed to exist and persist. The Church will continue to exist and persist, not because of the Church’s energy and determination, but because of the power of Christ, the risen Christ who guarantees that His Church will survive from this age into the kingdom yet to come.
I’m really thankful for that conversation with Stanley Hauerwas. I think that reading someone like Professor Stanley Hauerwas makes me a more faithful evangelical. At the same time, and this would probably make him chuckle, it also makes me more evangelical. When I hear him talk and when I read him in his books, it makes me think, “You know, I really do hold to this evangelical identity and to our understanding of the Gospel as primary and paramount.” That being said, we have a lot to learn from those who are watching us, and I’m thankful that someone like Stanley Hauerwas is watching us. I’m thankful that he’s writing, and we get to engage his writing. I’m even more thankful that today I got to engage him in conversation and to join with him in Thinking in Public.
Once again, I want to thank my guest, Professor Stanley Hauerwas, for thinking with me today. For more information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For more information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com. Thank you for joining me for Thinking in Public. Until next time, keep thinking. I’m Albert Mohler.