Archive for the ‘Hauerwas’ Category

Hauerwas and Severe Mental Illness


Good stuff


Hauerwas on Sentimentality


When asked what is the biggest challenge facing the church today, Hauerwas responded saying,

“Sentimentality, the church is filled with sentimentality. I wish that we could produce interesting atheists, but we’re not strong enough believers to produce interesting atheists. Instead what we hear so often in sermons is sentimental drivel about love and how Christians are supposed to love each other and everyone, in a way that is just bullshit. There’s no reality to that”

Here’s the entire interview:

Historical Jesus and Theology


Over the churchandpomo website Carl Raschke has posted a review of the first two chapters of Westphal’s new book on hermeneutics in the Church and Pomo book series. He discussed hermeneutics and makes a claim that I’d like to explore more in depth, “So much of this Kantian-Diltheyean tendency in German philosophy throughout the nineteenth century is the real, hermeneutical innovation that underlies what we now know as the “historical-textual criticism” of the Scriptures,” which today dominates academic Biblical scholarship while driving fundamentalists, and even Neo-Orthodox as well as Radical Orthodox types, absolutely crazy.”

Let’s return Barth’s famous commentary on Romans to assess theology’s uncomfortable relationship with historical research. Barth’s powerful work is undoubtedly one of the most aggressive and impressive theological readings of Romans. What surprised Barth’s liberal Protestant teachers was the utter lack of historical research throughout Der Römerbrief. A historical-critical tradition in which liberal Protestant had been so immersed. His movement away from liberal Protestantism towards asserting the infinite qualitative difference between man and the wholly Other God changed the trajectory of modern theology.

Likewise, Tillich also adopted Barth’s attitude never wanting to equate the historical Jesus with the cosmic Christ. Although there are many differences that separate Barth and Tillich’s systems, both thinkers offered us ahistorical theologies.

Hauerwas followed Barth’s lead and focused on Christian orthodoxy’s interpretation of Jesus of Nazareth. His theological program has focused on the construction of communal narratives and enacting the gospel in local church community. This post-liberal communal-linguistic theology while interesting, has its shares of problem. I think Yoder’s criticism of Hauerwas is right on, “One reason Hauerwas does not do text-based Bible study is that he is overawed by the notion of community-dependency and underawed by the objective reality of salvation history. Also underwared by the study the real (unsaved) history. He would rather read novels” (Kerr, Christ, History, and Apocalyptic, 113-114). Milbank and clan also refuse to engage historical research on the singular history of Jesus of Nazareth.

I remember having a conversation with one of Hauerwas’ student. When I pressed on the issue of historical Jesus research his response was your typical “Whose History?” His justification for not listening to the research was something like a Foucauldian view of history where there’s no neutral, objective picture of the past. I remain skeptical. To me this is a clever ploy to avoid the awkwardness that abounds when one begins to study what we know historically about Jesus of Nazareth.

Whether you take a more apocalyptic view of Jesus via Schweitzer or rely on the work of Crossan and Borg, either way there are some disturbing results. When one begins to compare the gospels, contradictions abound. Genealogies, birth stories, crucifixion narratives, and the stories of the resurrection don’t match up. Even if we bracket the vast differences that separate the synoptics and John’s gospel, there are still issues that contradict our rather naïve views of Jesus based on the story we grew up hearing in church.

My main issue is that I believe there are serious dangers if we continue speaking of a Jesus that might be nothing more than an idol. Or, perhaps a mere Freudian projection. We need to go back to worshiping Jesus of Nazareth for who he was not what we would like him to be. Let me start offering some of the historical Jesus research how this could help us construct a more accurate (and I believe) challenging picture of the Son of God.

For one, it is virtually impossible that Jesus went around declaring himself to be the Messiah or the Son of God. In fact, when on reads the synoptics one gets the impression that he was constantly evading answering questions about his identity. His mission could not be hampered by these curiosities. His gospel message was a repetition with a difference of John the Baptist’s radical apocalyptic call for repentance of the Jewish people. Jesus’ innovation was declaring that this coming Kingdom was already breaking in the here and now but still to come (see Mark 13). His group of followers symbolically enacted the egalitarian community by practicing an open-table fellowship. Everyone was welcome even the unclean were invited. I think Caputo is spot on compare this sort of dinner party to the mad tea party as described by Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland. Except there’s no mad hatter just prostitutes, lepers, and children gathering to share a meal with the Son of God. Further clarification around the crucifixion stories also sheds light on this horrible event. He died the death of a political criminal. His sense of abandonment and failure is perfectly illustrated by his cry of dereliction in Matthew and Mark. I’ll leave it at that for now.

I guess what I’m pleading for is more honesty in theological circles. I don’t think that historical research necessarily ruins any belief in the divinity or resurrection of Jesus. It might make it more difficult, but I believe it’s worth the risk if we want to be honest followers of Jesus. I just don’t understand, what is everyone so scared of? I could possibly understand theologians hesitancy to base their theology on research that’s evolving and impermanent. But, after 100 years of historical Jesus research it appears that most scholars are in agreement over how to interpret this man’s exemplary life. As much as Neo-Orthodoxy and Radical Orthodoxy rightfully distance themselves from the insipid theology of Evangelicalism, it’s disturbing to me that they all three schools treat the Bible in the same manner. Although, Hauerwasians and Milbankians might not actually posit a belief in the infallibility of the Bible, they might as well given the way they appropriate Scriptures.



“All that said, I’ve come to dissent somewhat from William Cavanaugh and Stanley Hauerwas and John Milbank and others who see almost nothing but perniciousness in the liberal tradition. Look, let’s be honest: the heroes of the antislavery movement, of the movements for women’s rights and for civil rights for nonwhites, all employed the language of liberalism in addition to the language of Christianity. Why? In large measure, because Christian tradition had legitimated a language of hierarchy and duty and subordination that even Cavanaugh and Hauerwas and Milbank can’t stomach anymore. Perhaps because I’m a mere historian, I have to respect the indisputable evidence that Christians certainly weren’t citing the church fathers when they demanded that the slaves’ shackles be loosened or that women get the right to vote and be educated. For all that it’s perverted the Christian account of personhood, the liberal account of freedom and rights has preserved and, yes, even enhanced vestiges of the Christian tradition. So enough liberal-bashing; it has gotten boring, and it’s not entirely accurate historically, anyway.”


Predicaments in Modern Theology


Theologically, there have been multiple ways to understand Bonhoeffer’s religionless Christianity. I’ve already noted that the death-of-God theologians thought they were remaining faithful to his message, although their radicalism would likely upset the far more orthodox Bonhoeffer. While Gutierrez, the famous liberation theologian, argues that the church’s complete service to the world is a realization of Bonhoeffer’s call. In our more current theological debates between Hauerwasianism and Radical Orthodoxy vs. Secular/Radical theology (Taylor and Caputo) a disagreement over the understanding of ecclesiology and secularism remains. I also want to focus on the historical credibility of these different theological approaches.

Milbank’s brilliant but controversial genealogy of the secular in his Theology and Social Theory attempted to show how the notion of secular reason was a historical development, which ultimately stemmed back to the ‘heretical’ theology of Duns Scotus and his understanding of the univocity of being. From what I understand, Scotus dissolved the difference between existence and essence ultimately assigning the being of man and God to be of the same kind, although God’s being is greater in intensity. Being precedes God, and hence both men and God share being, which ultimately lead to the shattering of God’s transcendence. This facilitated the bifurcation of faith and reason and of the supernatural and natural that has led to the increasing privatization of religion perfectly epitomized in liberal theology. Milbank wants to bring together reason and faith. For instance, Tillich’s famous method of correlation, which allows the world to pose questions from philosophy and existentialism and theology endeavors to respond through the use of divine revelation, goes wrong because theology should set its own agenda and not have to answer to philosophy. Also, leveling the critique that postmodernism has offered against metanarratives, Milbank tries to out narrate other metanarratives claiming Christianity ultimately prevails against nihilism and humanism. It does so because Milbank believes that Christianity offers and ontology of peace/nonviolence that rivals the ontology of violence that is posited by the likes of Girard, Foucault, and Derrida. Here is where I get pissed. For one, as Clayton Crockett argues in his Theology of the Sublime, this ontology of peace that Christianity supposedly represents has to suppress hundreds of years of Christian violence, so it’s ultimately a non-historical account. Secondly, claiming that past expressions of Christianity were not truly Christian because of their connection with Constantianism or something of that matter, strikes me as odd considering how much emphasis they place on tradition. Third, as Crockett also points out even if the cross is a symbol that resists violence, it still suggests that violence and the sacred are at the heart of Christianity. Need I even mention the ridiculously violent interpretations that have perverted atonement theories?

Likewise, Hauerwas’ prophetic call for the church to be the church offers a helpful critique of liberalism in his postliberal theology. Postliberal theology emphasizes the narrative aspects of Christianity stemming from tradition and the Bible and endeavors to transcend the polarities between Conservatism (propositional and cognitive) and Liberalism (experiential and expressive). While I think reclaiming the emphasis on narrative is a helpful corrective, this position completely neglects the importance historical criticism has on Christianity. For instance, by focusing on tradition narrative the discoveries of the historical Jesus research or a historical critique of the Bible may be dismissed.

From the radical theological perspectives new works stress the parallels between Christianity and secularism. A helpful understanding of secularism arises in Mark C Taylor’s magnificent book After God. Here he argues that secularism is inherently linked to the Reformation. This is because with the Reformation, the tradition of the Catholic church is compromised and refocused on the individual’s justification through faith. Also, the increasing availability of the Bible led to the proliferation of interpretations, and hence authority now rests in the individual (not the holy and apostolic Church) . Hence, the death of God is contingent on the Reformation and the decentering of authority away from God and redirected towards the individual. Thus, he believes we should trace Modernism not back to Descartes but rather to Luther.

While the radical theologians take historical critique seriously, they tend to discuss only portions of the tradition. For instance, it’s no surprise that Caputo’s Jesus is derived from Crossan’s research that results from the Jesus Seminar. I’ve already discussed how those scholars de-emphasize Jesus’ eschatological orientation. Although he claims that this Jesus confounds all of our neat, hermetic systems, I find his presentation of the tolerant, liberal Jesus to have already removed one of the most profound offenses Jesus offers: the focus on the end of the world and the coming reign of God. Also, given Caputo’s hesitance to fully engage the tradition because of the fear of relapsing into onto-theology, suggests that his weak theology does not offer a very promising future.

In Marcus Borg’s Meeting Jesus, he offers the helpful terms of pre-critical naïveté and post-critical naïveté. The former refers to the conservative position that assumes the Bible is historically accurate and ignores historical criticism. The latter term is represented by the liberal tradition which embraces historical criticism, and thus events such as the virgin birth are not historical but express the deeper symbolic truths of humanity. I used to have sympathy for the liberal position, but now I find it more and more to be simplistic. Why not embrace both history and science to allow us to remain critical and  faithful to our tradition? I’m no apologist, and I don’t pretend that all of the truths of Christianity can be historically validated, but we cannot shy away from historical research. As NT Wright says, “True Christianity has nothing to fear from history”. I also believe that even if it’s untrue historically that it doesn’t loses all of its importance, but history should inform our faith. Or else we fall into the temptation of worshiping the Cosmic Christ as opposed to Jesus of Nazareth.

Here, I find Pannenberg to be the most helpful theologian. In his book, Anthropology in Theological Perspective he dialogues with the human sciences and allows the findings to offer a critique of modern orthodoxy. He argues against the position that Milbank adopts: that even if the Fall is not historical, it is necessary to assume ontologically. So, in Pannenberg’s opinion, we must remove the Fall from orthodoxy. At least, this is intellectually honest. Moreover, in Jesus: God and Man, he dismisses the virgin birth as myth because he feels as if this story in Luke and Matthew endeavored to situate a time at which Jesus’ divinity was secured. Whereas John adopted a pre-historical stance on the incarnation, Mark placed Jesus’ divinity as being instituted during his baptism when the Spirit descended on him and the Father blessed his ministry. I’m just glad he’s honest with history, and that he takes seriously research on the historical Jesus (especially his apocalypticism). Some argue against this dismissal of the virgin birth because Pannenberg assumes that because Mark, John, and Paul don’t mention the miracle they must have been ignorant of it. Even though, he incorrectly includes Paul in this list, and with John we really have no idea what he thought was historical given his mythological and theological perspective, it’s naïve to assume that Mark somehow forgot to include this miracle. If the virgin birth was historical, just what exactly would be Mark’s reason for excluding that narrative? Also, given the wildly different virgin birth stories that emerge in Matthew and Luke, it’s hard to imagine that these stories were not ideologically driven. Unfortunately, Pannenberg infamously refuses to take seriously post-structuralism and dismisses Derridean deconstruction as a mere fad.

Here’s my issue with modern theology. I respect Altizer’s death-of-God theology (especially its apocalyptic focus), but I’m not entirely convinced by his Hegelian interpretation of the cross. Likewise, Mark Taylor’s more or less complete abandonment of theology since the early 90’s suggests that his a/theology will not offer fruitful engagement in the future. I find Caputo’s emphasis on weak theology interesting, especially the weakness of God. But, I tend to find his stringent commitments to all things liberal and his complete dismissal of psychoanalysis to be discouraging. Also, even though his recasting of deconstruction in a religious light was useful (especially as a critique of Taylor’s overly atheistic theology), it’s obvious that he will never actually take the risk of being a robust theologian (as Zizek righly notes). Most of the deconstructive theologians restrict themselves to philosophy but never take up political theology. Their politics rarely vary much from modern liberalism. Milbank’s radical orthodoxy is clearly the most developed of all of these modern theologies, but his polemical nature and his utter dismissal of all things non-Christian as pagan or nihilistic strikes me as juvenile. I’d like to see him consider taking a more historical approach to Christianity, but as I’ve already noted he’d rathe preserve a pristine version of Christianity than seriously engage history. Hauerwas and gang mostly annoy with their fixation on the church, perhaps I’m still stuck romanticizing on the possibility of a ‘religionless Christianity’. I love Pannenberg’s (and to a lesser extent Moltmann’s) historical, eschatological theologies, but Pannenberg’s refusal to converse with modern continental philosophy doesn’t suit my appetite. Liberation theology certainly fascinates me with their radical politics, but their orthodox commitment to Christianity does not yield very interesting theological results (here I’m thinking mostly of Latin American theology, not feminist). Lastly, one of the most fascinating theological discussions I find occurring comes from Clayton Crockett and Zizek. Crockett’s engagement with psychoanalysis in his latest book Interstices of the Sublime was wonderful. His faithfulness to his mentor Charles Winquist will likely open up exciting theological horizons for the future. For Zizek, his Hegelian and Lacanian death-of-God theology while fascinating, tends to repeat the death-of-God theologians. I would’ve mentioned more on Marion’s post-metaphysical theology or process theology, but I remain mostly ignorant of these different strands.

In summary, I would like theology that is historical, engaged with the human sciences (like psychoanalysis), confronts actual doctrines and reformulates them, sensitive to continental philosophy, concerned with liberation struggles, apocalyptic, kingdom-of-God focused, and political.