A Few Answers from Hauerwas
One of my favorite theologians, Stanley Hauerwas, recently wrote a memoir, Hannah’s Child. It’s on my reading list, but until I get to it, I appreciated his answers in a recent interview with Christianity Today. Here are a few:
The focus of your work is the extraordinary importance of the church but in some ways the churches that you have been apart of look from the outside to be quite ordinary. How did they get it right?
By God’s help. I don’t think the churches that have made my life so much more than it otherwise could have been have been extraordinary because I don’t think the church is extraordinary. Part of what my work has always been about is to show that the apocalyptic character of the gospel makes the everyday possible. It gives us the time that lets us care for one another as we are ill, helps us care for one another as we experience broken relationships, and helps us take the time to worship God in a world of such violence. The church is called to do that as an alternative in a world that doesn’t know there is an alternative. The ordinary churches that I’ve belonged to seemed to have embodied the kind of life that the world so desperately needs.
How have you tried to steel the theological spine of students going into pastoral ministry?
I try to give them a sense of what a wonderful thing it is that they are doing by going into the ministry. What an extraordinary privilege to every week be asked by people to preach. Our lives hang on it. I try to give a sense of the marvelous adventure it is to be brought within God’s providential care of the world through the every day acts of preaching and Eucharistic celebration.
Your critics say that you want Christians to retreat from the world and just practice the Eucharist. How do you respond?
If I’m asking people to retreat, why are so many people mad at me? [Laughs]. I wouldn’t mind retreating, but we’re surrounded so there’s no place to retreat to. So Christians have to engage the world in which we find ourselves. We’re in love with the world because God is in love with the world. Therefore, we want the world to know what God has given us. Of course, I’ve never asked Christians to refrain from being politically engaged. I just want them to be there as Christians. What it means to be there as Christians is to be shaped by the body and blood of Christ, which has been done for the world. The closing prayer after our Eucharist celebration includes: Send us now into the world in peace and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart through Christ our Lord, Amen. How could that be a retreat? I can’t imagine how the Eucharist can be self-containing if you’re sent out from it.
You have had a number of your doctoral students become professors at evangelical institutions. What do you hope they bring?
I hope they bring a sense of the corporate character of the church to evangelical life. I admire evangelicals’ energy; I admire their love of Jesus. I think often times their energy and love of Jesus is understood in a far too individualistic way that makes the church accidental to their relationship with God. I always want to know who it is you are making your life vulnerable to by reading Scripture. It should be read in context with other people who are Christians. I sometimes worry that evangelicals have a kind of privacy about how they understand their relationship with God that is destructive of the church. So I hope my students help evangelicals recover the ecclesial context that makes Christian convictions intelligible.