The Taser's Edge

Tasty, Tasty Stanley-flavored Kool-Aid

When I filled out the application for Duke Divinity and got to the question asking if there was an particular faculty member I was looking forward to studying with, like every other potential student, I wrote in “Stanley Hauerwas.”  Sure, there are some Richard Hays fans out there, some J. Kameron Carter fans, and a handful of others (speaking personally now as a devoted fan of Tammy Williams and J. Warren Smith), but Hauerwas is Duke in a lot of ways for a lot of people.  Of course, when I wrote his name in, I had only recently heard of him and had not read a word of his, other than some obnoxious, albeit true, comment (I characterize it as such because my initial read of him is that he likes to be provocative and, yes, obnoxious, not because I don’t respect him) he made to Time when they named him America’s Best Theologian in 2001: “Best is not a theological category.”

At Duke, it is impossible to escape from his ideas.  They are in the water (or Kool-Aid, I suppose, depending on your perspective).  And the rough-hewn and not quite accurate version is that the Enlightenment caused everything wrong with the church and the world.

Unlike many Duke students, I was not one who had to have Hauerwas before leaving.  But then his class (Happiness, Virtue and the Life of Friendship) looked great and fit into my schedule well, so I signed up.  Two-hundred sixty one pages to read for the first class period, but it’s not so bad now.

All this to say that postliberalism is a thing that Duke does and perhaps is, but what is it?  Postliberalism is an amorphous term which seems to mean whatever people need it to mean in the moment, sometimes used almost as a synonym for postmodernism, but very definitely a reaction and critique to Christian (and particularly Protestant) theological liberalism.  And I say liberalism in a technical sense, referring to the Enlightenment version of Christianity whose archetypal figure is (inasmuch as such things can be said to start with one man) Friedrich Schleiermacher.

Returning to the rough-hewn and inaccurate version of these ideas that seems to flow out of Duke’s air ducts, Germany (where Schleiermacher is from) seems to be the sources of all the problems of the modern age, both in 19th century German biblical scholars’ total reduction of Biblical criticism to a “science” (historical-critical methods) and a reduction of Christianity to something reasonable (thank you, Immanuel Kant).  Please note that I truly mean “rough-hewn and inaccurate” before getting upset about this history, and realize that it is a caricature (although only slightly, to be honest).

I still have some questions about this whole thing, but I feel like I’m getting a better grasp of what “this whole thing” actually is this semester, and in more helpful ways than before.  Namely, I’m taking a class with Hauerwas, reading some of his stuff, reading Alasdair MacIntyre, reading Samuel Wells, reading John Howard Yoder (several important folks).

This post started as something else and became this because I realized I couldn’t write the post I wanted without some basic introduction.  That explanation will hopefully make sense when the next post is finished.


2 Comments so far
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I have this annoying habit of getting confused and tuning out when lots of words begin with “post.” But you should definitely write a book containing a character who can be described as “rough-hewn and inaccurate.”

Comment by bouquetofparentheses

I’m sorry to hear you don’t like words that begin with “post,” and can only hope that that feeling does not extend to “posthaste.” Also, “rough-hewn and inaccurate” is how I describe George Washington’s wooden teeth in my forthcoming book on presidential dentures.

Comment by tasersedge

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