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.



Tuesday Reading Roundup

It’s that time again (for the first time)–the Tuesday Reading Roundup!  It seems like regular features could be a good thing, so I’ll invent this one, in which I’ll tell what I’m reading of a Tuesday (and the week to come), providing impressions and reviews along the way.

1. Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle–Much easier to follow then my memories of Aristotle.  (I remember having to read a section of Poetics my junior year at Concordia, and I got basically nothing out of it.)  This time I have to read all but the fifth book for Virtue, Happiness, and the Life of Virtue, a class I’m taking this semester with Stanley Hauerwas.  Such an intensely focused way of thinking through things and of organizing thought.  Reading it through the particular lense of Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue, as Hauerwas is wont to do.  30% completed.

2. The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver–Although her last book (and perhaps her most well-known to many of that book’s fans) was the non-fiction Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, Kingsolver is really a novelist.  This is her first novel, from 1988.  Solidly southern lit, strong female characters, immigration issues.  The story, the characters, and the warmth of Kingsolver’s writing make this book very enjoyable.  Her writing, at a technical level, is very good, but she doesn’t work at the sentence-by-sentence method of many other writers who perhaps write more finely, but could never come up with characters and a narrative so compelling.  A fast, light read too, if that’s what you find yourself needing.  85% completed.

3. Evangelism After Christendom by Bryan Stone–Bryan Stone is a professor of evangelism at Boston University School of Theology and this book looks at evangelism as a Christian practice, in the MacIntyrean/Hauerwasian sense of the word practice.  Stone draws heavily on Alasdair MacIntyre, John Howard Yoder, and (unsurprisingly, considering the first two) Stanley Hauerwas to create a postliberal revisioning of what evangelism is meant to be, namely a practice of witness by a church of integrity.  Stone argues both against evangelistic techniques that end at conversion and models of evangelism which measure their success in numbers.  He also is not about to say that the church should keep to itself.  Witness to the reign of God, done rightly as a traditioned practice, is a good in itself, and the results-based focus of many modern evangelistic movements fails to speak this clearly enough.  Unfortunately, it seems that, at this point in the book, Stone is mostly tying together the three authors that I have already mentioned.  I’m hoping for more than simple synthesis, and I’m assuming I’ll get it, so don’t read this as a negative review.  I will have it read within the next couple days as it is my reading for this month’s Anglican Missional Pastor meeting, which begins Thursday evening.  45% completed.

4. Perspectives on Marriage: A Reader, edited by Kieran Scott and Michael Warren–This is one of the main texts for Christian Marriage and Family Across Cultures with Dr. Esther Acolatse this semester.  The reading for this week’s class (the first session) is from this book, but I’ll admit I haven’t yet picked up my copy from Cokesbury.  0% completed.