Sunday, May 09, 2010

Theological Analysis of Stanley Hauerwas Sermons from a Cross-Shattered Church

For this theological analysis of a contemporary preacher, I have selected two sermons from Stanley Hauerwas’s recent book ok, A Cross-Shattered Church: Reclaiming the Theological Heart of Preaching, Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2009. I have selected the first because it seems the most indicative of Hauerwas’s overall approach to theology and preaching, and the second because sometimes a preacher’s sermon at special events reveals surprising twists and turns that illustrate their theological presuppositions and commitments even more clearly than their regular Sunday sermons.

In some ways it feels like cheating to make use of these sermons for this analysis because Hauerwas, in a somewhat untypical move, offers an essay in this collection of sermons on “Connecting Some Dots, or An Attempt to Understand Myself.” A reader could simply make use of this essay as a direct resource for performing a theological analysis of his preaching. I will do some of that.

However, Hauerwas’s introduction to the volume and this concluding essay of his also complicate matters, because it is not always clear that he is or is not doing what he says he is doing in his preaching, or aims to do in his preaching, and so a reader of his sermons still needs to draw their own conclusions about the sermons, even apart from Hauerwas’s self-critical commentary on “his work.” This is a comment not just on Hauerwas, but on all preachers. All preachers are at risk of thinking they are doing something in their preaching other than what they are actually doing, and this is what I understand as the purpose of theological analysis of specific contemporary sermons and preachers—to gain clarity on what is actually going on in our preaching despite what we think is going on.

Who Is the God Rendered by Stanley Hauerwas?

Maybe the first thing to be said is that for Hauerwas the cross is “natural”—it is an ontological status in the “being” of God. The cross is God’s power and wisdom (75). So the God rendered by Hauerwas in these sermons is cruciform. Although Hauerwas makes use of the texts assigned for him rather than selecting his texts, it is not surprising that two sermons he selects for this book are on the Beatitudes. This is not just because Matthew is especially influential in Hauerwas’s theological thinking, but also because the Beatitudes, maybe more than almost any other texts in the preaching of Jesus, illustrate God’s cruciformity in the world. They are not recommendations on how Christians should live, but a description of what life will look life if the church lives in imitation of its Lord.

Second, the God rendered by Hauerwas in these sermons is radically incarnational. Early in his introduction to the sermon collection, Hauerwas says, “That our God is to be found in the belly of Mary is surely sufficient to make you think twice that you know what you say when you say ‘God’” (11-12). Which is to say, the Incarnation of the Son of God in the flesh has radical implications for not only how we speak of God, but also what precisely we mean when we say God in the first place. It is not surprising then, that Hauerwas maintains a very Christological and cross-centered approach to preaching. Most of the sermons are, in fact, incarnational in context. Many are at events like baptism, weddings, and ordinations. God speaks in these events in the world, these are the continuing presence of the church, the body of Christ, in the world. Maybe this radical incarnationality is best illustrated by Hauerwas’s long and powerful quote in his sermon on a cross-shattered church, “Thus we are not asked to love our enemies in order to make them our friends; but ‘we are called to act out of love for them because at the cross it has been effectively proclaimed that from all eternity they were our brothers and sisters. We are not called to make the bread of the world available to the hungry; we are called to restore the true awareness that it was always theirs” (75). Here cross and incarnation meet in a way that renders God as one who, by coming into the world, renders explicit who the world is and who God is in relation to the world.

Third, the God rendered by Hauerwas is a speaking God—specifically speaking through his Son Jesus Christ as the Word made flesh. This is best illustrated in Hauerwas’s wedding sermon, where he begins by saying that the chosen texts do not say what a preacher might want to say or look for for something to say on a wedding day, but then reconfigures them to actually speak, a familiar word made strange and so spoken for the first time. So instead of uttering some words of wisdom, human words that a speaker at a non-Christian wedding could just as easily utter, Hauerwas makes the startling statement, “The fidelity that should be characteristic of a marriage is first learned not in marriage but by intimating God’s faithfulness to his people” (124). I myself have preached something like this more than once in a sermon, and have also recommended it in some writing I have done for our church in preparation for our social statement on human sexuality (, but this is not a word that Christians seeking to imitate liberal politics want to hear or say. It gives God too loud a voice at a wedding where the couple and romantic love supposedly should be the focus.


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