What Is the Theology Behind These Sermons?
Hauerwas’s theology is for proclamation. He has a very high view of the task of preaching (20). Hauerwas believes that God will “show up” in the words we use (18). A wonderful illustration of this is his conclusion to his wedding sermon, where rhetoric and theology come together to have God and a word of and from God place the married couple in a larger context. “Marriage between Christians is hopeless and impossible if the married are not surrounded by the poor in spirit, if they do not learn from those who mourn, if they lack the resources provided by the meek, if they are robbed of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…” (126). Within this throng and strengthened by it, “Jana and Joel become for us our priests making Christ present to us” (127). God shows up through the preaching, and in fact the married couple itself becomes a sermon making Christ present.
This high view of preaching seems to be influenced especially by his reading of Barth and Wittgensetein. From Wittgenstein, Hauerwas gets the conviction that “we can only act in a world we can see—but we can only see by learning to say” (22). This kind of philosophy of language resonates well with many of the convictions of Barth, also very influential for Hauerwas. It might be easiest in shorthand to say that Hauerwas’s preaching exhibits the philosophy of language developed by Wittgenstein, and the Word-event theology developed by Barth. This seeing and saying theme is illustrated, literally, in the second to last paragraph of his “A Cross-Shattered Church” sermon. “So look around you. Expect to see those who are the poor in spirit, those who mourn…” (77). He invites the congregation to look around and see anew based on what he is saying right then in his sermon. This invitation to see differently by saying differently then leads to an invitation to live differently as well, in this case university people who offer a wisdom different from worldly wisdom.
Finally, Hauerwas recognizes that he seldom does theology straight (24). However, in these sermons, Hauerwas does offer examples of how the “unintelligibility” of our lives can be made “intelligible” by the gospel (19). Intelligibility does not mean simple or easy. Take, for example, his invitation to consider this rhetorical scenario: “Ask yourself what would courses in international relations look like if they were taught from the perspective that the cross has abolished war” (76). He later admits, “W are almost certainly not smart enough for such an undertaking” (76). This itself is an incredibly smart move to make if the goal is to make intelligible an idea that seems unintelligible to a community that presides itself on its intelligibility.