What Are the Theological Strengths of Hauerwas’s Way of Preaching?
One strength of Hauerwas’s way of preaching is that it really does illustrate a Christian conviction that narrative is important for the intelligibility of an action description. He says, “We are able to distinguish one event from another by telling a story shaped by concepts that depend on the lives people live.” This illustrates his conviction that “sermons are crucial if we are to recover the stories that make it possible to recover Christian practical reason. Put differently, I try to use sermons to develop imaginative skills to help us see the world as judged and redeemed by Christ” (16). Hauerwas accomplishes this nicely in both sermons. A reader or hearer comes out the other side of the sermon with a different social imaginary in place, in the first sermon thinking differently about wisdom and the university, in the second sermon thinking differently about the relation between marriage and the church.
Second, Hauerwas recognizes that preaching is political, part of the ongoing “politics of speech” (13). He is strongest in this point in his commitment to nonviolence, which he considers “a hallmark of the Christian way of being in the world” (145). His commitment to nonviolence even brings him to name such in a sermon at a wedding. I think this is the only wedding sermon I have ever heard where the final paragraph includes a sentence, “Terror and war do reign in our time” (127). However, instead of negating or diminishing the wedding, this statement and his way of speaking it re-contextualizes the wedding itself and makes it a sign of hope in a terrifying world.
Maybe the most humorous and enjoyable strength of Hauerwas’s way of preaching is his “criticism of the accommodation to liberal political arrangements” (145). This is where much of the beautiful and inviting intellectuality of his prose invests its energy, and to good effect. He wants to make “the familiar strange” (125). This is something shocking, for example, in his use of the term “moron” (73). Sometimes it is humorous: “This is clearly not a marriage made in heaven. This is clearly a marriage made in the university” (124). Sometimes it is both. This is not unrelated to the point made earlier about intelligibility. Hauerwas considers liberal politics unintelligible, and the church’s accommodation to it even more so, and so his preaching is necessarily strong on this point in order to open eyes.
This strength is also a weakness, inasmuch as Hauerwas’s portrayal of the gospel is somewhat dreadful (19) and frightening (76) in its truthfulness.