Sunday, May 09, 2010

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

What Are the Theological Weaknesses Revealed in These Sermons of Hauerwas?

Hauerwas’s preaching is, to a certain extent, stronger on the iconoclasm than the building up. His assessment of the situation is stronger than his remedy, you might say. Although he says he is identified with the recovery of the virtues in the Christian life (and this is certainly true in much of the rest of his authorship), I am not convinced this is illustrated in his sermons, or if so, it is done so in a way I do not recognize. Specifically, what I mean by this is that although his incredibly imaginative in his challenge to the church and its accommodation to liberal politics, when he offers the constructive vision of what the strange new world of the gospel might be like, this amounts primarily to quoting the texts themselves and saying them again. This is not problematic, exactly, but it does seem to lack the energy that the earlier parts of the sermons exhibit. Which is to say, there are some ways in which the first third of the two sermons is more compelling than the final third.
Or maybe the issue is that, since Hauerwas does not do theology “straight,” as it were, and describes these sermons as “tight,” the constructive portion of the sermon is more suggestive than straightforward, and that is the weakness, a weakness he admits to in his introduction.

Nevertheless, the result is that he might be subject to the criticism of being fideistic in his approach to preaching. I feel some nervousness in making this claim, because I very much appreciate these sermons and his theology. However, when Hauerwas says, “Theologians are not ‘thinkers.’ We are servants of a tradition in which the creative challenge is how to be faithful to what we have received” (13), this does sound like a kind of fideism. It certainly is non-foundationalist, a term he readily accepts as descriptive of his approach to theology. Furthermore, it may not be surprising that I am critiquing an apparent fideism in his approach, because two of his greatest influences—Wittgenstein and Barth—were also accused of a form of fideism. I myself have also been accused of it.

Finally, a couple of practical critiques. His sermons are very, very tight, and seem more written than oral in approach. I imagine listening to these sermons and not being able to follow all the way along because I would still be reflecting on a sentence earlier in the sermon when he had moved on to other ideas. They are also at times a bit suggestive rather than clear. This is true of Hauerwas in general, and is both part of his appeal and mystery. I like it when reading, but wonder if it works when preached. Also, again, although as a Lutheran I have no problems with a call to the communion table at the conclusion of the sermon, some of these final paragraphs in the sermons seem somewhat tacked on rather than organically arising out of the sermon, its text, and its topic.

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