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    Entries in Stanley Hauerwas (9)

    Tuesday
    Sep132016

    Prayer: Making the Familiar Strange

    In The Work of Theology, Stanley Hauerwas argues “that a theological sentence that does its proper work does so just to the extent it makes the familiar strange.” Writing theological sentences that accomplish this aim is good but difficult work. Hauerwas writes, “I have the sense that few of us have thought about the conditions necessary to write a theological sentence that has the potential to make readers stop and rethink what they thought they think.”

    I recently completed Karl Barth’s brilliant lectures on the Lord’s Prayer, and I was struck by how his writings fit the criteria offered by Hauerwas. The familiar became strange, I stopped, and I rethought what I think. I concluded that Barth’s writing on prayer was compelling not only because it was theological, but because all too often the sentences became prayer. Barth moves seamlessly from addressing “we” and “us” to “Thee” and “Thou.” In doing so, I found my prayer joining with Barth’s prayer; his petition became my own.

    In Barth’s introductory remarks he offers several observations. His exploration of prayer will draw from the Reformers: Luther, Calvin, and the authors of the Heidelberg Catechism. Barth writes, “The Reformation appears to us as a great whole: a labor of research, thinking, preaching, polemic, and organization.” However, “it was more than all that.”

    Barth continues by claiming that the Reformation “was an act of continuous prayer, an invocation.” He adds that the Reformation was also “an act of human beings, of certain persons, and at the same time a response on the part of God.” The Reformation consisted in great action (research, thinking, preaching, etc.), but the fundamental action undergirding it all was the act of prayer.

    Barth warns that the weaknesses of any age may be the result of those failing to heed words like those of Luther, who wrote, “For we know that our defense lies in prayer alone. We are too weak to resist the Devil and his vassals...For what has carried off these great victories over the undertakings of our enemies which the Devil has used to put us in subjection, if not the prayers of certain pious people who rose up as a rampart to protect us?” With that one well chosen quotation, Barth convicts and challenges. Who, in our time, is our rampart? Who stands in the gap? Is it I? And who among us, outwardly seeking a gospel movement, is inwardly a true person of prayer?

    For those who feel “familiar” with prayer, Barth makes the familiar strange. He reminds us that prayer is a “problem,” for “How is it possible for me to have an encounter with God?” To pray, Barth says, “is a grace, an offer of God.” It is also an “altogether simple act by which we accept and use the divine offer; an act in which we obey this command of the majestic grace that identifies itself with the will of God.” Barth clearly reminds us that prayer is possible because of Jesus Christ, who has made us his brothers and sisters within the family of God.

    Barth writes:

    God is the Father of Jesus Christ, and that very man Jesus Christ has prayed, and he is praying still. Such is the foundation of our prayer in Jesus Christ. It is as if God himself has pledged to answer our request because all our prayers are summed up in Jesus Christ; God cannot fail to answer, since it is Jesus Christ who prays.

    What follows is an interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer Jesus invites us to pray. Prayer is not only a command, it is an invitation. Jesus has instructed us, and also accompanies us in the praying of this prayer. Barth writes, “Jesus Christ invites, permits, commands us to join him, especially in his intercession with the Father.”

    Barth examines the Invocation, the Six Petitions, and the Doxology of the Lord’s Prayer. At every turn he makes the familiar strange. He makes the reader rethink what they thought in praying the Lord’s Prayer. His sentences do the work.

    In the invocation, “Our Father,” Barth reminds us that we may address God as such because of Jesus Christ. Barth writes “We are his children, he is our Father, by virtue of this new birth realized at Christmas, on Good Friday, at Easter, and fulfilled at the moment of our baptism.” We petition our Father “who art in heaven.” Barth reminds us that God “is in heaven, on his throne,” and it is through him that we have freedom, which includes the freedom to enter God’s presence.

    When we pray for the hallowing of God’s name, for the kingdom to come, and for God’s will to be done, we seek to align ourselves with God’s action as it has been revealed in Jesus Christ. The world belongs to God, the cause of redemption is his, and the fulfillment of his purposes is the result of his initiative. We cannot accomplish this on our own. This is why we pray. Barth writes, “We pray so that we might receive the power to show this great joy and this great peace of which we so often speak. May this joy and this peace be noticeable. We pray in order that the Christian arrogance and ignorance and unbelief with which we daily dishonor thee may be a bit arrested, a little suppressed.”

    Our prayer for daily bread, forgiveness, and deliverance from temptation are admissions of dependence on God, as well as expressions of simple trust in God’s provision. Barth observes that in the Old and New Testaments “‘the word ‘bread’ is also the temporal sign of God’s eternal grace.” Barth goes further, saying “each meal, whether it be modest or sumptuous is something sacred, for it is the promise of an eternal banquet, of an everlasting feast.” To  ask for bread is to remind ourselves, again and again, that we are dependent creatures.

    Beyond our need for bread is our need for forgiveness. While we may be unsure of where our next meal may come from, our forgiveness is a certain, established fact. Barth writes, “What God’s forgiveness is must be clearly understood. Here it is not a question of an uncertain hope, of an ideal to be sought or imagined...Forgiveness is already given, and this is the reality in which we live.”

    We are forgiven because of what God has accomplished in and through Jesus Christ, the one who has reconciled us to God, atoned for our sin, and secured our hope. Barth writes, “In thy Son thou hast exchanged roles between thyself, the holy and just God, and us, perfidious and unjust human beings...Thou has obeyed and suffered for us; thou hast abolished our faults, the faults of all humankind. And thou hast done it once and for all.”

    Our petition for forgiveness leads us to forgive those who sin against us. We do so as those empowered by the Holy Spirit. And we ask for God’s help in resisting temptation. In the cross of Christ, the Devil has been defeated and his powers have been broken. Barth reminds us that we do not overcome the Devil through our own “moral and religious excursions,” but by the power of God. Because of this, glory be to God! Barth writes, “Thou hast loved us; thou still lovest us. And thy love is efficacious. It delivers once and for all.”

    Barth, by making the familiar strange, brings us into an encounter with the one commanding us to pray. For those so moved, those wishing to respond to God’s gracious action by the practice of prayer, new possibilities emerge, and not only for the individual but also for the church. And we may enter these new possibilities, not because we are determined, but because God has graciously sought and redeemed us through Jesus Christ. Prayer, thus, is the response of a glad heart joined to God. It is not a duty, but a delight. It is not only a privilege, but a service of the saints.

    We worship a God who hears, yet God is greater than our petitions. As Barth reminds us, “The most certain element of our prayer is not our requests, but what comes from God: his response.” Because of this we remain confident. We anticipate God’s redemptive future. We celebrate God’s salvation secured for us in Christ.

    And presently, we pray, “Our Father…”

    Tuesday
    Dec302014

    Give Us Hope So We Can Wait

    50-365

    Invade our bodies with your hope, dear Lord, that we might manifest the enthusiasm of your kingdom. Give us the energy of children, whose lives seem fired by the wonder of it all. Thank God, you have given us good work, hopeful work. Our lives are not just one pointless thing after another. We have purpose. But give us also your patience. School our hope with humility, recognizing that finally it is a matter of your will being done. Too often our hope turns to optimism, optimism to despair, despair to cynicism. Save our hope by Israel-like patience so that we can learn to wait hopefully in joy. Surely that is why you give us children--signs of hope requiring infinite patience. Give us hope so we can learn to wait. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Amen.
    - Stanley Hauerwas, Prayers Plainly Spoken  

    Wednesday
    Jun042014

    Hauerwas, Literacy, and Baptist Life

    I enjoy reading and listening to Stanley Hauerwas, and this entire interview is provocative, worthwhile, intellectually stimulating, and deeply challenging.

    But his final words to Baptists (beginning around the 1:08 mark), specifically to those leading Baylor University, are worth putting in print. Here's what he says to Baylor University and their responsibility to educate literate citizens:

    One of the things that our current public discourse reveals is the absolute failure of the university to be responsible to its duty to produce literate citizens. I don't know that we're going to be able, I mean, I can't speak for universities to be able to do that while universities, but I sure as hell can say to Baylor that they have, as a university, the obligation to produce literate Baptists. That's going to be a miracle. But, it is absolutely crucial.

    Southern Baptists have the Bible and now, and that ain't enough. And you're going to need to be reconnected to the great catholic tradition if you are going to survive as a university, to be the kind of literate people who can produce ministers who are not idiots. And you've got a ton of them. So, exactly how Baylor sees as its task to produce people through the education you receive here, to know that Augustine's Confessions are crucial for how we learn to live as Christians, and to rejoice in that, is absolutely part of the future responsibility of Baylor University.

    I was educated at Baylor University. And I am a minister. I hope I'm not an idiot. And the degree to which I am not, I owe to Baylor University.

    Hauerwas also speaks more broadly on other matters pertaining to the university, race, the Eucharist, war, and the college football playoff. Take a look.

    Tuesday
    May202014

    The 5 Most Important Reads of My Life

    Several months ago I shared a Kindle Deal for one of the books that will follow, saying it was "one of the five most important books I have ever read." A friend asked for the other four, and I turned to my book shelf and considered my choices. I pulled books and flipped pages. I made a stack. I have been carrying that stack with me ever since. It has been by my reading chair at home, on my desk in the office, in the back seat of my pickup, and in the book bag I carry to the library and coffee shops. I have thought, "Why these?" There is a theme that runs through all five.

    Discipleship to Jesus Christ.

    I've blogged a lot about books. I've written reviews and compiled lists of what I have read, and shared deals (when they come along) with others. I love books.

    When I was a graduate student at The University of Kansas, I spent hours in the stacks of Watson Library. It is an immense collection. I always felt like I was one of the few souls to wander back and forth in 1 East, the lowest level in the farthest corner of the library, where the Biblical Studies and Biblical Theology collections reside. The location is not without irony. One could say that the contents there were either forgotten or neglected, or its nearness to the foundation was somehow apt considering the origination of the university, as institution, itself.

    Any great book that I read during the academic years, filled with footnotes, sent me on a quest, searching the stacks for primary sources. I read Richard Adam's Watership Down and Karl Barth's Dogmatics in Outline thanks to one of the authors I'll cite below. I also read Soren Kierkegaard, Wendell Berry, Oliver O'Donovan, and many others thanks to Watson. I began keeping a record of the titles I had read in 2009--I wish I had done so during the entirety of my career at KU.

    I remember one day, leaving Watson Library, I had two book bags filled to the brim with titles. I ran into a colleague, Autumn Thompson. She asked, "What are you working on?" I said, "Oh, five or six of these are for a paper. The rest are for personal study."

    I am thankful for those years.

    Now, the list. These five books have shaped my imagination and have been foundational for my discipleship to Christ. They have also informed my philosophy of ministry. I don't agree with everything in each book. If you don't have at least one or two quibbles with any author, they either aren't giving you enough substance, or you aren't really reading. But I have found these men insightful and extremely helpful.

    5. Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship by N. T. Wright


    N. T. Wright is one of the most important New Testament scholars of our day. He is also a man of the church.

    I purchased this little book in the fall of 2005 or spring of 2006. It is a collection of sermons, dedicated to "the congregation of Lichfield Cathedral," but delivered in various ministerial settings. "A church without sermons," Wright declares, "will soon have a shriveled mind, then a wayward heart, next an unquiet soul, and finally misdirected strength." I was captured by this book because it was written for the people of God, and the object of each sermon is the person and work of Christ. Wright is correct in his preface saying, "The longer you look at Jesus, the more you will want to serve him in his world. That is, of course, if it's the real Jesus you are looking at."

    These sermons were helpful at the time, and as I glance back over the pages and review my underlinings and margin notes, I'm reminded of my own hunger to know Christ, to discern him as he is, and to serve him well. I also wanted to be part of a church that lived in to the fullness of his calling. But the reason this book has been an important read is because of what followed. Over the past eight or nine years, I've done my best to read everything Bishop Wright has published. I had read Borg and Wright's The Meaning of Jesus at Baylor University. But Following Jesus is what inspired me to chase Wright's work, evaluate it, critique it, and apply it. His work has helped me to grow as a disciple--even the academic work has had a pastoral function. Wright describes the disciple well:

    'Disciples' means not just head-learners, not just heart-learners, but life-learners. We have to discover, through prayer, study of the Scriptures, and above all devotion to Jesus himself such as we express when we come to his table, how we in our generation can implement the decisive victory which he won.

    4. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer


    Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born in Breslau, Germany in the year 1906. His story has become well known to many Christians, primarily for his resistance to Hitler and his death at the hands of the Nazi regime. His brilliance as a theologian has also been much discussed, and The Cost of Discipleship is his best known work.

    When I was in my mid-twenties, the demands of following Christ were the focus of much of my reflection. Whether this is simply a condition of young-adulthood or a reaction to the present age, I was discontented with aspects of the Christianity I had received. I had questions about sacrifice and suffering, about purpose and ecclesial identity. I had questions about God's reality, particularly his magnitude. I perceived that God, as I understood God at that time, had been presented as domesticated and tame. The wisdom of years has led me to reflect that the reasons for my discontent were likely internal rather than external. The blame could not be squarely placed on "the church" or "my church." I suspect they belonged largely to me, the learner. And I trust that God was at work in my dis-ease, drawing me nearer to his reality, challenging my preconceived notions, and calling me to consider his grandeur. I was being called to worship the only reality worthy of devotion, God, the Almighty.

    Bonhoeffer, then, became a friend. His work was centered on learning from Christ and its consequences. He writes, "The actual call of Jesus and the response of single-minded obedience have irrevocable significance. By means of them Jesus calls people into an actual situation where faith is possible." Through obedience, we learn to trust. By applying the words of Jesus and living according to his calling, we discover that his commands align us with the reality of his kingdom, and thus we confirm the utter reliability of his word.  Of course, this kind of obedience is not without suffering, rejection, and crucifixion. As Bonhoeffer states, "Discipleship means adherence to the person of Jesus, and therefore submission to the law of Christ which is the law of the cross."

    Bonhoeffer's meditations on suffering and the demands of discipleship, contrasted with the "easy-believism" and fluffy theology of our age, renewed my vision for the gospel. His writings enabled me to see differently, and to imagine a different kind of life for the disciple. I appreciated Bonhoeffer's exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, which I have come to believe is a key text for any renewal or revival of Christian holiness. And I also appreciated his love for the Church--the community of Christ. Bonhoeffer's theology carries ecclesiastical assumptions. Discipleship is undertaken to Christ, but always together with those whom he has called.

    3. The Pastor: A Memoir by Eugene H. Peterson


    I would not be back in pastoral ministry at University Baptist Church if not for this book, and a small company of friends who were gracious enough to discuss it with me. That's how profound, and how healing, I found Peterson's reflections on the pastorate. I have read this book three times since publication in 2011, and the underlinings and margin notes in my copy are plentiful.

    Peterson writes with insight concerning the pastoral vocation. Like the others I have listed, his work has been generated within the context of church. Rather than lobbing holy hand grenades from the ivory tower of academia or scoffing from the margins, Peterson has led and participated in God's work among his people. He's been there for births and for funerals. He's lived the life of the pastor. And life as a pastor is serious work and hard work, not to mention troubled work, at least during our time.

    Peterson writes:

    North American culture does not offer congenial conditions in which to live vocationally as a pastor. . . In the process of realizing my vocational identity as a pastor, I couldn't help observing that there was a great deal of confusion and dissatisfaction all around me with pastoral identity. Many pastors, disappointed or disillusioned with their congregations, defect after a few years and find more congenial work. And many congregations, disappointed or disillusioned with their pastors, dismiss them and look for pastors more to their liking. In the fifty years that I have lived the vocation of pastor, these defections and dismissals have reached epidemic proportions in every branch and form of church.

    I wonder if at the root of the defection is a cultural assumption that all leaders are people who 'get things done,' and 'make things happen.' That is certainly true of the primary leadership models that seep into our awareness from the culture--politicians, businessmen, advertisers, publicists, celebrities, and athletes. But while being a pastor certainly has some of these components, the pervasive element in the two-thousand-year pastoral tradition is not someone who 'gets things done' but rather the person placed in the community to pay and call attention to 'what is going on right now' between men and women, with one another and with God--this kingdom of God that is primarily local, relentlessly personal, and prayerful 'without ceasing.'

    Peterson tells great stories, all of which provide some insight in to the vocation. He's honest. The pastoral vocation is glorious and heartbreaking. It is challenging. But it is good work. Though this book contains many lessons, it reinforced for me the importance of prayer, and the nature of witness. Peterson writes, "A witness is never the center but only the person who points to or names what is going on at the center--in this case, the action and revelation of God in all the operations of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

    As a pastor, I call attention to that reality--and together we heed the direction of the Triune God.

    2. A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic by Stanley Hauerwas


    As most of my readers know, I received my seminary education at Dallas Theological Seminary. My interest in Christian ethics reaches back to Baylor University, where I sat under Dr. John A. Wood and Dr. Dan McGee. Molly, concurrently, was a student at Perkins School of Theology - SMU. After one of her classes, she told me that I should read Stanley Hauerwas, whom she thought I would enjoy. And so during the 2006-2007 academic year, I grabbed a copy of Community of Character either from a second hand book shop or from a book give away hosted by a retired United Methodist bishop at Highland Park United Methodist (I'm not really sure), and I started reading.

    I was captivated.

    The emphasize on narrative, story, and the implications for ethics transformed my approach to my formation as a Christian. Hauerwas deepened my understanding of virtue, and how the virtues are best understood within a tradition, a community. His five essays on the family, sex, and abortion, which constitute the third and final section of the book, impacted my thinking on each of those topics.

    Hauerwas has written many books, but this work was my first foray into this thought. I own most of his works, and I've read nearly everything he has published. Hauerwas has continued to help me think as a Christian, and refused to allow me to neglect the church. Following John Howard Yoder, Hauerwas also helped me to see the political nature of Jesus' life, message, and kingdom, and the implications this holds, at present, for our constitution as a people. As Hauerwas states, "there can be no separation of christology from ecclesiology, that is, Jesus from the church. The truthfulness of Jesus creates and is known by the kind of community his story should form." As Hauerwas states elsewhere, the church does not have a social ethic, but is a social ethic, and therefore, the story of Jesus is one which the church must exemplify. Jesus must be determinative for our story together, one that encompasses the totality of our ecclesial life. Hauerwas writes, "Jesus determines the story as the crucial person in the story. Thus his identity is grasped not through other savior stories, but by learning to follow him, which is the necessary condition for citizenship in his kingdom."

    Once again, this book has continued to impact me because of its emphasis on discipleship, and for the claim that the calling of the disciple to follow Jesus is inseparable from the calling into the body of Christ. In the essay "Jesus: The Story of the Kingdom," Hauerwas claims, "To be a disciple is to be part of a new community, a new polity, which is formed on Jesus' obedience to the cross."

    Hauerwas solidified my interest in ethics, which I suspect will last my whole life long. Most importantly, however, is that he helped me to see that Christian ethics are inseparable from the person and work of Christ. Christian principles cannot be abstracted from his person. They must be lived within the context of his kingdom, under the reality of his present lordship, in the unique, particular locality of the ecclesia, or the church. Life under this rubric is dynamic, creative, and bold. It is the call to witness, to live together as the people of God under the reign of God, secured in Christ. Our present reality, and our future hope, is firmly established in his completed work.

    1. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God by Dallas Willard


    Dallas Willard is best known among Christians for his work in the area of Christian spiritual formation. Though I never knew him personally, Molly and I were deeply saddened when we learned of his death in May of 2013. Like many others who have read his work or who heard him speak, it was not only Willard's words that were striking, but his character. Seldom have I encountered such a striking correspondence between someone's message and overall presence. And from the stories I have heard from those who knew the man, my impressions have only been confirmed.

    The Divine Conspiracy is a masterful work, and though it was not the first book by Willard I read, it endeared me to his work. My friend Mike Hibit encouraged me to buy this book in the spring of 2006. I can remember Mike reading an excerpt at his apartment, located above The Golden Goose in Gardner, Kansas. The illustration Mike selected was about a plane in flight, upside down, and our need to be turned right side up. Soon after, I was working through my own copy in my apartment in Overland Park, thinking hard about "Gospels of Sin Management," and my own communication about the life and message of Jesus. I was challenged in my own discipleship, and wondered if I, too, had fallen victim to neglecting Jesus and his teachings in favor of a transactional understanding of salvation or a sloganeered, politicized gospel that claimed Jesus as champion, but paid little heed to his person, presence, and reign.

    Willard helped me to see that Jesus has been lost as our teacher and to rediscover that Christ is accessible and knowable as our Master. Willard's claim that Jesus is the smartest man to ever live, and that his way is best, resulted in a new approach to my own spirituality. Willard's argument in The Divine Conspiracy hinges on the intelligibility and unity of The Sermon on the Mount. His emphasis on kingdom as present and available to those who call on Jesus as King helped me discover the richness of life with God. Jesus, despite claims the contrary, has remained incredibly relevant and intriguing, quietly standing at the center of history, calling all people to himself.

    Willard writes:

    I think we finally have to say that Jesus' enduring relevance is based on his historically proven ability to speak to, to heal and to empower the individual human condition. He matters because of what he brought and still brings to ordinary human beings, living their ordinary lives and coping daily with their surroundings. He promises wholeness for their lives. In sharing our weakness he gives us strength and imparts through his companionship a life that has the quality of eternity.

    He comes where we are, and he brings us the life we hunger for. . . To be the light of life, and to deliver God's life to women and men where they are and as they are, is the secret of the enduring relevance of Jesus. Suddenly they are flying right-side up, in a world that makes sense.

    Before his death, Dallas Willard said that he believed the church very well may be on the precipice of a new and exciting chapter in its life, one in which the redisovery of Jesus as teacher and the reality of life in his kingdom could lead to genuine transformation. Willard's enthusiasm, I believe, stemmed from the groundswell of interest in Christian spiritual formation, and the redisovery of a gospel that brings us into an encounter with Jesus, as well as a reconceptualizing of faith as knowledge that leads to action (for more, see Willard's Knowing Christ Today).

    I have since become a student of Willard, and have read all his other works. My philosophy of ministry has been profoundly shaped by his intellectually sophisticated, yet pastorally sensitive presentation of Christian truth. I recommend this book to anyone--though it does demand work on the part of the reader. I've been glad to discuss it, to great benefit, with other Christians.

    Have a comment?


    Please, resist the temptation to Jesus Juke. The Bible happens to be important to me as well.

    What are the most important reads of your life?

    Wednesday
    Dec112013

    The Matthean Narrative and the Birth of Christ :: Letting the Text Determine Us

    Photo by Pradeep Javedar

    As I prepared to teach on Wednesday evening last week, I spent time with the insights of Stanley Hauerwas in Matthew, a Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible. My text that evening was Matthew 1:18-25. I wanted our students to focus on the story of Jesus' birth, without sentimentalizing the story. I focused on two key ideas. First, I wanted to share that in Jesus, we believe that God came to us in the flesh. Christians refer to this as the doctrine of the incarnation. Second, I wanted our students to see that the coming of Christ is a sign of God's loving care for us. As the angel told Joseph, the child was to be named Jesus, for he would "save his people from their sins." Even though we may face trouble, we are not without a deliverer. I did not cite Hauerwas in my talk, though some of his ideas stood in the background. I'd like to share some of what I learned.

    First, Hauerwas's commentary is unique in approach, for he takes certain assumptions to the reading of the text, foremost that Matthew means what he says and intends for his telling of the Jesus story to transform us. Hauerwas writes that we should read Matthew in a way that is determinative for us, naming realities we are invited to enter. Matthew presents Jesus in a way that gives witness to God's redemption of our world as an accomplished fact, and invites us to enter this reality as disciples of Jesus. Hauerwas states:

    For Matthew, Jesus has changed the world, requiring that our lives be changed if we are to live as people of the new creation. Accordingly, the gospel is not information that invites us to decide what we will take or leave. Our task is not to understand the story that Matthew tells in light of our understanding of the world. Rather, Matthew would have our understanding of the world fully transformed as a result of our reading of his gospel. Matthew writes so that we might become followers, be disciples, of Jesus. To be a Christian does not mean that we are to change the world, but rather that we must live as witnesses to the world that God has changed. We should not be surprised, therefore, if the way we live makes that change visible. (25)

    Second, as an extension of this idea, Hauerwas believes that the church itself, and those persons who make up the collective, constitute a way of being in the world that makes the change God has enacted--the kingdom life--visible, tangible, and powerfully compelling. Hauerwas continues:

    A theological reading of Matthew...reaffirms that the church be an alternative politics to the politics of the world. . . this commentary is guided by the presumption that the church is the politics that determines how Matthew is to be read. That politics, moreover, is one that presumes, as the gospel of Matthew presumes, that the whole life of Jesus is to be understood as determinative for the life of the church. (29-30)

    To clarify, Hauerwas refuses to allow our reading of the birth narrative and the story of Jesus' death and resurrection as told in Matthew to squeeze out the middle years.  Notice, he says "the whole life of Jesus is to be determinative for the life of the church." Hauerwas notes that the birth narrative lends itself toward sentimentality (we know this all too well), and our focus on the cross and resurrection, though justified, leads us to wrongfully assume that the gospel of and about Jesus is solely about our deliverance from hell and our future hope of life eternal in heaven (stated differently, we in the West often employ a theology that is individualistic). A focus on "the whole life" leads us back to the teachings of Jesus, such as the Sermon on the Mount, the parables, and the significance of Jesus' healing, reconciliation, and restoration ministry, the application of which in the present leads us to a greater focus on ecclesiology (or community) and sanctification (or personal holiness). This does not mean that the significance of the incarnation is lost, nor the reality of the atonement minimized. Rather, they are magnified when seen through a wider lens, properly contextualized in a way that equips the church to live more fully in to the calling to "go and make disciples of all nations."

    Matthew's narrative is meant to determine us. We do not go to the text seeking to determine what is insightful or inspiring. Rather, we read Matthew's story as those invited to a new way of seeing through Matthew's way of saying. As we learn to tell the story Matthew tells, and come to the recognition that Matthew's story is, in fact, true, our vision is reformed, and our lives are transformed in accordance with the change God has already accomplished in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ. We take on a new being; we are made a "new creation." Matthew invites us in to this story in a direct and forthright address. Hauerwas writes:

    Matthew does not try to prepare us for the story of Mary by providing a transition from the genealogies to the story of Mary's pregnancy. Rather, he tells us in a straightforward, if not blunt, manner that 'the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way.' Again we see that Matthew does not assume it is his task to make God's work intelligible to us, but rather his task is to show us how we can live in light of Jesus' conception and birth. (35)

    Lastly, I'll close with one more insight from Hauerwas--something I have pondered for several years. In Matthew 1:21, Joseph is told in a dream that the child to be born of Mary will, "save his people from their sins." Though we may be tempted to read this verse cosmically rather than first in its particularity, Joseph certainly understood the angel to mean the people of Israel, for it is through Israel that God had promised to bring about the salvation of the world. And if Christians today are to live most fully as the people of God, we must never forget this very fact. Hauerwas states:

    [W]hen Christians lose the significance of Mary in the economy of salvation we also risk losing our relation with the people of Israel. Jesus is born of a Jewish mother. His flesh is Jewish flesh. To be sure Jewish flesh is human, but Christians dare not forget that the flesh that is 'very man' is particularly the flesh of Mary. Matthew will not let us forget that the one born of Mary is he who has come to free Israel from its sins. Jesus is very God and very man, but that formula does not mean we can ever forget that the God he is, and the man he is, is the same God that has promised to be faithful to the people of Israel. (36)

    The nations have been engrafted in to a history, the history of God's salvation. May we be humbled by this fact, living in light of 1 Peter 2:10: "Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."