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    Entries in Theology (12)

    Thursday
    Jun242010

    Laying Brick :: Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir, by Stanley Hauerwas

    It is no secret that I am a "fan" of Stanley Hauerwas, the famous theologian who is the Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Christian Ethics at Duke Divinity School.  I've read enough Hauerwas to know that he desires neither my fandom, nor the fame that has produced "fans" like myself.  He desires that I follow Jesus Christ, and that I hold to Christian convictions because they are true.  He desires that the church would live in a way that gives a truthful witness to the Lordship of the One whose love moves the sun and the stars.  His theology is wrought through with a passion for honest speech, an embodied faith, a commitment to Christian nonviolence, a love for story, and an indebtedness to the friendships that God has gifted him during his life.  He is a man who has experienced a lifelong "lover's quarrel" with the Church, yet his commitment to that love is unfailing.  His memoir reflects all of these themes.

    I've never read a book quite like Hannah's Child.  Perhaps this is because I have not read many memoirs.  Yet I found Hannah's Child delightful.  Hauerwas tells his story in compelling, clear language, and I found this book a joy because it provides a context within which to place Hauerwas's theological writings.  It is indeed true that Hauerwas has come a "long way" from his beginnings in Pleasant Grove, Texas.  But when Hauerwas's thought is placed within the frame of  his stories of family, upbringing, bricklaying, and church, books like Community of Character and Resident Aliens, to name two of my favorites, suddenly take on a more robust shape.

    As for the contents, you'll find Hauerwas's story from his humble beginnings, to his growth as a thinker at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, on to Yale Divinity School, and then forward to Yale Graduate School, earning his Ph.D.  He tells of his first marriage to his wife, Anne, who suffered from mental illness.  And he reflects on his friendship with his son, Adam, whom he considers a great blessing.  He tells of his progression from Augustana College to Notre Dame, then on to Duke, and how through the years his thought was influenced by the thought of Barth, Yoder, and Bonhoeffer, to name three theologians he mentions.  Along the way he tells of various friendships he established and enjoyed, as well as his growth as a teacher.  His telling of his relationship with Paula Gilbert, their marriage, and their involvement in the life of Duke Divinity School.  Perhaps most interestingly is Paula's influence on Hauerwas in suggesting that he should make prayer a part of his classroom experience at the Divinity School, a development Hauerwas is deeply thankful for.

    This memoir is enjoyable reading, particularly for those who are familiar with Hauerwas's theological writings.  Who knew that the life of a theologian could be so interesting?

    Friday
    Oct022009

    Is Language All We Have?

    Those who share the sacramental language, those who share sacramentally in the language of the future, form a community, or, better, a movement within the world.

    -Herbert McCabe, OP, Law, Love, and Language

    What is the relationship between ethics and language?  Great question, particularly for Christians.  Ethics is my discipline.  I'm fascinated by the logic leading to ethical decisions, particularly how Christian people engage in moral reasoning.  It is a complex field, full of twists and turns.  Many would think that this wouldn't be the case.  The interplay between sources of moral reasoning--Scripture, reason, tradition, experience--are weighted differently depending on whereabout in the Kingdom one is examining an ethical question.  Different groups employ different criteria for different purposes, and at times come to different conclusions.

    This summer I read Herbert McCabe's Law, Love, and Language.  In that particular book, McCabe examines those approaches to ethics that rely on law or love as central principles of moral reasoning, and finds each coming up short.  Love becomes too vague, and law fails because of a certain rigidity that comes with the assumption that humankind has unity "by nature", rather than as an ongoing goal of history.  

    McCabe believes that "Ethics...is the study of human behavior as communication."  It is not a study of moral platitudes, nor a study of a particular virtue we are called to embody with our lives, but is a way of communicating.  This way of understanding ethics does not exclude such moral principles, or laws, which add precision to our definition of love, but encompasses both law and love through understanding Christianity as "essentially about our communication with each other in Christ, our participation in the world of the future."  This yields "a way of life, a way of discovering about the depths of life, out of which decisions about our behaviour will emerge."

    If this is the case, language matters--our spoken words and our unspoken forms of communication (our practices)--for the life of the Christian community.  In fact, you could say that it is all that we have.

    Is it?

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