Al Mohler interviews Stanley Hauerwas

Here’s an interesting interview of Duke theologian Stanley Hauerwas by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Al Mohler.

The whole interview is interesting reading, but here is one nugget that caught my eye right off the top:

I have great admiration for evangelicals for no other reason than they just bring such great energy to the faith and I admire that. But one of the great problems of Evangelical life in America is evangelicals think they have a relationship with God that they go to church to have expressed but church is a secondary phenomenon to their personal relationship and I think that’s to get it exactly backwards: that the Christian faith is meditated faith. It only comes through the witness of others as embodied in the church. So I should never trust my presumption that I know what my relationship with God is separate from how that is expressed through words and sacrament in the church. So evangelicals, I’m afraid, often times, with what appears to be very conservative religious convictions, make the church a secondary phenomenon to their assumed faith and I think that’s making it very hard to maintain disciplined congregations.

This expresses very well Hauerwas’ focus on the church as the center of all the action in our faith. It also raises an interesting critique of our Methodist roots. This would likely be the exact kind of complaint that Church of England bishops had about John Wesley and all those Methodists running around talking about assurance of salvation. Perhaps this is part of the reason Hauerwas is no longer a United Methodist.

It also gets at some of the tension we have within our current church, I think. The question he suggests for us is which is primary: Our personal relationship with Jesus or our participation in the body of Christ?

I bet the answers that various people give to that question would be interesting.

I find I tend to wax and wane on that. I am a mushy modern Methodist and want to say “both/and.” But I think that is evading the question. It suggests Hauerwas is not capable of seeing that both play a role. No, his question is which is primary.

I think if forced to side, I’d have to say the participation in the body is primary because it is the way by which we come to know who Jesus is and what it means to be one of his followers. The Holy Spirit works through means of grace that are in the stewardship of the church.

But then my “both/and” emerges because I also believe that Christianity is not something you get by osmosis. It is not a T-shirt you buy at the gift shop. It is something that changes you. It is personal. And if it is not personal, it is ultimately incomplete.

It is complicated. And each Christian has his or her own story and own understanding of how the personal relationship with Jesus and the corporate existence among Jesus’ people shape us.

I guess that is why I value theologians who raise such interesting questions. They help me see the richness of our faith and they keep me from settling into easy and shallow answers.

If you get the time, I encourage you to read the entire interview. It is thought provoking and sheds some light on Hauerwas’ thought. Hauerwas’ answers to Mohler’s questions about the nature of the gospel and the meaning of the cross were most helpful to me as someone who has puzzled at times over what Hauerwas means by what he writes. I found Mohler’s closing monologue to his evangelical audience itself worth the time spent reading the whole piece.


5 thoughts on “Al Mohler interviews Stanley Hauerwas

  1.  “We see only what is possible to be seen from where we are.”
    That is the truest statement in the whole article.
     “…….we have a lot to learn from those who are watching us”
    Another true statement

    “….those verities, those doctrines, and those revealed realities are under sustained subversion.”
    It is interesting Mohler would use the term “subversion” He is right on point and that “sustained subversion” goes on inside the church with greater frequency and higher intensity than outside the church.

    I think it is important to remember, whether reading Mohler, Hauerwas and others, you are reading “opinion”. You are reading someone’s personal interpretation of scripture. If those opinion are derived from a solid foundation they carry more weight. The foundation being the Inspired Word of God. If the opinions are based on a foundation the author themselves discredit and chip away at the foundation is weak and carries less weight.
    Hauerwas was influenced by the Niebuhr brothers The Neibuhr brothers were influenced by the writings of Barth and Troeltesch. so…. the thinking is not original as is the Inspired Word.

    I think it is also important to spend as much time studying The Word as one spends studying opinion and commentary. Studying scripture and all that is included in scripture from history to archaeology and everything in between will take up most if not all of your time.

    In the apostles writings, the early church and the writings of the Early Church Fathers it was conduct and character that set the Christian apart. That conduct and character was taught in the Christian Church that impacted everyone and everything around them.

     Epistle to Diognetus states:
    “They marry as do all; they beget children, but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all.” chapter 5

  2. I really love the question and had never thought to ask it of myself. For me I know it takes both and I am not sure that one is, or should be, primary. I know that I have a personal relationship and any learning or ‘church’ experience I need to bring into myself and feel how it fits and applies to me. I feel that I do that by being open to listening to God.
    I am also very convinced that we do not become our full and complete selves without community. Of course not every church is able to support us in a way that invites our unique gifts. My personal work is to help churches become a healthy ‘body of Christ’, so I clearly believe in the vital importance of a faith community. I am going to continue to ponder these thoughts.
    I also wonder if our need to choose one over the other is just the current need for dualistic thinking? I am fairly sure that I believe it takes both and not either /or.
    Thanks so much for bringing this up!

  3. My case for the both/and is that if you have a church full of people who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, you have something other than a Christian church. The value of being swayed and shaped by such an organization is dubious at best. Conversely, an individual who decides to follow Christ on his or her own outside of the fellowship of other believers swims in dangerous waters. The temptation to become wise in their own eyes would be nearly overwhelming. We need the balance of accountability to help us grow in faith, rather than to assume that our current relationship with Christ is all that there is or could be.

  4. First, thanks for pointing to and commenting on this, John. A great interview, indeed.

    Second, Wesley’s whole system was premised not on church as epiphenomenon of individual faith, but rather as womb of that faith. The Methodist movement did NOT consider congregations to be secondary to other forms of such social formation (class meeting, society, bands), but essential partners in this work. Christianity is social, through and through. It is through the community called church, in all these forms, that individual faith is nurtured and knows its true end.

    Oddly enough, early Baptists knew this. It’s why they formed church covenants, a covenanting tradition that in effect became vestigial once Baptists became “mainstream” in America by the early 20th century, just as Methodist class meetings became the rare exception, rather than the overwhelming norm, by the mid 19th century. Why? Hauerwas names it: the mythos of the hegemony of the “successful individual” in America, which was turning American Protestantism into a buyers market even 2 centuries ago.

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