Stanley and John

Here is how Stanley Hauerwas describes salvation in the opening chapter of his book After Christendom. The chapter is called “Why There Is No Salvation Outside the Church.”

If we say, outside the church there is not salvation, we make a claim about the very nature of salvation — namely that salvation is God’s work to restore all creation to the Lordship of Christ. Such a salvation is about the defeat of powers that presume to rule outside God’s providential care. Such salvation is not meant to confirm what we already know and/or experience. It is meant to make us part of a story that could not be known apart from exemplification in the lives of people in a concrete community.

For Hauerwas salvation is the church. God saves the world by creating the church. Our salvation is being incorporated into the church and being formed by the community centered on the Lordship of Christ.

As I indicated in my last post, my experience as a United Methodist has been that the movement’s founder, John Wesley, and its most famous contemporary theologian, Hauerwas, are at fundamental odds with each other on some rather basic questions about Christianity. Wesley was a Tory and was heavily influenced by Pietism. Hauerwas’ entire project calls into question these aspects of Wesley’s politics and theology. Hauerwas’ famous penchant for cursing is a rejection of Wesley’s understanding of holiness, which extends to the words we use when we speak. Wesley wanted to know the way to heaven. Hauerwas — so far as I can tell — finds that concern as completely missing the point.

I remain drawn to and intrigued by Hauerwas because he speaks to some questions that challenge me in Wesley’s theology. The most pressing issue for me has to do with the meaning of salvation for those with cognitive or emotional challenges. Hauerwas has engaged in constructive ways with these kinds of questions. Wesley — so far as I can tell — does not even conceive of this as a question worth asking or wrestling with.

I’m curious how other Wesleyans who have read Hauerwas encounter to these two men.


2 thoughts on “Stanley and John

  1. As I graduate of Duke Divinity I feel I should probably have more of an opinion on the compatibility of John Wesley and Stanley Hauerwas, but I’ve never considered the matter too deeply. They are very different in what they focus on and how they say things, and it can be difficult to compare them. I do think it is not quite right, however, to claim that Hauerwas’s account of holiness does not extend to the words we use. On the contary, because of the way he has been influenced by Wittgenstein and others, I think sometimes Hauerwas’s account of holiness places too much influence on the words we use, so that he characterizes the Christian life as learning to speak a new language. His ethics also places a great emphasis on naming things correctly–e.g. he often says things like “the first step in an ethical response to drone warfare is to talk about it as murder and not warfare.” His foul mouth has more to do with his insistence that Christianity not parallel polite American middle class mores.

    1. Does Hauerwas use the language of “holiness”? I’m not able to think of it, but I am far from a systematic student of his.

      For Wesley, cursing is not a matter of middle class mores — Georgian or American — but about making all we say or do to the glory of God. I know Hauerwas does not share that view.

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