The folly of Christianity

If we have lost our concepts we have done so because we are living lives that make sense even if Jesus was not raised from the dead. But he was raised. (Stanley Hauerwas, The Work of Theology)

Like so many things Stanley Hauerwas has written, the quote above strikes me as true and leaves me puzzled about how to apply what he has written to Christian ministry in actual churches with the people we find there. What does it mean, after all, to live a life that makes sense only if Jesus Christ was raised from the dead? Hauerwas seems to think the answer to questions like that are so obvious that they do not need to be explained.

My hunch is this. I suspect that what he is advocating is a life that could only be called a “good” life if Jesus Christ is Lord and the promises of Christianity are true. In other words, it cannot be a life that you would call good by the standards of contemporary American culture or ancient Roman pagan culture or any other culture that does not take as its center point Jesus Christ.

What Hauerwas is calling for, I think, and what gets so many people uncomfortable with him, is a life fundamentally at odds with what most Americans would describe as living the good life. The dream of many Americans is to live a life centered on what gives them pleasure, including the pleasure of feeling like they are being a good person when they share some of their time and their money helping those who are “less fortunate.”

Hauerwas argues that such hedonism — even if it is a soft hedonism that we feel slightly awkward about at times — is at odds with Christianity on a fundamental level. Christian life is about serving a Lord who said, “Deny yourself and follow me” and “turn the other cheek” and “do not lay up treasures on earth.” Those commands make no sense to us and they are foolish to follow unless, it turns out, that the one who said them really is Lord of Lord and King of Kings.



5 thoughts on “The folly of Christianity

  1. Good post, John, and how do you suppose Hauerwas means for us to live within that filthy, real church of which you speak?

    1. Excellent question, Gary, and one that I struggle to answer and find that Hauerwas does not himself really answer, despite the fact that it is a question that he gets asked a lot. I think the lot of Christians is always to live in light of the gap between the kingdom that God calls us to and the messy now that we inhabit. We are always striving, with God’s help, to live in light of the one rather by the rules of the other. But it is hard.

      If John Wesley got lots of push back because he called us to personal holiness and Christian perfection, I think Hauerwas causes us resistance because he calls for corporate holiness that we don’t feel is practical or realistic. But maybe that is the point. What seems impossible for us is not impossible with God.

      1. The stark contrast between present reality and future disclosure has been accentuated for me in reading the Gospel of Matthew aloud with young “none zone” students (Christian and Jewish). Sure, I’ve been over this ground many times, but when hearing Jesus’ commands read aloud with these scalawags, the sharp notes blare in my ears.

  2. one could also say that Stanley makes an idol out of whatever is contrary to his view of American life. his Anabaptist and pacifist position, his “radical Christianity” is not a place a choose to live. Fortunately, I think we serve a Lord is far more generous than Stanley tends to be. I say this respectfully, and have said similar things to him when I have been in his presence as a learner in one of his lectures in Indiana.

    1. In fairness to Hauerwas, I think he’d be equally anti-Roman or anti-Chinese or anti-Swedish if he lived in any of those places, too. I think America is his primary target because he is an American and is read mostly by Americans.

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