Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Hauerwas on Preaching (and a bunch of other stuff)

There are really only three kinds of people in the world. Those who've never heard of Stanley Hauerwas, those who hate him, and those who love him (even though he may make them uncomfortable at times). I am in the third camp. I love this guy. I love the fact that he says what I have often thought but been too timid to say (and THAT ought to make you very nervous). I love the fact that he refuses to be pigeon-holed into a theological category. Is he an evangelical, a Catholic, an Orthodox, conservative, liberal, anabaptist, or what? The answer is yes. He is all those things, and then some. Within my own congregation there are those who love me because I am their brother and their pastor, but who do not agree with everything I say or every interpretation of Scripture that I offer. This is how I feel about Hauerwas. I love the guy, I love to read his insights on any particular subject. I may disagree, and I may even get angry about what he says, but as a result of interacting in thought with Hauerwas I feel like I am being driven (or dragged kicking and screaming) closer to the truth. Isaac Newton once scrawled into his student notebook a saying that had been tossed around for a couple of centuries: "Amicus Plato amicus Aristoteles magis amica veritas" (Latin: "Plato is my friend; Aristotle is my friend; truth is my best friend"). I am thankful for anyone who helps me get to know my best friend even better.

A week or so ago, someone posted a link on Twitter to a Hauerwas article on preaching. I don't even remember who linked to it, but I opened the link and printed the article and finally dove into it this morning. It is from the May '95 issue of First Things, and is entitled "Preaching As Though We Had Enemies." It can be found online in its entirety here: One of the things I find interesting about any Hauerwas piece is that it may claim to be about one thing (in this case, preaching), but, when I get finished with the piece, I discover that it was really about a lot more than just that one thing. And that is the case with this article as well. But the entirety of it speaks to preachers (and their hearers) about preaching and the urgency of the task in our day. I should just stop here and say, click the link, read the article and don't say I didn't warn you about old Stanley. But I'm going to share some quotes from the article that I hope will whet your appetite to read the rest:

* "Most of us do not go to church because we are seeking a safe haven from our enemies; we go to church to be assured we have no enemies."

* "The ministry seems captured in our time by people who are desperately afraid they might actually be caught with a conviction at some point in their ministry that might curtail future ambition."

* "I confess one of the things I like about the Southern Baptists is that they have managed to have a fight in public. Fundamentalists at least believe they are supposed to have strong views, and they even believe they are supposed to act on their convictions. The problem with most of the mainstream churches is that we do not even know how to join an argument--better, we think, to create a committee to 'study the issue.'"

* "Our difficulty is not that we have conflicts, but that as modern people we have not had the courage to force the conflicts we ought to have had."

* "Christianity is unintelligible without enemies. Indeed, the whole point of Christianity is to produce the right kind of enemies. We have been beguiled by our established status to forget that to be a Christian is to be made part of an army against armies."

* "I am suggesting that our preaching should presume that we are preaching to a Church in the midst of a war."

* "I need to have a sense of where the battle is, what the stakes are, and what the long-term strategy might be. But that is exactly what most preaching does not do. It does not help us locate our enemy, because it does not believe that Christians should have enemies. In the name of love and peace, Christian preaching has reinforced the 'normal nihilism' that grips our lives."

* "As the Church, we stand under the word because we know we are told what we otherwise could not know. We stand under the word because we know we need to be told what to do. We stand under the word because we do not believe we have minds worth making up on our own. Such guidance is particularly necessary for people like us who have been corrupted by our tolerance."

* "Humility derives not from the presumption that no one knows the truth, but rather is a virtue dependent on our confidence that God's word is truthful and good."
*** I would add to what Hauerwas says here by pointing out that the presumption that no one knows the truth is not humble. It is instead the height of arrogance. The claim that no one knows the truth is expected to be received as the truth, and therefore implies that there is only one person who knows the truth: namely, the person who says that no one knows the truth. Thus, this attitude claims both, (1) I am the only one who knows the truth, and (2) no one else does. That is not humility. Humility says, "Only God knows the truth, and I can only know the truth as I accept what He has revealed to be true."

* "God has entrusted us, His Church, with the best story in the world. With great ingenuity we have managed, with the aid of much theory, to make that story boring as hell."

* "May we preach so truthfully that people will call us terrorists. If you preach that way you will never again have to worry about whether a sermon is 'meaningful.'"

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