Monday, August 20, 2012

A Summary Definition of Hauerwas's Ecclesiology

In the course of studying for my first comprehensive exam, I'm finding that what feels like endless studying and summarizing of others' thinking can actually serve as a catalyst to think through my own interpretation of important theologians' work. (I know, it almost sounds like comps serve a purpose -- but never mind.) Here's what I came up with in piecing together the complex heart of Stanley Hauerwas's ecclesiology:

The church is that community of storied witness to Christ whose christological politics, as performed in the liturgy—the practices of which constitute the church as a traditioned community across time—is a new possibility in the world, and thus an alternative to the world’s God-ignorant violence and untruth; just so, the church is neither peripheral nor accidental to the Spirit’s mission, but is itself part of the content of the gospel’s message.

I could offer short explanations and definitions for each phrase and choice of words, but I'll leave it alone for now. What say you, dear readers?


  1. Already one self-amendment: instead of "witness to Christ," the phrase "witness to God's kingdom," with "kingdom" glossed as "inaugurated in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth."

  2. Good work.

    The only thing I would say is that this is not just a definition for Hauerwas but rather a pretty standard ecumenical definition of ecclesiology (which I supposed is the point for Hauerwas)except that a number of the phrases ("storied" and "politics" and "traditioned community" and "new" and "violence") are idiosyncratic to Hauerwas's discourse influenced by Yoder, MacIntyre, and Aristotle.

    Still, you should be warned and I think you already know that there are some "apocalyptic" or "missionary" or "dialectical" or "Reformed" but also some Roman Catholic voices (Nicholas Healy 2004) who express concerns with Hauerwas's ecclesiology: that it leads invariably to Roman Catholicism; gives comfort to clericalism / top-down authoritarianism choking the prophet and missionary; justifies withdrawal rather than missionary proclamation so as to avoid being contaminated with the world's language; and ends up emphasizing the church over the gospel.

    I think Hauerwas has mechanisms in his ecclesiology to chasten and qualify all of those things so that his ecclesiology is best understood as an ecumenically generous centrist one rather than a "postliberal" or "ecclesiocentrist" one.

    Keep up the good work. You are doing well!

  3. I agree with Andy that the idiom here is Hauerwasian, as is the focus on "violence," while the underlying "communio ecclesiology" is ecumencially-agreed upon.

    Here's a suggestion: change "alternative to the world’s God-ignorant violence and untruth" to "world's violence born of God-ignorant impatience and untruth" — it at least gives you another Hauerwasianism! :-)

  4. I am a late comer to reading Hauerwas so I don't know if he gives voice to the concern of early Christians about bloodshed, e.g. Cyprian: “The world is wet with mutual blood(shed): and homicide is a crime when individuals commit it, (but) it is called a virtue, when it is carried on publicly.”[it seems to me that this concern speaks more specifically to the issue than 'violence' per se].
    “My son, I had it in my heart to build a house to the name of the Lord my God. 8 But the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘You have shed much blood and have waged great wars. You shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood before me on the earth.”–David, 1 Chron. 22

    This relates to that 'holiness without which no one will see the Lord...'[1 Peter? memory lapse..] and that 'we' are now described as the house [1 Cor. 6:19].

    Is the theme of Imitatio Christi emphasized in all of this?