Paul writes – In addition to a couple of interesting business books, I’m reading a fascinating book of Stanley Hauerwas’ ecclesiology (i.e. his thinking in relation to “church”). It started out as John Thomson’s PhD and is titled The Ecclesiology of Stanley Hauerwas: A Christian Theology of Liberation (2003). Thankfully I have a good friend who was able to loan me a copy because it’s a pretty expensive book (limited audience and thus print run). I’m of the opinion that Hauerwas is an extremely important voice (but little understood) in relation to the current missiological / ecclesiological conversation, though he doesn’t appear in the footnotes / endnotes of the many books being published at the moment under the “emerging church” / “fresh expressions” umbrella. I’m finding myself reading him more and more, though I must confess I’m not always understanding what he’s saying; but I am willing to persevere in the interest of broadening and deepening both my theological understanding and practice…
For Hauerwas the churches call is to embody and enact (in the lives of real people in their ordinary and everyday lives) a particular narrative (one centered on the cross) in a particular context. For Hauerwas the test of the Christian story is not disembodied doctrine and proposition (the rational) but is instead seen and experienced in the sort of people (and mission) it shapes (i.e. incarnational). “…For Hauerwas, a tangible and trained character rather than theoretical belief is the sign of the church, for it is the story of the love of God in Christ crucified that we must be trained in…” The Christian priority “must be to attend to the substantive stories of the faith”.
"Saints cannot exist without a community, as they require, like all of us, nurturance by a people who, while often unfaithful, preserve the habits necessary to learn the story of God." We form character in community and relationship.
The key question for Hauerwas is therefore: “What kind of community must the church be in order to rightly tell the stories of God?”
Thomson’s book is very well written and wonderfully distills Hauerwas’ thinking, in conversation with a number of other (critically engaged) influences including Karl Barth, Reinhold Niebuhr and John Howard Yoder.
Thomson has also written a more popular book centered on his experience of an Anglican church in the UK; again, it is well worth a read – Church on the Edge? Practicing Ministry Today.
For those wanting to hear Stanley Hauerwas, Jason Goroncy (whom I’ve just added to my “Kiwi Voices” having followed his reflections for a while) down in Dunedin links to Mp3’s of his recent Stanley Grenz lectures delivered at Carey in Vancouver. The lectures are: “Learning the Languages of Peace” and “A Worldly Church: Politics, Theology and the Common Good”. You will find the links on Jason’s site, here. Thanks Jason.