Toing and froing

StJohns

Stanley Hauerwas is something of a provocateur, and he begins his latest collection of sermons, Without Apology, with an introduction that has some intriguing things to say about the art of preaching. Firstly, against Paul Tillich, and understandably, considering that he has often insisted upon the sheer difference of Christianity from our culture, he argues that the task of preaching is not to somehow translate Christianity into everyday language, but to, in his words, help us remember and become attuned to the strangeness of the language of Christianity. Therefore he is not one to pepper his sermons with illustrative references to pop culture. Although he concedes that Christianity does affect us personally, his focus is on God foremost, and so his orientation is towards upsetting conventional notions, rather than fitting God into our way of thinking in a fit of apologetics.

Hauerwas points out that he is a theologian who is wary of theory, and yet he disdains the “anti-intellectualism” within the churches, applauding the valuable work that is done within the universities. He says he tries to make no distinction between preaching and writing academically, but he is interested in preaching due to the availability of a wider audience. He values the work of historical criticism on scriptures, but is wary of the idea of “getting behind” them, in a mirror of the postmodern suspicion of trying to understand what the author “really meant”. He says that he does not insert politics into his sermons, but only because the gospel is itself already generally political, in the sense that it is a threat to conventional ways of doing things, including the distribution and use of power. If all of the above sounds like he is full of dialectical toing and froing (to the point of excessive qualification) this is because he is not interested in pat phrases and rushed, sloppy thinking. Therefore his writing is always an unsettling joy.

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