I’ve been reading Stanley Hauerwas for quite a few years and have read most of his many and scattered writings. And I think it’s about time I start posting a bit more on his theology, as I probably know his work better than any other theologian’s. So, I’m going to start bringing all seven of my devoted readers a weekly post of some kind on Hauerwas. My copy of his newest book The State of the University finally came yesterday. It is vintage Hauerwas, with some great gems and always enjoyable theological witticisms. Here’s one that I particularly liked:
We Methodists are heart people. Baptists have no hearts at all. Instead Baptists have the Bible which they use as a club to beat one another into submission. In this respect I am on the side of the Baptists. (p. 132)
This quote occurs in the context of Hauerwas’s discussion of the inability of Christian universities to sustain their distinctively Christian character. He lays the blame for this reality largely at the feet of pietism, and I think he’s absolutely right.
One of the great deficiencies of pietism was the belief that the Christian intellectual tradition could be left behind. No more did Christians need to quarrel about the two natures of Christ. Moreover, pietists often had little use for the church. Christian doctrine as well as an overemphasis on the church from the perspective of pietism only leads to conflict, it not religious wars. Of course pietism did develop an intellectual tradition. It is called Protestant liberalism, which means Protestants became advocates of the universalism that the growth of the modern state found so useful. (p. 132)
Pietism always denigrates the intellectual and the theological in the name of experiential-expressive forms of religious devotion. Hauerwas is right that pietism has always been useful in modernity to aid in the construction of social-political structures which have their own hidden theological agenda, generally that of the divinization of the state and/or market. An amorphous attitude of piety can be channeled to serve a variety of political ends. And thus we have the fervor of the religious right and the passion of the German Christians. Both are examples of how the enthusiasm of a pietistic faith can be channeled to server the powers that be. That is why I cannot stomach pietism and think it a detriment to the church. On this point, Stanley is right on.