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“Let the Church be the Church”. . .

Its hard for me to overestimate the importance Stanley Hauerwas’s works to my theological development. He did two things for me especially, the first was making me take the church with absolute seriousness as the primary community in which Christian life is lived. The second was to introduce me to John Howard Yoder, who, I am happy to say has supplanted Hauerwas in terms of my own theological influences. And sensibilities. I’m sure Stanley would be quite glad for this as well.

One of the early quotations I remember reading from Hauerwas that had an impact on me was the following:

“Thus to say that the church must pursue societal justice is certainly right, but it is not very informative.  For justice needs to displayed and imaginatively construed by a people who have been formed to know that genuine justice derived from our receiving what is not due us.  Such people serve the cause of justice best by exemplifying in their own lives how to help one another.” (Peaceable Kingdom, 113-14)

This is a further specification of what is arguably Hauwerwas’s central theological claim, namely that “the political task of Christians is to be the church rather than to transform the world” (Resident Aliens, 38). Now, while I think Hauerwas is largely right in all of this, let me offer what I take to be a somewhat Yoderian gloss on Hauerwas’s quote above:

To say that the church must be the church is certainly right, but it is not very informative.  For the meaning of ‘being church’ needs to prayerfully discerned and vulnerably discovered by a people who strive to be nothing other than witnesses to the inexhaustible event of Christ’s death and resurrection.  Such people rightly serve the cause ‘being church’ best by submitting all forms of thought and life to the never-assimilable reality of Christ’s lordship, under the guidance of Scripture, in the midst of their ongoing missional existence in the world.

15 Comments

  1. CTN wrote:

    Yoder sounds like the later Barth of IV/3.2 in your gloss. :-)

    Saturday, November 22, 2008 at 6:24 pm | Permalink
  2. Nate Kerr wrote:

    Yes, CTN, I was thinking the same thing about Halden’s gloss! And I think he is exactly right. I think it is something like this kind of reading of Yoder through the lens of the Barth of CD IV/3 that I think needs to occur if we are to think of what it means to say that “mission makes the church” (as I put it).

    Saturday, November 22, 2008 at 11:05 pm | Permalink
  3. Ted Grimsrud wrote:

    I think it is a big mistake to read “Yoder through the lens of Barth.” Halden’s gloss illustrates the problem. I really can’t imagine Yoder writing that Christians should be people who are “witnesses to the inexhaustible event of Christ’s death and resurrection.” For Yoder, the content of the Christian witness centers on Jesus’ life and teaching. Jesus’ death matters because it was a consequence of how he lived–the content of that life (servanthood, pacifism, rejection of power politics) is what is normative for Christians. His resurrection matters because it was a vindication and endorsement of his life. Reading Yoder through Barth tends to undermine the concreteness of Yoder’s theology and the specificity of his ecclesiology (as articulated in Body Poilitics.

    Sunday, November 23, 2008 at 7:18 am | Permalink
  4. Nate Kerr wrote:

    Ted:

    I very specifically said that we read Yoder through the lens of the Barth of IV/3 (and the movement that occurs there from IV/2). I am only taking cues here from Yoder himself, who intends to speak here of the Barth for whom “church order” is “liturgical” precisely as orienting us to “the concrete historicity of Jesus as man and servant” (Yoder’s words, in his essay on church order in Barth), and for whom this reading of church order (at the end of IV/2) demands the rather radical understanding of the church-as-mission in IV/3.

    Though there is something to what you said: I think it is better said that what needs to happen is to read the later Barth through the lens of Yoder. That is something I have tried to do in my book, actually (and it drives my critique of Barth’s reading of the resurrection). I hope that clarifies a bit.

    Sunday, November 23, 2008 at 11:31 am | Permalink
  5. Ted Grimsrud wrote:

    Thanks for the clarification, Nate. I look forward to reading your book. I have it on order and expect it to arrive any day. If you say we should read the later Barth through Yoder you will get no argument from me. It definitely seems as though Barth were moving more toward a believers church perspective.

    Sunday, November 23, 2008 at 2:25 pm | Permalink
  6. Mike Bull wrote:

    “the political task of Christians is to be the church rather than to transform the world”

    This presents a false dichotomy. When Gideon and David were faithful, God went ahead of them and defeated their enemies. Would it be fair to assume that Hauerwas is just saying that political activism is getting the cart before the horse? If so, then I agree with him. When the church is faithful, the blessings of God transform the world around her.

    In his lectures on worship, James Jordan notes that the religions of the world offer life, knowledge and glory. For Israel, these three were locked away in the Ark as the hidden manna, the Law and Aaron’s rod that budded. These three are from God manward. Then, the Holy Place responds to the Most Holy with the Showbread (life), the Incense (prayer in response to God’s words), and the glory of the blossoming almond tree, the Lampstand. These are from man Godward.

    With the coming of Christ, the Ark was opened to the church. In our worship we receive these three as Word, Sacrament and Government. As we live these out through the week, the very culture around us is transformed. The church’s “culture of the Book” has resulted in unprecedented literacy. Her self-sacrifice has built hospitals, orphanages, and given western culture a conscience that extends to foreign aid. Her government has been the foundation for welfare, social justice and government accountability. The faithful church measures out heaven’s government on earth and the world is transformed.

    All this was baby steps for the Reformers. How far have we fallen that we need theologians like Hauerwas to spell it out for us again in such simple terms? We are like Ezekiel’s house of Israel, trying to maintain an abused and worn out authority while God is starting from scratch, sending us prophets in Adam’s animal skins.

    Sunday, November 23, 2008 at 4:00 pm | Permalink
  7. james wrote:

    Ted said:
    “Jesus’ death matters because it was a consequence of how he lived–the content of that life (servanthood, pacifism, rejection of power politics) is what is normative for Christians. His resurrection matters because it was a vindication and endorsement of his life”

    This seems rather thin. Surely the death and resurrection are more than ‘consequence’ and ‘endorsement’ of Jesus’ life. Those events require a response in worship that Jesus by necessity could not offer, namely, worship of the Son. Witnessing to this new form of worship is just as concrete and important(perhaps more) than imitating Jesus’ life (if the epistles are the measure).

    I once pointed out this hole in Yoder (concerning the transformation of worship) to Hauerwas after class. He agreed pointing out perhaps this gap historically contributes to such lousy worship among Anabaptists:)

    It’s an area where you can’t find a concrete ‘What would Jesus do?’ sort of setup. It requires giving some greater significance to the death/resurrection event for the meaning of Jesus and his life. Granting that allows one to see clearly (as you used to before reading Yoder) and also understand why the church was not simply (at all?) a continuation of the prophet Jesus’ theo-political movement.

    Ex-Yoderian,
    James

    Sunday, November 23, 2008 at 10:48 pm | Permalink
  8. Dave Belcher wrote:

    James,

    I’m not exactly sure what you mean when you say, “Those events require a response in worship that Jesus by necessity could not offer, namely, worship of the Son,” but it seems as though you are positing the existence of “the eternal Son” as somehow separate and transcendent of Jesus’ historicity…in fact, your last sentence, “Granting that allows one to see clearly…and also understand why the church was not simply (at all?) a continuation of the prophet Jesus’ theo-political movement,” seems to crudely necessitate this sort of separation, making of Jesus’ historicity merely an instance of a “theo-political movement” of the (merely) human “prophet.” I think you’d want to counter-act such a separation, even to say that’s exactly what you are arguing against (perhaps?), but that seems the conclusion of your argument that Jesus “cannot give” worship of the Son. Is it not, rather, that Jesus in his very historicity just is the eternal Son? And thus to bear witness to the historicity of “Jesus as man and servant” (citing Nate citing Yoder above) is to bear witness, doxologically, to the eternal Son made flesh!

    Forgive me if I am misinterpreting, but it seems to me that your very anti-Yoderian fears here are Christologically problematic (which inevitably lead to very big problems of how we not only think, but more importantly, enact ecclesia within history). Nate’s book here is actually extremely important.

    Monday, November 24, 2008 at 8:20 am | Permalink
  9. Ted Grimsrud wrote:

    James.

    I appreciate your challenge. But I am pretty uncomfortable with what I read you as implying. Are you suggesting that “the death/resurrection event” in some sense replaces Jesus’ life and teaching as our central source for theology and ethics? Is the path of faithfulness we are called to take primarily “worship of the Son” that in some sense is different than the path Jesus walked? By placing worship above following Jesus’ way of life how do you avoid the kind of problem Amos critiqued Israel for–autonomous “worship” that allows for lives of injustice?

    I read the epistles, in harmony with the Old Testament and Jesus (not superceding them), as presenting worship as important because it empowers the believer to walk in light of the resurrection (presented powerfully in Revelation in terms of following the Lamb wherever he goes).

    It strikes me that when Christians came to see the church as something other than “a continuation of the prophet Jesus’ theo-political movement” what resulted was a repeat of the Judah of Jeremiah’s day–worship co-existing comfortably with unjust power politics.

    Monday, November 24, 2008 at 1:09 pm | Permalink
  10. james wrote:

    I think you have gotten my point Ted. Nothing as unorthodox as Dave suggests or at least not in that way.

    I would say the epistles do reflect that the worship of the Son through participating in the death and new life of Jesus has eclipsed any remaining effects of the biography(old life) of Jesus construed in some earthly fashion. Whatever the social concerns of Jesus were, they pale in comparison (though perhaps express partially) the mission of the Son descending and ascending.

    Ethics of course becomes something of a hodgepodge, I admit, as the Scriptures themselves are. I don’t think it necessarily means departing from the gospel depictions of Jesus but importantly it doesn’t mean following some pattern laid down there because……

    The gospels are not “Jesus” as Ted states above and I think Yoder too simplistically believes (in his case especially privileging Luke’s depiction).

    The gospels themselves are an attempt to remedy the fact that Jesus biography doesn’t contain his full significance which makes including post-resurrection realities a necessity. Most important for my purposes is the worship that the disciples give to the Son. This is placed back in time to give Christians a model for worship that Jesus’ biography could not provide by itself since he could not/would have refused to be the object of his worship. My point here is that we are meant to be in the shoes of the DISCIPLES not Jesus. Imitating Jesus biography would miss the point of the gospels which is that the disciples themselves were missing the point (except in glimpses) of what is “really going on” by focusing on the “concrete” details of Jesus life. The gospels themselves are pointing to a mystical(sacramental?) revelatory (aka non concrete) experience to be had by Jesus followers not participation in the socio-political agenda of Jesus.

    This all seems lost in a view of death as consequence, resurrection as vindication, sacraments as political badges or remembrances, ethics as imitation, revelation as reading the manifesto. This is too linear and common-sensical in a way the synoptic gospels themselves seem to work against.

    The gospels are varied in how they settle this sort of blending of time in depicting Jesus and his orders to the Church. They are just like the epistles in this sense (not better) trying to blend the narrative with the relevant ethical concerns of the day. Some attempt to thrust their communities mission back into Jesus life in a way Paul appears less concerned to do. And even John shows that at least one community can imagine Jesus just talking about worshipping Jesus. Most important for my purposes is just to say apparently “more biographical does not mean better.” It may be better for Yoder’s purposes, but not an essential of Christian life.

    Oh well you get my point by now. I do think there is a disjunction between Jesus understood ‘according to the flesh’ and the Son. I’m more mystical/liturgical/spiritual and way less for the theo-political movement stuff that seems to dominate right now. Oh and I don’t expect to convince too many Yoder fans, and that’s OK :) I couldn’t change Hauerwas’ mind either.

    Monday, November 24, 2008 at 3:13 pm | Permalink
  11. Halden wrote:

    James are you in school at Duke? You mention talking to Hauerwas after class and such…I have a hard time seeing your putative disjunction between Jesus and “the Son” going over well there…or well, anywhere where people have read Barth…

    Monday, November 24, 2008 at 3:22 pm | Permalink
  12. james wrote:

    Not at Duke anymore, been there, done that. But you can always find Bulltmannians to make common cause with anywhere. The Yoder-Barth axis there is often stifling for creativity….Hauerwas-bots everywhere. And I found it damaging to progress in Biblical Studies there as well. Sanders was a real gem though.

    Peace (whether or not Jesus endorsed it):)

    Monday, November 24, 2008 at 5:12 pm | Permalink
  13. Dave Belcher wrote:

    James,

    I think you must have misunderstood where I was coming from….the singular “historicity” of Jesus is not reducible to his “biography,” nor to a political cause. And this is why I pointed to Nate Kerr’s book in my comment — Jesus’ “historicity” has to do with the apocalyptic in-breaking of the transcendent God into history (and his chapters on both Hauerwas and Yoder are really significant here).

    What is strange, though, is that you so easily shrug off my question as to not even address it, and yet you do in fact admittedly place “a disjunction between Jesus understood ‘according to the flesh’ and the Son”; I am not seeing how you have responded to my claim above. I’m not trying to be pushy, but I really just don’t see how a “disjunction between Jesus understood ‘according to the flesh’ and the Son” isn’t to place some other “abstracted” God over against and back behind the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth (saying that Jesus’ cross/resurrection must be “more” than Jesus’ life misses the point that Jesus’ cross and resurrection take place within his irreducibly singular history, and as such that event is the disclosure of the truth of who God is…we are incorporated into the body of Jesus Christ, and by the power of his Spirit breathed upon us, we partake of his very nature as eternal God). What exactly am I missing here?

    Monday, November 24, 2008 at 5:23 pm | Permalink
  14. james wrote:

    Dave, sorry I didn’t see your question.

    “Jesus’ cross and resurrection take place within his irreducibly singular history”

    I don’t see the resurrection as something concretely historical like his death. That’s why I reject the sort of linear treatment of it as a rubberstamp. I think the history of the Son, as Paul narrates it, is embodied in Jesus but somewhat indifferent to his historical circumstance and earthly motivations. I believe this is key to his kata sarka distinction. This has huge implications for how Paul does ethics. The Son is the model, not Jesus (in any Yoderian fashion).

    I would contend that it is basic to gospel scholarship to say that there is a disjunction between the historical Jesus and the various gospel depictions. Yoder has no time for this nor do I find that the Barthian emphasis on ‘history’ grapples with this at all.

    Our regard for Jesus as the Son depicted in the gospels is surely not continuous with the socio-political movement of the historical Jesus as I think is apparent from the Scriptures themselves. And to further take on Lukan theology wholesale as that Jesus and the normative one is I think misguided.

    My original point was minor. When Yoder seeks to identify key practices of the Jesus movement, worship of the Son is strangely underrepresented. Which is no surprise because Jesus didn’t worship as we do. The adjustment of monotheism seems a minor tweak after the rubberstamp event, and all of that is of little significance compared to the defining socio-political mission. This is inadequate in my view.

    Thanks Halden.

    Monday, November 24, 2008 at 7:19 pm | Permalink
  15. Halden,

    What happened to the Bonhoeffer Blog Conference? Is that still going to go on? I thought it was going to happen during the AAR.

    -Chris

    Saturday, November 29, 2008 at 11:33 am | Permalink

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  1. To live Justly | Byrnesys Blabberings on Tuesday, November 25, 2008 at 10:05 am

    [...] “Thus to say that the church must pursue societal justice is certainly right, but it is not very informative.  For justice needs to displayed and imaginatively construed by a people who have been formed to know that genuine justice derived from our receiving what is not due us.  Such people serve the cause of justice best by exemplifying in their own lives how to help one another.” (Peaceable Kingdom, 113-14)HT: Inhabitio Dei [...]

  2. [...] the Church be the Church (from Inhabitatio Dei) “Let the Church be the Church”. . . Posted on November 21, 2008 by [...]

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