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Is Christianity a Solution?

In the latest issue of Sojourners there is an interview with Jean Vanier and Stanley Hauerwas about their recent book, Living Gently in a Violent World. One of the best quotes from Stanley is in answer to the question of why he argues that “L’Arche is not a solution but a sign. When so many people want solutions, why do we need signs?”

Because we’re Christians. Christ­ianity is fundamentally a sign that enables you to live when you know no solution. Solutions will always kill people. So we need signs that are witnesses to help us know we’re not abandoned. That’s a politics. It challenges the politics of power which says, “I need to do a violent act now in order to achieve peace in the future.” There is no peace in the future through violence.

I wonder, does this signify a shift in Hauerwas’s thinking? Having read most of his works I always got the impression that he thought the church was a solution to the problem of liberal modernity. Not in the sense that it would make it go away, but that, in being a coherent habitable world over against liberalism, the church provides an alternative reality to live in, a solution.

The shift from the language of solution to the language of sign seems important, though we’ll see if this is really a fundamental shift.

H/T: Adam McInturf


  1. nick wrote:

    i wonder if he means to say that the church is a the proper alternative to a liberal democracy that claims to offer solutions for all human suffering. i don’t know that his thinking has fundamentally shifted.

    Thursday, April 2, 2009 at 7:33 am | Permalink
  2. Hill wrote:

    Yeah, this is primarily semantic. “Solution” is such a complex word. It could be said that the church as a sign is a solution, could it not? And with the appropriate hermeneutical charity, this could be seen as an acceptable formulation. It might not be the most theologically rich way to put things, but my point is that counterposing solution and sign is more rhetorical than anything else, and presupposes a very specific meaning of the word solution that is probably not the same meaning as in the sentence “Hauerwas thinks the church is the solution to the problem of liberal modernity.”

    Thursday, April 2, 2009 at 10:11 am | Permalink
  3. Michael Morkve wrote:

    I have quite the contrary view. To speak of Christianity as simply a ‘sign’ and not a ‘solution’ must be either be a very innadaquate and unfortunate use of terms illdefined or a complete misunderstanding of the reality of Christ living as Church-Community.
    ‘Christianity’, if it is to describe as anything more substantial than the religion it has come to be, must mean, simply, the Ekklesia; the gathering together in relational unity of all those who have relinquished their lives to Christ, denying themselves any authority over their own lives and living as the present incarnation of Christ towards the world out of which they themselves were birthed. This is no simple ‘sign’ but a corporate entity established by God and existing in reality. It is the ‘New Adam’ alive within and as the only viable alternative to the ‘Old Adam’. How then can it be simply a sign, pointing presumably to Christ, and not that solution which is Christ incarnate, the unity of God and Man in one entity. Hauerwas states that ‘solutions always kill people’, and so they do, but that is only a problem for those who beleve there is some inherent evil in being ‘killed’. The gospel ‘kills’ all who hear it, both those who reject Him and those who receive Him. We do not need a ‘sign’ to somehow indicate that we are not abandoned but something real, something tangable, a ‘solution’, a family, a corporate entity, into which we can enter the unity which is God and Mankind reconciled.

    Furthermore, it is decidedly simplistic, naive and shortsighted to propose that ‘there is no peace in the future through violence’. Who is this God that we serve? Is it not the God who violently punished Israel over and over? And why did He do so if not to bring about the peace which had been lost through Israel’s disobedience? Is it not the God who came violently against other nations, like Egypt, so that they would realize that HE IS GOD and there is no other. Is it not the God who reveals Himself violently to and through individuals like Job and Jonah, Moses and Noah (the list goes on)? Is it not the God who places His own Son, God Himself, on the violent cross to bring peace to the world? Is it not the God who demands our own violent ethical death in order to partake of that cross which is the only path to renewed peace(right relationship)with Him, and thereby Life eternal? Is it not the God who takes the time to create a whip in order to drive out the money changers in defence of those being misled and abused? Is it not the God who says, ‘Deliver such a one over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord’? (1 Cor. 5:5) ‘No, I dare say there is no peace without violence! Someone must die! The only question then, becomes, ‘What does the violence look like that God wants to accomplish in this particular time and place, through this particular vessel which He now inhabits; whether that be the individual or corporate present re-presentation of Christ?’

    If you want to learn how to ‘live gently in a violent world’ then look to God, and his temporal existence as the incarnate Christ, who is far more patient, gracious, merciful and, yes, gentle than we have any right to imagine; particularly in His violence.

    Disclaimer: Having not read the book I am simply responding to the portion and questions proposed. One does hope that this is just a case of contextual misunderstanding.

    Thursday, April 2, 2009 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

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