Skip to content

Why can’t Hauerwas just be a witness?

In the final chapter of of With the Grain of the Universe, Hauerwas reaches something of an apogee in stating his view of the importance of the church’s witness in relation to the truthfulness of the Christian message:

Does the truth of Christian convictions depend on the faithfulness of the church and, if so, how do we determine what would constitute faithfulness? Am I suggesting that the ability of the church to be or not to be nonviolent is constitutive for understanding what it might meant [sic] to claim that that Christian convictions are true? Do I think the truthfulness of Christian witness is compromised when Christians accept the practices of the “culture of death” — abortion, suicide, capital punishment, and war?

Yes! On every count the answer is “Yes.” (p. 231)

Meditate long and hard on what’s being said here. As far as I can tell Hauerwas is saying outright that the truth of Christianity, the truth of the gospel depends on the church’s own faithfulness. This, to me seems like a crazy statement. Its one thing to say that we have no way to talk about the gospel’s truth apart from listening to witnesses (whether they be apostolic witnesses, historical witness, or ecclesial witnesses). But it is quite another to say that the truth of the gospel depends on us being nonviolent.

Or, simply put, if Hauerwas is right then the gospel simply cannot be true because “the church” no matter what sort of content we try to fill that term with is manifestly violent and unfaithful.

Even when I was at my most sympathetic towards Hauerwas, I still couldn’t get behind what was being said in this book. Because what’s going on here is a fundamental redefinition of the very meaning of “witness.” Hauerwas’s attempt to get beyond Barth’s allegedly faulty ecclesiology (see p. 193) actually runs completely contrary to Barth’s whole understanding of witness. For Barth a witness is, well, a witness, someone who reports what they have seen.  Witnesses point outside of themselves to a reality fundamentally other than they. Thus, the truth of the reality witnessed to is in no way dependent on the witness. The credibility of the witnessing account may well be dependent on the life and word of the witness, but the object witnessed to is not.

For some reason (and really, I’m not sure what), Hauerwas will not content himself with saying that the credibility of the church’s message depends on its faithfulness (which is obviously true and right). He is bound and determined to go further and say that the truth of that message itself is at stake in our own moral performance. If we perform badly, somehow the gospel isn’t true anymore. The very truth of the gospel has found itself inextricably internal to our own moral effort and achievement (though of course Hauerwas uses the language of gift for the church’s nonviolent witness).

So why? Why does Hauerwas want not merely the gospel’s credibility, but its very truth to depend upon our faithfulness? What does making that move accomplish? Why is this better than simply making the far more plausible and intelligible argument that the gospel’s credibility rather than its truth is at stake in our faithfulness or lack thereof? Why is it so important that, at the most fundamental level everything must depend on us?


  1. Nate Kerr wrote:

    I am convinced that all of this hinges on a (perhaps willed) forgetfulness that the heart of the gospel, the very good news itself, is that of justification by grace through faith; or, maybe better, it is a (perhaps willed) refusal that the gospel simply is what J. Louis Martyn calls “apocalyptic rectification.”

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 12:32 am | Permalink
  2. dan wrote:

    How does this relate to the concessions Hauerwas makes to his critics when they point out the seeming dissonance between his life and his theology?

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 12:46 am | Permalink
  3. Austin wrote:

    Perhaps Hauerwas is making just as much a claim about “truth” as he is about “Christian truth.” Perhaps (and I’ve only read part of that book, so I’m not fully sure) he’s attempting to redefine truth in terms of a more coherentist theory of truth, so that this comment would make sense of a the “apostolic witness.” In other words, we have the apostolic witness, that witnesses to a nonviolent life of reconciliation; the gospel, witnessing to an event that (as in Kierkegaard’s thought) cannot properly or fully be spoken of because of its nature; and so this truth depends on the witness following certain practices which instantiate (somehow) that presence.

    Of course, I’m not really sure. Just an attempt to be charitable to his view, if possible.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 4:30 am | Permalink
  4. kim fabricius wrote:

    Hauerwas’ error is a direct result of the postliberal collapse of Christology into ecclesiology. It is also related to his Lindbeckian theological epistemology of the determination of truth by performance. In How to Read Karl Barth: The Shape of His Theology (1991), George Hunsinger nicely sums up the difference between Barth and Lindbeck on the relationship between the cognitive and the performative:

    “What would finally seem to characterize Barth’s overall position on the relationship between self-involvement and truth … is not the dependence of truth on self-involvement, but the dependence of self-involvement on truth… Rightness and truthfulness are by no means irrelevant to the valid assertion of truth, but neither are they final and overriding conditions for its possibility. They always have an important and powerful role to play, but never so important that they can condition and determine the truth of assertions embedded in the gospel itself. Even in situations where such assertions are badly abused by adherents, their truth retains objective superiority over the abuse” (pp. 172-73).

    Ironically, Hauerwas here also demonstrates a lack of the virtue that he rightly insists, following Yoder, is pre-eminent for the church’s witness to the Nonviolent One: patience.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 4:50 am | Permalink
  5. Gene McCarraher wrote:

    I second Kim’s remarks about “the postliberal collapse of Christology into ecclesiology.” Hauerwas has always displayed what I’d call an ecclesial fetishism. I’d suggest that his fetishization of “the Church” — something he shares with Milbank and others in RO — stems in part from a reluctance to think through the sacramental dimension of the Church: in other words, the Church is a sacrament of the future kingdom, not the instantiation of the future kingdom. And it’s the sacrament of a reconciled humanity, not of itself.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 6:02 am | Permalink
  6. Charlie Collier wrote:

    Hauerwas student here, if not to the rescue, then at least to a clarification, and to his partial defense. For starters, I think this is basically a version of what Yoder says about the truth of the gospel being about reconciliation (I’ll post a quote when I’m back in the office with my books). If, as Yoder says repeatedly, the work of God is the calling of a people, what does it say about God’s work if there is no people? I think this is related to why Hauerwas often says the killing of all Jews would surely eventuate the end times, for God is truly bound to his people. All of this would suggest that, if there’s a problem in what Hauerwas is doing, it has its roots elsewhere in more than “postliberalism” (Yoder himself not being a postliberal). For another, surely there must be some unbreakable theological connection between the body of Christ and its head. Or, to put the point in the form of a rhetorical question, would one want to defend the thesis that the gospel is both true and disembodied? For (some) Roman Catholics, this unbreakable connection yields the doctrine of impeccability. Yoder explicitly disavows impeccability, and I suspect Hauerwas does too, but here I think Hauerwas (in Yoder’s wake) is claiming that there can be no post-ascencion christology—which every christology must be—that doesn’t necessarily entail an ecclesiology. Or, to reference Gene’s comments, how can a sign be a sacrament without sharing in, or participating in, that to which it points?

    All of this said, it cracks me up that, at least in this extract as it stands, Hauerwas’s answer to his own question—”if so, how do we determine what would constitute faithfulness?”—is “Yes!”

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 7:02 am | Permalink
  7. Wilson wrote:

    Hauerwas does not here make a claim about the truthfulness of the Gospel being contingent upon anything. The contingency is upon the people of the church: do they live lives that are true in light of the Gospel? Id est, if I support war and suicide and claim to be witnessing to Christian Truth, I am not. I am a liar, in actions more than words (and I am not accepting here a distinction between actions and words). The Church can lie in its witness to Truth when it supports war, abortion, et al. It no longer witnesses to Christianity when it does this. It witnesses to something else.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 7:14 am | Permalink
  8. Unrelated, but I just have to say: I’m lovin’ the fact that Mean Gene’s making himself present in the blogosphere!

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 7:36 am | Permalink
  9. I appreciate Hauerwas on this point. At least it forces Christians to stop smugly talking about the kingdom and I see a deep resonance here with a desire to see this world changed, rather than just waiting around until the Apocalyptic God comes and destroys the very conditions for victim-hood or sovereignty.

    I realize that isn’t in vogue though and that this sort of apocalyptic view of Christianity is what allows the beautiful-soulism of fringe groups persist.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 8:20 am | Permalink
  10. Dave wrote:

    I think Wilson’s clarification is helpful. One’s witness–our “Christian convictions”–cannot be separated from our practices, and so the lives of the faithful must be considered alongside our creeds, prayers, and writings. What Hauerwas is suggesting in this excerpt is that even with the most orthodox theological pronouncements, a church that participates in the Culture of Death is a church bearing a false witness. Like Wilson said, the claim is not that a violent church somehow “undoes” the truthfulness of the Gospel. It’s only that a violent church undoes the truthfulness of its own witness to that Gospel. I think this is fairly clear from the wording Hauerwas uses. He is talking about exactly what Halden wishes he were talking about: the Gospel’s credibility, rather than its truth. The issue is that he uses the language of the “truthfulness of Christian witness” to connote what many would call “the credibility of the Gospel”.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 8:25 am | Permalink
  11. Charlie Collier wrote:

    Yes, JKA Smith, great that Mean Gene is in the house. Perhaps this makes me uncomfortably close to JPII’s newly revealed habits of self-flagellation, but I look forward to a proper ass-kickin’!

    Here’s the Yoder passage I had in mind: “If it is not the case that there are in a given place people of various characters and origins who have been brought together in Jesus Christ, then there is not in that place the new humanity and in that place the gospel is not true.” The Royal Priesthood, p. 75.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 8:27 am | Permalink
  12. dbarber wrote:

    Echoing Anthony, I think that what is central to Hauerwas’s statement is the conviction that if the gospel is to be credible, it must be visible and sensible. I do not see why this would be objectionable, unless one’s understanding of truth is so transcendent as to be unaffected by what happens in the world. (Which, I suppose, is one way to read apocalyptic – though not mine).

    I see Hauerwas here taking a very honest stand on a basic challenge that any substantive claim about reality must face – namely, how what is conceived and what is enacted resonate? I’d be interested in hearing some of Hauerwas’s critics provide their own alternative answers to this question … Which is to say that it’s pretty lazy, intellectually speaking, to say, as Kerr does, that Hauerwas has “forgotten (perhaps willfully) the heart of the gospel.”

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 9:43 am | Permalink
  13. Aric Clark wrote:

    I think this is largely just an issue of hyperbole. Hauerwas often sounds like the lone voice in the wilderness and it makes him more extreme. He (rightly) really wants to hammer home the importance of nonviolence, and merely saying that the church’s failure to be nonviolent has damaged the credibility of our witness sounds… weak.

    He might have some ground to push on the definiiton of witness though. The Greek word is “martyr”, and there are an awful lot of examples in the early church, starting with Stephen, of Christian “witnesses” closely emulating Jesus’ nonviolence. Is a witness not a wee bit more than someone pointing their finger? Maybe a witness is someone who actually reflects the thing they are witnessing to.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 9:45 am | Permalink
  14. Aric Clark wrote:

    To build on that last point… would Stephen have been a witness to Jesus Christ if he had died screaming invectives at his murderers and calling curses on them?

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 9:46 am | Permalink
  15. KC wrote:

    He has said elsewhere: “Christians are people who remain convinced that the truthfulness of their beliefs must be demonstrated in their lives.” I think statements like this reflect the fact that Hauerwas was greatly influenced by Paul Holmer (and through him Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein). I think it makes a bit more sense if you throw those names in there, and at least it reflects the degree to which Hauerwas wants to hold together belief and behavior.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 10:35 am | Permalink
  16. Kudos to Dave…it’s true. Hauerwas is a rabble-rouser for sure, but I think his language here is carefully chosen. Look at each reference to ‘truth’ and ask, is this about the truthfulness of the Gospel itself or the truthfulness of the Church’s witness (italics):

    “Does the truth of Christian convictions depend on the faithfulness of the church?”

    “Am I suggesting that the ability of the church to be or not to be nonviolent is constitutive for understanding what it might meant [sic] to claim that that Christian convictions are true?”

    “Do I think the truthfulness of Christian witness</b? is compromised when Christians accept the practices of the “culture of death” — abortion, suicide, capital punishment, and war?"

    If Hauerwas (or Lindbeck) were here, do you think he would have any problem disagreeing with us when we say that the Gospel is false because of the failure of Christian witness?

    Or would they rather say that when you deny that truth by faulty performance you render the communication of that truth void?

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 10:38 am | Permalink
  17. Frick…missed a when bolding. You get the point.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 10:38 am | Permalink
  18. Otherwise he would have written:

    “Does the truth of the Gospel depend on the faithfulness of the church?”, etc.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 10:39 am | Permalink
  19. Theophilus wrote:

    So when talking about “Christian convictions” you’re assuming that this refers to “convictions that are held by people who identify themselves as Christians” rather than “convictions which are in line with an ideal/faithful Christian faith”? That’s basically the only way I can accept the Hauerwas quote. There’s also the question of whether Christianity is defined by those who claim to practice it or by faithfulness to Jesus and all that entails, but that’s another question.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 11:12 am | Permalink
  20. james wrote:

    I was in the seminar that edited this manuscript of Hauerwas’. He went further in class saying straightforwardly that if the faithful church failed to exist so would God. This drew puzzled looks from the class.

    A Catholic student pointed out that the body of Christ is present in the sacrament apart from the faithful witness of the church, just its sacramental performance. Basically the Mass is the witness. This appealed to Stan. I believe that line of thinking led him a few weeks later to end the course with the question “Why the hell aren’t we all Catholics then?” Again blank stares from the class. He wanted out of Methodism badly and was feeling the tug of Rome around that time.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 11:33 am | Permalink
  21. Chris Donato wrote:

    Is it appropriate to “amen” a sentiment if you’re not baptist? I’m reminded of Forde on the theologia crucis: “We have a thirst for glory. We feel a certain uneasiness of conscience or even resentment within when the categorical totality of the action of God begins to dawn on us. We are always tempted to return to the safety and assurance of doing something anyway. Generally, it is to be suspected, that is all we planned to do, a little something” ( “On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, 1518,” 92-93).

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 11:34 am | Permalink
  22. Matt wrote:

    Hauerwas – “Am I suggesting that the ability of the church to be or not to be nonviolent is constitutive for understanding what it might mean to claim that Christian convictions are true?”

    Halden – “Why does Hauerwas want not merely the gospel’s credibility, but its very truth to depend upon our faithfulness?”

    I understand that to speak of “the truthfulness of x” is quite different than to speak of “the credibility of x,” but isn’t “the ability to CLAIM x is true” (to paraphrase Hauerwas) the same as saying “x’s credibility”? Seems like the word “truth” in Hauerwas’ first sentence is to be understood in brackets, maybe as a shorthand for “what counts as true.”

    Or maybe I’m making that too easy. I’m no Hauerwas scholar. I spend too much time watching 30 Rock to have time for that.

    Jack Donaghy: “Go to hell, Kenneth”

    Kenneth (with beaming smile): “No thank you, sir!”

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 11:37 am | Permalink
  23. DC Cramer wrote:

    I have used this quote from Hauerwas on numerous occasions and have always taken it precisely in the way Charlie Collier suggests, which I find not only unobjectionable but most certainly correct.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 11:54 am | Permalink
  24. dbarber wrote:

    Extending to my question earlier posed, and taking up on what Matt says — it seems to be that credibility is more fundamental than the question of whether something is ideally true. So, to get upset about whether Hauerwas is denying the abstract/’objective’ truth of something is to miss the point that such a statement is meaningless outside of what we might call a background credibility. Something has gone wrong when the objective truth of a claim can be separated from the credibility of that claim. Resisting this separation is the very point of speaking in terms of witness. (This is why, contra Halden, it would be wrong to separate what is witnessed to from the witnessed.) In my mind, this is the central difficulty with apocalyptic discourse (at least as developed along the lines of Martyn-Kerr-whoever): it makes truth about reality “other” than reality as it is sensed. It evades the basic demand that any truth be falsifiable.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Permalink
  25. dbarber wrote:

    correction: “it would be wrong to separate what is witnessed to from the witness”

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 2:06 pm | Permalink
  26. Stephen wrote:

    I think that you may be forgetting an important point made by your buddy Robert Jenson:
    “Nor does our inability to construe the biblical God’s self-identity otherwise than by dramatic narrative result from inadequate grasp of the narrative. At the chief dramatic peripety within the story told by Israel’s Bible, the Exile, the Lord explicitly puts his self-identity at narrative risk. By the word of the exilic prophets, classically in Isaiah 40-45, JHWH argues his claim that ‘I am the one’ by pointing to his word’s rule of history; he recounts his past promise-keeping, and then makes new promises and challenges all to see how he will keep these as well.”
    ~Systematic Theology: Vol. 1, 65.

    If God ties his own identity to the fulfillment of his promises, why would it be inconsistent to say that the truth of the Gospel is tied to the historical reality of the witnesses to that truth? Especially since Jesus himself predicted that the disciples would be effective witnesses (Acts 1.8).

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 2:33 pm | Permalink
  27. Halden wrote:

    So many excellent comments. A couple thoughts. Maybe it’s as simple as the Augstinian dictum that “We, without God cannot. God without us will not.”

    I agree we cannot separate the witnesses and the one witnessed to, but the question is really about the nature of their connection. I’m still not sure what sense it makes to argue that a witness constitutes the reality it witnesses to. For a witness to be a witness in any meaningful sense it seems like there must be some sort of distance involved. I think Yoder’s statement is much more amenable, measured, and helpful. It is certainly true that the gospel, by its very nature implies and calls forth the church. But that statement seems substantially different from Hauerwas’s (perhaps hyperbolic, one can never tell for sure) claim that the faithfullness of the church makes the Christian message true.

    Or to hit it differently, I can’t seem to get away from Paul’s statement that “We proclaim not ourselves.” It seems to me like Hauerwas wants us to proclaim ourselves in some sense. That seems like too close an identification of Christ and the church.

    That being said, I agree that credibility is the fundamental question for us. That’s why I kind of wish Hauerwas would stop bothering about trying to claim that our faithfulness makes the gospel true in some sort of objective sense. Doesn’t that step obscure rather than clarify anything? So by all means lets focus on how unfaithfulness renders the gospel un-credible. That’s precisely where our focus should be rather than on trying to find ways to grant our faithfulness a sort of metaphysical importance vis a vis the truth and reality of Jesus and salvation or something.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Permalink
  28. Halden wrote:

    Thanks for bringing up Jenson. I meant to mention him. I think its absolutely right to see God’s identity as “bound” to God’s people. But that seems different than claiming that our faithfulness constitutes the truth of the gospel. Rather the truth of the gospel is what makes our faithfulness possible.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 2:54 pm | Permalink
  29. Charlie Collier wrote:

    A question for Nate. In chapter 11 of Politics of Jesus—titled conveniently enough for this conversation, “Justification by Grace through Faith”—Yoder summarizes what he takes to be the standard account: “The act of justification or the status of being just or righteous before God is therefore radically disconnected from any objective or empirical achievement of goodness by the believer.” He then goes on to pose a series of rhetorical questions stemming from the standard account. The first such question is salient: “Was not the central message of the apostle Paul his rejection of any objective dimension to the work of God which could be focused in piety, religious practices, or ethical behavior in such a way as to turn the believer’s attention toward the human works instead of toward the gift of God?” The chapter then works to undermine the standard account, suggesting ultimately that “we may properly understand Paul’s concept of justification as a social phenomenon centering in the reconciliation of different kinds of people” (224). My question for Nate is, wouldn’t this be the version of the doctrine that Hauerwas is “remembering”? And if so, is your problem ultimately with Yoder’s revision of the doctrine?

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 3:22 pm | Permalink
  30. I think you are right Halden. T.F. Torrance could also weigh in here. The vicarious humanity of Christ would suggest that our identity is wrapped up in the truth of the gospel, in Christ, prior to and above any kind of correspondence between the unfaithfulness of the church and the faithfulness of God. That is, God’s binding of his identity to his people must first be Christological before it can be ecclesial. So we participate in the faithfulness of God in Christ, rather than the truth of the gospel being somehow compromised by the church’s unfaithfulness. Sorry thats a messy comment, I’m tired.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Permalink
  31. d stephen long wrote:

    I suppose it depends in part what you think truth is. Is it at least in part ‘made’ such that if there is no ‘making’ there would be no truth? Could Mary have said no and there would have been no incarnation? Israel reject the Torah? Of course. Then the truth is in part made. Or is truth some caricatured platonism where it is secure independent of what occurs in history? I can’t believe Gene is now citing the postliberal collapse of christology into ecclesiology. That the church is traditionally one of the threefold forms of the body of Christ was not — FOR GOD’S SAKE — invented by Lindbeck. Lets get over that trite criticism. Read the tradition. It has been around for a long time.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Permalink
  32. Derrick wrote:

    I think thats a great quote by Jenson but I agree with Halden. I think in Jenson’s theology it does precisely the opposite of what Hauerwas is supposedly doing: God tying himself to history in His identity is precisely a guarantee for Jenson about how God Himself will fulfill His promises. Jenson’s pneumatology seems to support this: the Spirit, as God’s own future, is our future and vindicates the contingencies of history into a “narrative whole” precisely by exceeding them and being something which is unexpected in advance but perfectly necessary in retrospect. The “narrative risk” of God’s identity here seems to mean then less that the gospel is reliant upon our faithful proclamation than that God assumes within Himself and opens Himself up precisely to the very failures and complexities of history while nonetheless maintaining His own ability to be faithful to His promises.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Permalink
  33. yeah. I retract my previous comments.

    If there’s no faithful church then how could the gospel be true in any meaningful sense? The truth of the gospel depends on faithful witness because the result of faithful witnesses is inextricable from the gospel.

    And without faithful witnesses why would it matter anyways?

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 4:57 pm | Permalink
  34. Theophilus wrote:

    “Pilate asked him [Jesus], ‘What is truth?’” (John 18:38a)

    I’m getting suspicious of this notion that truth’s existence is relative and tied to perception, rather than the notion that truth’s existence is the nature of reality, whether it is recognized as such or not. Pilate in the above comment is attempting to squirm out of the implications of Jesus’ blunt statements regarding the truth by problematizing the truth’s absolute ontological status. It would take some serious convincing for me to accept that Pilate’s dodge is actually a legitimately Christian understanding of the nature of the truth – it sure looks like an understanding of truth complicit in the crucifixion of the Son of God.

    This isn’t directed so specifically at The Charismanglican. It’s more a response to any number of comments suggesting that Hauerwas is actually OK because of a squishier definition of truth. So, like The Charismanglican, I’m retracting my previous comment. I can’t really accept Hauerwas’s comments as a defensible argument.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 7:03 pm | Permalink
  35. Halden wrote:

    But then what saves us? Jesus’ own action for us or our faithfulness to his commands?

    That’s the rub, isn’t it? To say that we make the gospel true seems to require the belief that we ultimately our somehow our own savior rather than Jesus.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 7:26 pm | Permalink
  36. Halden wrote:

    Steve, if we “in part” “make” the gospel true, doesn’t that mean that we at least “in part” bring about our own salvation? If not, why not?

    Seriously asking here. The question of Pelagianism is dogging me as I continue to think through this conversation.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 7:37 pm | Permalink
  37. Halden wrote:

    Let me jump back in here with a big picture comment. Yes it is absolutely true that if there are no faithful witnesses the gospel clearly cannot be true. That is fine and good. But it is also a far fucking cry from what Hauerwas says in the segment I quoted. Look at it again:

    “Am I suggesting that the ability of the church to be or not to be nonviolent is constitutive for understanding what it might meant [sic] to claim that that Christian convictions are true?” [Emphasis added]

    What this seems to inescapably say is that the church’s ability to be violent makes the gospel not true. That is, if the church is, in any sense unfaithful at all the gospel is false, is it not?

    Its one thing to say that the gospel by its very nature requires (and brings about!) faithful witnesses and if there were none the gospel would be false. But that is an utterly different matter from claiming that our faithfulness or lack thereof makes the gospel true or false.

    Or to hit the matter differently, as Charlie has mentioned earlier, if we are to affirm Hauerwas’s claim we have to fall back on a strong doctrine of the church’s infallibility, and thus of course to a strong doctrine of “the invisible church” since obviously the church, in history, is rampantly unfaithful. That seems to be the only way that Hauerwas’s statements can be tenable.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 7:54 pm | Permalink
  38. Brad A. wrote:

    Halden, when I first read the quote, I was largely with you in your concern; now rereading it, I think Charlie’s take is the most convincing, and his Yoder quote substantiates that in my mind.

    Consider an alternative take on Hauerwas’s three questions. In the first, where he says “the truth of Christian convictions,” he could be read to say not “the truth about which Christians are convinced,” but rather, “the authenticity of Christian convictions” depends on the faithfulness of the church. In the second (which is hampered by awkward wording, in my opinion), he asks whether the ability of the church to be faithful is constitutive for claiming Christian convictions are true. Of course, for if it is ultimately impossible for the church to be faithful, those convictions cannot possibly be true. The third, then, most explicitly addresses the truthfulness or authenticity of Christian witness, rather than the integrity of the truth to which Christians witness.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 8:22 pm | Permalink
  39. Halden wrote:

    I’m largely in agreement Brad. But I think that Hauerwas still goes to far. In short, I don’t think he’s just saying “For the gospel to be true there must be faithfulness.” He seems to also be saying “And any unfaithfulness puts that truth in question.”

    I’d affirm the first, but not the second, and I’d steer clear of any sort of causal language for the church’s faithfulness and the gospel’s truth.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 8:28 pm | Permalink
  40. dbarber wrote:

    But why should one accept Christian convictions if those convictions have no witness? I think this is the question that Hauerwas is taking quite seriously.

    And I might add: Why is it so important for one to maintain that those convictions are true independently of their material-social expression? (i.e., what sort of desire does one have if one is so invested in this independence?)

    Again, I think it is difficult for a claim to be credible if it is not falsifiable. And what seems to be bothersome to many here is the possibility of falsifiability. From my perspective, it is precisely such an investment in the denial of this possibility that is in greatest need of explanation.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 8:38 pm | Permalink
  41. Nate Kerr wrote:

    Damn it, Charlie, why can’t you just let me shoot from the hip like the great Texan himself? At any rate, there are several things I’d like to say in regards to your questions, and to this conversation as a whole, which means that this comment could very easily get out of hand in terms of length. So let me try to address your question regarding Yoder’s reading of justification, and then add some comments with regards to Hauerwas.

    First of all, I’m not sure that the issue is quite as simple as you put it with regards to Yoder. For one, Yoder is clear that his concern in the chapter in question is not with “expositing all of Paul’s thought on justification,” nor even to dismiss entirely the “standard account” tout court, but rather to defend against the exclusion of the “messianic” socio-political dimension in Paul (215n.2, 226). In this respect, I am in complete agreement with Yoder. And I would perhaps want to go further and be stronger on this point than is Yoder: justification for Paul just is that action of God to set right what has gone wrong through the enslavement of the cosmos to the sinful powers, and the upshot of this setting things right is a new creation whose sign and sacrament is the liberated sociality of self-giving agape that we call “the church.” Furthermore, I think that this understanding obviates the conditions upon which Yoder poses his rhetorical questions. Some kind of “competition” between “objective or empirical” human goodness or “human works” and God’s grace is only operative when one accepts the paradigm that justification is about the forensic status of one’s own being righteous before God. An apocalyptic, messianic reading of justification does not eschew an “objective” connection between God’s rectifying action and human “work” as such; it requires and entails such a connection, as rooted in the apocalyptic prevenience of God’s grace, which alone is constitutive of that connection. And so no less a Lutheran than Ernst Kaesemann will insist that such an apocalyptic understanding of justiffication can in no way be used to support a distinction between God’s rectifying act (the “righteousness of faith” of Christ) and “righteousness of life.” So I would certainly say that it is at the heart of the gospel that God has promised not to be without the presence of the church in history (to paraphrase Barth). In history, “the daily life of the church is the scene of God’s rectification, not an addition to it” (Martyn, Galatians, 524).

    Where I do disagree with Yoder’s revision of the doctrine is where he follows Stendahl and Cullmann in articulating a fundamentally covenantal and Heilsgeschichtlich reading of this rectifying action. Yoder’s agreement with Stendahl’s reading of the fullness of time as simply the opening up of the Jewish covenant to the ingathering of the Gentiles flirts too closely with a certain form of covenantal nomism that sits uneasily with the more thoroughgoing cosmological apocalyptic perspective of chapters like “Christ and Power” and “The War of the Lamb.” (I suspect that Yoder would side with Stendahl and the New Perspective over thinkers like Kaesemann and Martyn here.)

    This is relevant to Hauerwas’ position here, insofar as this reading of Paul is to reinscribe a nomistic account of moral discourse which construes ethics as a “production of virtue.” Ironically, this emphasis upon “production” (which one finds in With the Grain of the Universe) is actually to sever the objective connection between God’s action and human work established by God’s apocalyptic grace by instituting a dialectical, self-reflexive subjective moment which conditions the emergence of the objective truth. This is what I mean by Hauerwas’ Hegelianism and idealism. And I take it that Hauerwas gets this from MacIntyre, which is the lens through which he reads Yoder (Stout is helpful here, of course). In this respect, what I have tried to show in the chapter on Hauerwas in my book is that Hauerwas’ account of the truthfulness of Christ’s lordship is dependent upon a metanarratival theory of human action in which the church as socio-linguistic community of virtue is rendered the agent of the Christ-story, such that the production of virtue conditions the truth of Christ’s lordship (this theory of human agency must supply the total context for Halden’s quote given above; in other words, Hauerwas’ position here cannot simply be parsed from what he says there). Thus we have the dilemma that forms the basis for my shot-from-the-hip comment above: if this conception of human action conditions the truth of the gospel, then either Hauerwas leans more in the direction of the Teachers than of Paul in his understanding of justification, or justification is not itself the truth of the gospel (which is really what I meant by my comment — we may be presuming and teaching different “gospels”). For like the Teachers who operate a preconceived theory of the Law which conditions their understading of God’s rectifying act, Hauerwas appears to operate according to a theory of human action that analogously conditions what he considers the truth of the gospel. To that, I suppose I should respond only as Hauerwas himself has in other contexts: If you need a particular theory of human action to render the truth of the gospel, then “worship your fucking theory!”

    I should like to end then by saying that I have no problem with the Yoder quote above as regards the presence of the new humanity in a given place and the truth of the gospel, nor even with the main thrust of Yoder’s revision of the doctrine of justification or even with the idea that God’s apocalyptic act is indicative of and objectively bound up with particular “moral actions” (whatever that phrase means). What I have a problem with is the logic of human action which makes the production of such “moral actions” constitutive of that objective relation, rather than the lived explication of it. And so, to continue with the next sentence in The Royal Priesthood which follows immediately upon that which Charlie quoted: “If, on the other hand, this miracle of new creation has occurred, then all the verbalizations and interpretations whereby this body communicates to the world around it are simply explications of the fact of its presence (75; emphasis added).

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 10:58 pm | Permalink
  42. Halden wrote:

    Dan, I think I’ve sketched above that I agree that Christian convictions require faithful witnessess (this is Yoder’s point that Charlie has brought up). But Hauerwas goes further in (seemingly) claiming that any act of unfaithfulness (violence) imperils the truth of the gospel. So I don’t dispute that the gospel requires faithful witnesses. I just don’t see why the sort of perfectionism/idealism that Hauerwas grasps after is warranted.

    Also I think you’re indluging in too much psychoanalysis here (“what sort of desire does one have . . .”). Shouldn’t we be more interested in examining the merits of the arguments than in inquiring about the alleged pathologies we want to identify in those with whom we disagree? It seems to me that we could interrogate one anothers’ pathologies all day long and be doing little more than engaging in a round about sort of self-congratulation.

    But I do want to say that I do indeed think the point about falsifiability is important. But I don’t think that Hauerwas’s way of engaging this question is the only one, or that approaches critical of his are simply camouflaged evasions of this problem. The question is what really would falsify the gospel? Is it my or my church’s moral performance? Hauerwas would seem to say yes. I’m not so sure that my or my church’s moral successes or failures are so fantastically important as to be able to falsify or confirm the gospel.

    Now there may be all manner of things that could falsify the gospel. For me personally, if it could be shown that Jesus never rose from the dead, or never existed, the gospel clearly could not be true. So I’m not evading the charge of falsifiability. I’m just not sure why claiming that the truth of gospel depends on the utter perfection of the church is the only way to take the question seriously.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 11:04 pm | Permalink
  43. In part did Mary give birth to our salvation? Didn’t Peter admonish them to ‘save yourselves from this corrupt generation’.

    We are saved by God’s good grace. Which is gracious enough to move in and through us.

    It’s not Pelagianism to think those things, right?

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 11:38 pm | Permalink
  44. I think Pilate’s question is a great one. And I think Jesus’ faithfulness is the only answer.

    This is not a denial of truth’s existence, but rather that truth has a particular kind of existence.

    The truth is not a thing for us, but a man: Jesus. And he has a body, the church. And if there’s no faithful church, doesn’t it follow that there’s no Jesus?

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 11:41 pm | Permalink
  45. Halden wrote:

    I think Peter said “be saved from this perverse generation” and Mary said “Let it be to me according to your will”. This is not “action”. This is simply an accepting “Yes” to God’s own singular action for us and on our behalf.

    This seems to me to be quite different than saying that we “make” our own salvation. If we make it, we don’t receive it as gift, the free gift of God.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 11:42 pm | Permalink
  46. I’m not sure I can separate our faithfulness to his commands from his own action…that would indeed be Pelagianism. But what would it mean for Jesus’ action to be true if he had no faithful followers? It’s so incredibly speculative that I wonder why we’re asking it…or why I fell for it in the first place.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 11:43 pm | Permalink
  47. Halden wrote:

    Come on. This is way over-literalizing the language of “the body.” Do you think that an individual is Jesus’s literal hand? Are we just making him ascend into the church without remainder? What about the actual human body of Jesus? Doesn’t that matter for how we talk about his embodiment?

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 11:44 pm | Permalink
  48. Halden wrote:

    We MUST separate our faithfulness from Jesus’s action! We follow him. We worship him. Indeed our faithfulness depends utterly and in every way on him.

    Maybe we’re talking dumbshittily past each other here and saying something similar. I don’t know because its now quite late and the bourbon is taking its lovely toll.

    But what I’m saying is that while Jesus’s action evokes and brings forth our faithful witness, we cannot reverse that statement in some kind of causal way. Jesus’s action makes us faithful. Our faithfulness does not make Jesus’s action, rather it responds to it.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 11:49 pm | Permalink
  49. If Hauerwas is claiming that the truth of the gospel depends on the utter perfection of the church then would he have provocatively suggested joining the Roman Catholics? Surely he doesn’t think our RC brothers and sisters are perfectly faithful witnesses?

    In a practical way of thinking, the unfaithful acts of the church have imperiled the truth of the gospel.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 11:55 pm | Permalink
  50. I promise you…my dumshittery is alcohol free. This is how dumb I am SOBER. :)

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 11:58 pm | Permalink
  51. Halden wrote:

    No, they have imperiled our truthfulness, our credibility, our witness to the gospel. That’s not the same thing.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 12:01 am | Permalink
  52. Halden wrote:

    Well then drink, man!

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 12:01 am | Permalink
  53. I don’t understand how sacrament works, Halden. I’m not sure I fully get how we are ‘re-membered’ into Christ’s body. I’m not sure if I can hash it own with terms like ‘literal’, ‘figurative’ or ‘metaphor’…all terms that can be slippery in themselves.

    You seem to think that the Resurrection of Jesus is essential for the validity of the gospel. Why not the church? If Jesus rose from the dead and there were no church, would the gospel be true? Would we even know or care about it? Would it even matter?

    So maybe fully understanding how literal that is, or how/where is Jesus’ human resurrection body isn’t fully important to this discussion.

    We agree that truth is a man, right?

    I’ve been wanting to read Gerhard Lohfinks Does God Need the Church? I’m wondering if it would shed some light here. I know it’s influenced Hauerwas, but nobody’s mentioned it.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 12:04 am | Permalink
  54. Do you really think that the bread and wine is Jesus’ body and blood? That’s a similar question. That relation is a mystery, but true.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 12:06 am | Permalink
  55. Halden wrote:

    I agree that it is a mystery. But I want to avoid a way of theologically appropriating language that will allow certain notions of sacramental unity to override any notion of Christ’s independence from us. Otherwise I think we end up simply parroting ideology (“We are Christ on earth, do what we say!”).

    To discount Christ’s independence from the church seems to me to depart too deeply from the deep grammar of the New Testament. It also seems to chuck the idea of the parousia out the window.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 12:10 am | Permalink
  56. - Unfaithful witness does not necessarily mean that Jesus isn’t Lord.
    - If there were no faithfulness, then that would necessarily mean that Jesus is not Lord.

    Do we agree on these two things? That would be a start :) Let’s find some common ground and work it from there.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 12:10 am | Permalink
  57. Halden wrote:

    Yeah, I’m totally with you on that. Now I must take another sip of the old Four Roses.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 12:16 am | Permalink
  58. God’s good gift is to make these things along with us. A discussion of God’s emptying of himself, his willingness to submit, his apparent willingness to change his mind at human request, and deification all seem to relate.

    One type of gift is something we have nothing to do with. I don’t think the gospel is like that, nor Mary’s ‘fiat mihi’, nor Peter’s admonishment to be saved (whichever the translation).

    It’s probably not the strongest metaphor, but there’s a difference between giving my son a go-cart and building a go-cart with my son.

    Maybe I’m just not a big ‘transcendance’ guy. Jesus is Lord, but he’s a certain type of Lord. He dignifies rather than denigrates those in his court.

    There’s an amazing chapter on Mary in On Being Catholic by Thomas Howard. He says it alot better than I could.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 12:19 am | Permalink
  59. Bobby Grow wrote:

    I am in agreement with Halden on this.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 12:20 am | Permalink
  60. Halden wrote:

    I’m certainly not saying that God doesn’t act in ways that carry us up into his action. Only that the action is fundamentally his in a singular way.

    Remember, “We proclaim not ourselves.”

    And I don’t know what kind of transcendence “denigrates” but its certainly not the kind I have in mind. The transcendence of the God of the Gospel is always and only one that liberates.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 12:22 am | Permalink
  61. Now let’s separate some of these terms. Can we admit that these don’t have to mean the same thing?

    - Jesus is Lord (…rose from the dead, etc)
    - the gospel
    - the truthfulness of the gospel
    - the truth of Christian convictions
    - the truthfulness of Christian witness

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 12:23 am | Permalink
  62. agreed. on all.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 12:24 am | Permalink
  63. Halden wrote:

    Well, let me say this and see where it takes us:

    The Gospel is that God raised Jesus from the dead, thus bringing about a new creation and defeating the powers of sin and death. That this is true is the fundamental conviction of Christians and the object of our witness which is sometimes faithful and sometimes faulty.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 12:25 am | Permalink
  64. love him or hate him, Stan really knows how to get the conversation going!

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 12:29 am | Permalink
  65. Halden wrote:

    Don’t you have, like, a family and stuff? Why are you even up right now?

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 12:32 am | Permalink
  66. That was two hours ago :)
    1. I’m on Pacific time
    2. I work as an assistant to my wife. She sleeps while I edit photos
    3. I’m a night person

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 2:38 am | Permalink
  67. Doug Johnson wrote:

    Have only picked through the comments piecemeal, but here’s my two cents:

    First, a terrific post; just the kind of thing that genuine “journalism,” theological or otherwise, should aim for. And that’s true even though my basic stance is to agree with responses such as APS and d barber.

    Second, I think it might be helpful to simply set forth the two (or three) intellectual sources of Hauerwas’s extension-rejection of Barthianism here: Methodism (corrected by Yoder) and Wittgenstein (by the way, if d barber is still reading, would be interested to tease out the question of falsifiability – it’s a notion of Popper’s, who in many ways thought of everything he did as anti-Wittgenstein).

    I’d also just like to suggest, as I’ve done elsewhere with certain participants in this discussion, that the primary meaning of grace is not a Lutheran rejection of works, but rather a Pauline inclusion of the Gentiles. So, God’s activity in widening the covenant in new ways is central to grace, but the idea that ‘none of it depends on us’ is an accidental feature of Paul and the early church’s precise circumstances (and there are great ways of reading Paul that seriously qualify this ‘none of it depends on us’ schtuff). To put things differently, if the truth of the gospel is dependent on Jesus’ faithfulness, and the church is now the body of Jesus, then why reject the notion that ecclesial unfaithfulness puts the truth of the Gospel in question. Like it or not, all the shit mentioned in your next post on the Manhattan Declaration *does* put the truth of the gospel in question in serious ways.

    And this is why those who hope, collectively, to be faithful to the gospel in resistance to such shit, have to consistently reinvent the gospel with the help of the vast array of past resources.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 2:52 am | Permalink
  68. Doug Johnson wrote:

    Continuing to piece through the comments here … I think Nate has finally perhaps put his finger most clearly on where there is a massive gap between Yoder’s apocalypticism and Martyn’s. Thanks! No time to work this all out in a comment section here, but Yoder is very right to hold together ‘the war of the lamb’ and his own peculiar version of covenantal nomism. Martyn’s way of handling such material is really, really terrible. In fact, at times, Martyn is almost guilty of going beyond radical supersessionism to outright anti-semitism (witness his strange suggestion in the Galatians commentary that Paul is suggesting that the Torah was delivered to Moses demonically – brrllllbb!). There are things to be liked about Martyn, but at the end of the day, a Yoderian, Marxist, Jewish apocalypticism has to be preferred (and is really the best check against the imperial dangers of Martyn’s – and Augustine’s, at least Augustine’s dominant form of – apocalypticism).

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 3:07 am | Permalink
  69. dbarber wrote:

    Halden, what I meant by desire was not a personal thing, not “my” or “your” desire, but “one”‘s desire. And by no means is desire a pathology for me! I just think that desire is central to truth (which is not only a Lacanian/Freudian insight but also an Augustinian/Platonic one) — in the sense that the sort of desire one has will significantly shape how one thinks about truth.

    I hear what you are saying about an alternative mode of falsifiability. However, I disagree with it. I doubt that anyone accepts or rejects Christian convictions on the basis of factual proof regarding whether or not Jesus lived and/or was raised. This may be my bias, I suppose, but for me it’s a political question (politics being broadly construed here): if Christianity proclaims an alternative mode of existence, and one finds that mode of existence compelling, then one finds Christianity compelling … but the link here is the church, and how can one discern whether or not Christianity can credibly be what it claims to be if the church does not materially express Christian convictions? For me (and I imagine for Hauerwas) this is what matters.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 5:32 am | Permalink
  70. Adrian wrote:

    Couldn’t agree more! Forde, as Chris Donato has so wonderfully cited, is fantastic on this issue, and a theologian who definitely understands that the heart of the gospel is justification. His book “justification: a matter of death and life” echoes this sentiment perfectly.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 5:40 am | Permalink
  71. Chris Donato wrote:

    Doug, there’s a big difference between seeing that “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” and the suggestion that the good news goes through some kind of metamorphisis when those who confess it fuck up. Of course ecclesiastical “dumbshittery” (to use one of my favortie Haldian slurs) causes folks to question the gospel’s veracity. But, thanks be to God, his utter faithfulness to his covenant, his hesed, dictates that he will finish what he started.

    Moreover, one can say that “the primary meaning of grace is not merely a Lutheran [better: reformational] rejection of works, but also a Pauline inclusion of the Gentiles.” Your bifurcation is unwarranted. The “works of Torah” were the very things God’s people Israel were using to keep the Gentiles excluded.

    The point, for me at least, isn’t that our actions mean nothing (not least as the organic body of Christ on earth) but rather that “to surrender the ‘wisdom’ of law and works, or better, to have it taken away, is the first indication of what it means to be crucified with Christ” (Gerhard Forde). If Hauerwas’ line of thought is swallowed, with its attendant conflation of law and grace, what makes Christianity so different from all the other attempts to bypass the mercy of God via human will and exertion?

    “What matters, what carries the saving plan forward even though all human agents let God down, is God’s own mercy” (Wright, Romans, p. 639).

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 5:41 am | Permalink
  72. dbarber wrote:

    Doug, that’s a good point wrt Popper/Wittgenstein. I suppose I’m using it in a looser sense than Popper, which is to say that falsifiability has more to do with imagining the possibility of being false (or accepting seriously the burden of proof) rather than being able to “prove” something is false. Which, for me, is not to suspend belief until one can meet certain criteria, the sort of “meta” problem despised by Wittgenstein, but rather to expose one’s beliefs out through their expression (material, social, linguistic, whatever). I take this inseparability of belief and expression to be a fundamental Wittgensteinian insight. And I do think that forms of life do put themselves in question through their contact with one another, which is also a way of imagining the possibility of being false.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 5:46 am | Permalink
  73. dbarber wrote:

    Your problem is with the theory of human action proposed by Hauerwas? Or is it with the mere presence of a theory which “conditions” the gospel? Correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like the latter. Now, if this is the case, then a simple question — are you then saying that your theory (or whatever you want to call it) is not something which conditions the gospel? I find it virtually impossible that you could seriously make such a claim, but at the same time the only way your argument works (if I’m reading it right) is if you are making such a claim. Namely, that Hauerwas conditions the gospel with a theory, but you just name the gospel direct (this sounds like the essence of ideology to me).

    There are, I know you cannot deny, mediations behind every word we speak – so how could something be immediately unconditioned?

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 6:04 am | Permalink
  74. Theophilus wrote:

    I actually can’t accept that truth is a man. I can make a reasonable claim that the truth is that I pay my bills on time. That truth isn’t Jesus. To equate that kind of banal but real truth with Jesus equates God far too closely with creation. Sure, all truths are derived from Jesus as the creator and ground of reality, but saying all truths are Jesus smacks of pantheism.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 7:43 am | Permalink
  75. Halden wrote:

    Thanks for the clarifications, Dan. And as I’ve tried to make clear I do believe that the life of the church is vital to the gospel’s credibility.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 7:44 am | Permalink
  76. d. stephen long wrote:

    Yes — but only in part. I’m a Wesleyan so I do think our will must cooperate with our salvation. We do not save ourselves, only Christ saves us. But he will not save us without our cooperation, including our voluntary works. I wonder if the opposition to Hauewas on this point, which keeps coming up on various blogs, is due to a strong Reformed tendency to eclipse the role of the human will in salvation? Christ is the sole meritorious cause of our salvation, but we must nonetheless cooperate. The holiness tradition — from Menno to Wesley to certain Catholic understandings — acknowledges this. I don’t think the Reformed ever will.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 7:52 am | Permalink
  77. d. stephen long wrote:

    But you miss the point. It is not a question whether truth is in the nature of reality or if it is a matter of perception. Of course Christ is the Truth. He is that eternally and we are created in his image. Yet we are called to embody that truth, to be ‘perfect’ which is to complete our being in the image to which we are made. Truth is not perspectival; it is performative, which does not exclude a correspondence as well. We can have, and must have, both.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 7:54 am | Permalink
  78. Halden wrote:

    I think that whole line about “eclipsing the role of the human” in salvation has less merit than Kim’s claim about the postliberal collapsing christology into ecclesiology. Since when is it denigrating or marginalizing to claim that we don’t save ourselves (“in part” or otherwise)? Why must our role in salvation be understood as one of “making”? Why is it that the only way to think we’re giving human action a fair place in the divine economy is by making human action constitutive of our salvation? What’s wrong with seeing our participation in salvation as one of faithful response (i.e. worship) rather than as “making”? How does that denigrate us?

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 8:32 am | Permalink
  79. mshedden wrote:

    Not that this is exactly what this thread is about but does postliberalism have anything to do “collapse of christology into ecclesiology”? I think Dr. Long is pointing out something important here and that many of the criticisms of postliberalism skip over. Not only was this theory not invented by Lindbeck where does this show up in the work of William Placher, Hans Frei, David Kelsey, David Ford, Kathryn Tanner and others? I don’t think it does but at least lets expand criticisms of postliberalism beyond Hauerwas.
    And as far Lindbeck goes, I think a majority of the criticism he receives can be avoided if understand his short book the same he did, which I would argue is as a pre-theological project not an exposition on dogma. In this case a careful reading of the Forward is the most important part of the book and most overlooked part.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 10:21 am | Permalink
  80. Nate Kerr wrote:


    I suppose that what I am concerned with is not so much theory, as with exegesis — and the nature of exegesis itself. That is, I am not so much concerned first of all with our exegesis of the gospel, as with how the gospel exegetes us. If there is a theory here, it is given concomitantly with the lived operation of God’s apocalyptic action in history. It is the theoria of God that exegetes us, and it is what is constitutive of that exegesis through which we come to know as we are known. It is not so much that we just name the gospel directly, but that we witness to it indirectly.

    As for the question of mediation — our words and actions mediate all kinds of things, no doubt. The church mediates all kinds of things. What we don’t mediate is the Gospel, or faith. Christ alone, as the truth of the gospel, is the mediator of faith — the gospel and faith being inseparable from one another in their event. My fear with Hauerwas’ theory of human action is that it is functions according to a logic of production which is intended to do just that: mediate faith.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 11:19 am | Permalink
  81. Doug Harink wrote:

    I’m picking up this truly interesting thread a bit late. But with reference to your comment here in the last paragraph, Halden: “So by all means let’s focus on how unfaithfulness renders the gospel un-credible,” I might quote Rom 3:3-7: “What if some [of God's people] were unfaithful? Will their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! … But if through my falsehood God’s truthfulness abounds to his glory…” etc. Paul’s point is that God’s reality is demonstrated most radically precisely at that point where the truthfulness of his people has failed most miserably. Of course, Paul immediately heads off the “logical” conclusion of such an argument, because the issue is not about logic but about God’s being faithful in so radical a manner as to evoke the faithfulness of his people. Whether faithful or unfaithful, Israel and the church remain sacraments of the faithfulness of God; on the one hand their blessing, and on the other to their judgment. I think the distinction between sacrament and witness is helpful.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 11:30 am | Permalink
  82. Doug Harink wrote:

    There may be ways of embracing Martyn’s overall apocalypticism without embracing some of his more troublesome claims about the Torah, Judaism and Israel: indeed, of demonstrating that a “Yoderian, Marxist, Jewish apocalypticism” actually requires something like Martyn’s to be sustained as Christian. I’m working on that.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 11:58 am | Permalink
  83. Halden wrote:

    Exactly, Doug. Thanks for bringing in Romans here.

    In addition to the matter of sacrament and witness, I think we also need to be talking about the church as sign.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 12:28 pm | Permalink
  84. Brad A. wrote:

    So Halden, I’m curious: What occasioned this post to begin with?

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 12:42 pm | Permalink
  85. dbarber wrote:

    My apologies, because I am not sure I’m right about this, but … it sounds to me like you are saying this: Hauerwas, due to his theory of human action, makes humans exegete the gospel, but I/Kerr am claiming that the gospel exegetes the gospel. I know this is crudely put, but is this on the mark?

    If so, then to rephrase my question: isn’t Kerr’s statement, “the gospel exegetes the gospel,” of the very same order as Hauerwas’s statement (as read by Kerr), “human action mediates the gospel”? In my view, it is of the same order — there is a difference in the content of Hauerwas’s and Kerr’s statements, but there is no difference in act or form of enunciation. If I’m correct about this, then the statement “Christ alone is the mediator of the faith” is inescapably mediated by the enunciative act of Kerr.

    Once again, returning to my point regarding ideology: one of the key features of ideology is that it conceals its manner of production. And that is exactly what your statement is doing: it conceals the fact that it is produced by Kerr. I don’t see this in itself as a problem, but I do see a failure to take this into consideration as a very big problem (especially if you go about claiming that those who disagree with you are missing the heart of the gospel, are idolators, etc … this is ideology in action!).

    By the way, you keep accusing Hauerwas of being Hegelian, but let’s not forget that the great innovation of Hegel was to show that every immediacy is the really the result of a prior mediation, which that immediacy wants to conceal.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 1:12 pm | Permalink
  86. Kampen wrote:

    The Good does not need to be defended. The Truth is not sustained by the Church; the Church is sustained by the Truth.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Permalink
  87. Halden wrote:

    I just happened to be looking back through WTG and happened upon this quote. Then I just kind of rolled with it. Most of my blog posts have a similar origin story.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 1:45 pm | Permalink
  88. I meant that ‘the Truth’ is a man. In other words, that the type of truth that we’re speaking of here…God’s truth…is primarily to be understood not in terms of facts or history but christologically. That’s all.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Permalink
  89. adamsteward wrote:

    It seems that there is an equation in the conversation so far that would have it that “the church” = “us”, and that correspondingly, “the church being faithful” = “human unilateral effort”. I appears that there is a neglect of Augustine’s point that the human and divine will do not compete in the divine economy. To say that the church must be faithful for the Gospel to be true is not to say that we have to create the gospel, but that God has to make his church faithful if the gospel preached by the church is to be the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is that of Luke 4. I.e., if it is not fulfilled in our hearing, it is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. On that note, I keep thinking of this Malcom X, which I think is a pretty straightforward paraphrase of Hauerwas:
    A “preaching” or a gospel is no better than its ability to be carried out in a manner that will make it beneficial to the people who accept it. When you have a philosophy or a gospel–I don’t care whether it’s a religious gospel, a political gospel, an economic gospel or a social gospel–if it’s not going to do something for you and me right here and right now–to hell with that gospel!
    Granted, what our benefit actually is takes some mysterious shapes given the cross and resurrection, but you get the point–our gospel has to make some kind of difference or it’s not the gospel.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 4:57 pm | Permalink
  90. “That is, I am not so much concerned first of all with our exegesis of the gospel, as with how the gospel exegetes us.”

    Does this sentence have much meaning? Like, I just can’t understand what that would be. The Gospel is affective, ok, I get that, but it isn’t like it isn’t actual in humanity. Could you explain this to someone who isn’t inside the circle of Christian meaning?

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 6:11 pm | Permalink
  91. Theophilus wrote:

    Sounds like you’re being particular. I have no problem with that.

    Friday, January 29, 2010 at 8:26 am | Permalink
  92. eric wrote:

    why should divine and human action be in a competitive relation?

    Friday, January 29, 2010 at 8:42 am | Permalink
  93. Matthew wrote:

    Kampen, What do you mean by “The Good does not need to be defended” ? Explain your terms and what connection you make between the two sentences. While I follow the second thought, I don’t know if I can affirm it. Why wouldn’t the “Good” need to be defended, though?

    Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 4:09 am | Permalink
  94. dbarber wrote:

    Nate, is this a “no comment”?

    Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 7:36 am | Permalink
  95. What a polite fuck off.

    Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 10:03 am | Permalink
  96. Nate Kerr wrote:


    No. I’m sorry. I don’t mean not to comment. I have been trying to think through and to understand exactly what you’re saying here, so as to reply appropriately and efficiently — both to yours and Anthony’s questions. I simply have not had the time to compose the comment in the manner I’d like. I hope to do that this evening sometime. I am wanting very much in response to your comment (which I take to be at the heart of matters) to make sure that I say what I mean and mean what I say. Thanks for following up.

    Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 2:50 pm | Permalink
  97. Nate Kerr wrote:


    Let me try to say a couple of things here, which will inevitably be inadequate to the issues you raise. I want to say a couple of things that I hope speak to some of the broader concerns you have generally.

    (1.) First of all, I have no problem acknowledging that the language of apocalyptic and certain deployments of it can be just as ideologically determined and put to just as ideological a use as any other “theoretical” mode of discourse. This is why I think it is important that the language of apocalyptic coincide with what Yoder calls an apocalyptic “style”: it happens as the mode of “unhanding” our language to God, not “using” the language of apocalyptic as a way of fixing and directing one’s desires, the future, etc., but rather by allowing our words to speak — witness — to an action that moves with Christ to the cross in openness to the new life of resurrection. So my point about doxology, liturgy, action, etc., and the need for us to be given over to a divine act that occurs outside the covers of a book, as it were: the language of Christian apocalyptic only does its “work” insofar as it witnesses to the manner in which we must be delivered over in our words and actions to an act of God that is ever-new in a manner that is not already pre-determined by the articulations of that language itself. In this respect, I do think that there is a potential difference in act or form of enunciation. On the purely descriptively linguistic level, there is no doubting that the statement “Christ alone is the mediator of faith” is “mediated” by my speaking it. But I take the “truth” of that statement as something that cannot be reduced to or mediated by the speaking of that statement. To the extent that my enunciation of that statement or my understanding of its meaning presumes to mediate God’s act in Christ, so as to “produce” faith, it is functioning ideologically. I don’t want to deny this; for surely there is no surer way to into the trap of ideology than to stubbornly cry “anti-ideology”! I am interested in the ways in which our ways of speaking witness to a mode of action that moves beyond ideology by delivering us to a doxological mode of living that does not reactively or surreptitiously reinforce the dominant power structures of society in teleological concern for our own “self-regard.” To the extent that my work fails on that score and gets put to ideological use or is involved in ideological moves (either according to the terms I have defined and am using the term “ideology” in my book or modes of “ideology” my own language has blinded me to), I would expect critical analysis and dialogue on that front. I take such ongoing critical analysis and dialogue to be part of honest and faithful theology. That is all I have tried to do with regard to Hauerwas’ work, and I don’t mean to pretend that my words in themselves somehow evade the need for that critical maneuver.

    (2.) As to the question of “the gospel,” I have on more than one occasion said to Hauerwas that I understand there to be a common concern driving both his and my own work: viz., that what is at stake in the work of theology is “nothing less than the truth of the Gospel.” This is what I take to be the exigency that lies behind both his and my work. I take, as he does, the truth of the gospel to be the person of Christ; and what I mean in part by the idea that this is an apocalyptic gospel is that in Christ God presses upon us in such a way as to make us participants in that truth. When I say that Hauerwas is involved in a (perhaps willful) forgetting or refusal of the gospel as that of justification by faith, I am simply suggesting that there are ways in which he intentionally construes the church’s cultural-linguistic “assurance” of the truth of the Gospel that, in concern for its own “self-regard” (his phrase), “gets Jesus wrong” (R. Coles). And I take this to be bound up with his particular refusal of the doctrine of justification by faith. Now, I don’t think our concern should be with defining the one theoretical way by which we can “get Jesus right.” I just think we can so work our way (perhaps unwittingly, sometimes willingly) into attempts theoretically to “get Jesus right” that it requires a sharp and distinct “no.” I am convinced of the need for such a “no” in this case, with regards to the aspects of Hauerwas’ thought of which I have been critical, and this for the sake of that exigency which I take it that we share — the truth of the Gospel.

    I think I disagree with you on the “great innovation” of Hegel — but I am afraid I am going to have to leave that discussion for another time, at least for today.

    Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 3:48 am | Permalink
  98. Nate Kerr wrote:


    I am really just riffing on Barth with that statement, or, even, just trying to draw out the Johannine idea that Jesus is the exegesis of God, with respect to the doctrine of revelation. And so here I am simply saying if it is Jesus alone makes God known to us (exegetes God to us), then it is equally Jesus alone that makes us known (exegetes us) to ourselves. I suppose if one does not think that Jesus alone makes God known to us, then the statement I made won’t have much meaning, outside of observing how it is that those who do think such go about the work of exegesis.

    Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 4:11 am | Permalink
  99. dbarber wrote:

    Yes, this is clearly a significant difference between the way we think about these things. For me, the fact that something is proclaimed as immediate, when it cannot escape mediation …. well, that’s a structural feature that needs to be thought about as such (i.e. it concerns the relation between word and thing). You would prefer to emphasize that the complications involved in this relation could become irrelevant insofar as an apocalyptic “style” is taken up, insofar as there is “unhanding,” etc. But hands are necessary for unhanding, no matter how much one goes on about unhanding (much in the same way the dispossession always presupposes and is marked by possession). I understand the aim of your rhetoric, I’m just saying that, logically, there’s a prior problematic that needs to be thought.

    We don’t need to push this further if you don’t wish, as I imagine there a number of severe differences here ontologically (I see you as caught up in a radical dualism) and epistemologically (I see your understanding of statements to be tied to a crude realism). To me, this ends up looking like a claim that God is simply beyond the world (invasion, again), and that the only way to know this is to let our language be overcome by this revelation of the beyond.

    Thanks, in any case, for the clarification.

    Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 2:21 pm | Permalink
  100. “outside of observing how it is that those who do think such go about the work of exegesis.”

    You’ll forgive me then if I think this has no meaning beyond a kind of beautiful poetry that is, ultimately, nothing. I don’t know man, I see it with folks like you and Craig, this beautiful language, but I just don’t see what it has to do with this thing called Christianity that I know about. Just don’t know what to say beyond that.

    Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 6:43 pm | Permalink
  101. Nate Kerr wrote:


    I suspect you are right about the ontological and epistemological differences here — and about their being “severe,” perhaps too severe to pursue further in this forum. However, I do want to take seriously what is “happening” ontologically and epistemologically in the work of “unhanding” and “dispossession,” and I don’t mean for the complications and complexities involved in such thinking to be rendered “irrelevant” in the taking up of an apocalyptic style. I do take the relation you are presuming — of mediation — and all of the complexities it is involved to be transformed by a decisive, singularly apocalyptic act of God. And so I believe we can think those complexities from as from “within” this transformation, as it were. That is to say, I’d hope that my navigation of these complexities is not so reductive as you take it to be (that is, I think my dualism is not quite so radical and my realism not quite so crude as you suggest). But I have yet to work that out, in writing at least.

    I appreciate the prodding.

    Monday, February 1, 2010 at 1:53 am | Permalink
  102. Matt wrote:

    Halden, what’s the record for number of comments? This one’s gotta come close.

    Well, at least “The Truth” finally showed up at the end of the thread to clear up all this nonsense.

    Monday, February 1, 2010 at 11:12 am | Permalink
  103. i agree with anthony on this point. does “apocalypse” leave the church unaccountable?

    Tuesday, February 2, 2010 at 8:49 am | Permalink
  104. Probably for the same reason John wrote, “The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” If the truth is not in you, how can you be a witness to that truth? If Jesus said, “They will know you for your love for one another” and we have not loved, we have already failed to be a witness. John continued, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.”

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010 at 3:13 pm | Permalink
  105. JSchumacher wrote:

    Probably a dead link but how about this as a helpful summary from a different point of view:

    Assuming that the only affirmation of the church is the gospel. “Jesus Christ is Lord” :

    Hauerwas, dbarber, et al. : He cannot be Lord without actually ruling a people.

    Harink, Halden, et al. : Only if your definition of Lordship requires willful obedience. Isn’t he Lord even of those who reject him?

    DB: From the perspective of faith – in other words, for those who have SEEN the truth of this in the world, yes. But for those outside the faith, it quite literally remains to be seen. You have only trusted that definition of Lord because you have seen a people who live as if it is true. Therefore, for you to even object on these terms is to concede the point.

    Halden: But the church is not the kingdom in which the affirmation “JC is Lord” is actually true; rather, it is a sign.

    dbarder: Signs participate in the reality they signify. That is why Hauerwas can say the church is the foretaste of the kingdom.

    I am afraid that without Hauerwas’ important observation, the gospel is truncated from “Jesus is Lord” to “God is”, which while metaphysically true, isn’t much of a gospel.

    Friday, March 26, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

Switch to our mobile site