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Waxing Hauerwasian

In light of the recent mega-conversation on Hauerwas and the truth of the gospel, perhaps folks will indulge me if I wax Hauerwasian for a moment:

“If you need a church to worship Jesus, then worship your fucking church!”

Of course, you may know that the actual quote that Hauerwas has stated many times is “If you need a theory to worship Jesus, then worship your fucking theory!”

Just saying.


  1. mshedden wrote:

    I guess I don’t understand how the church, scripturally referred to as the body of Christ and Christianity being those who are ‘in Christ’, is similar to an abstract theory of truth.

    Friday, January 29, 2010 at 6:23 pm | Permalink
  2. mshedden wrote:

    After reading the previous comment thread I guess I get more of what your talking about but I am not sure I get why the need to get distance ourselves from the visible church. But then again they employ me…

    Friday, January 29, 2010 at 6:49 pm | Permalink
  3. without the church I can’t worship Jesus. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong, I’m just saying that my relationship with Jesus has always been mediated through the church. That was less explicit or even unknown in my fundie days, but there it is.

    Friday, January 29, 2010 at 7:14 pm | Permalink
  4. Brad A. wrote:

    I don’t see how this works at all, Halden, and I think you know better. What’s meant by “church” here anyway? And is there a difference between “a church” and “the church”? This quote was probably just incendiary, but if you’re sincere, you seem to be returning to a trajectory you’ve veered toward in past discussions, namely that our knowledge of God and Christ can somehow be immediate, with no community necessary. Do you really believe that? I didn’t think you did…

    Friday, January 29, 2010 at 7:25 pm | Permalink
  5. Halden wrote:

    Well, I certainly don’t think that there are any “necessary” conditions somehow imposed on God’s ability to self-reveal. Is that what you think?

    Friday, January 29, 2010 at 7:42 pm | Permalink
  6. Nate Kerr wrote:

    I guess it all depends on what “mediates” is taken here to signify. If the church is some mediating point by which we get to Christ and Christ gets to us, then the church is little more than a “halfway house” of sorts. If the church is what happens when the Spirit irrupts and opens the world into the outgoing movement of God’s of God’s agape, then the church is just that: an “empty place” — literally a gape (to borrow a pun on the Greek from my teacher Craig Keen) — which is iconic insofar as it precisely does not obstruct the coming of God’s Kingdom. To use a metaphor that I’ve heard Keen deploy many times: Would a dynamited dam — which would release a whole reservoir of water — be said to “mediate” that flood? Well, maybe, but certainly not in any usual sense of the word.

    Friday, January 29, 2010 at 8:50 pm | Permalink
  7. Brad A. wrote:

    Your quote isn’t about God’s ability to self-reveal. It’s about our ability to worship.

    Are you even suggesting this with a straight face?

    Friday, January 29, 2010 at 8:53 pm | Permalink
  8. Halden wrote:

    I was just responding to your comment which brought up the issue of our knowledge of God, which to my mind clearly concerns revelation.

    Obviously this is all somewhat tongue in cheek, but I think it is important to see that worship is bigger than the church.

    Friday, January 29, 2010 at 9:03 pm | Permalink
  9. Brad A. wrote:

    Yes, it concerns revelation, but since we don’t receive revelation in any pure, unmediated form, a community of discernment and discipline would be necessary.

    I get the tongue-in-cheek, but I think this is more of a straw man than anything. I’d have a really hard time determining from even Hauerwas’s writings that worship is limited to the church exclusively, particularly when the church gets it wrong.

    Friday, January 29, 2010 at 9:11 pm | Permalink
  10. Halden wrote:

    I think Nate’s comment above speaks nicely to the issue of mediation.

    Friday, January 29, 2010 at 9:14 pm | Permalink
  11. Brad A. wrote:

    Nate, this seems an awfully reductionistic description of the Bride and Body of Christ. This is the church, engrafted onto Israel, a chosen people to be a visible embodiment of God’s salvation of the world. Keen’s metaphor is simply insufficient, given that we are clearly, from a biblical standpoint, to give shape to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This is not to say limitations, but rather, again, embodiment. That’s a far cry from a dynamited dam or a halfway house. The church is not merely a result; it’s a means (even if not the only one).

    Friday, January 29, 2010 at 9:15 pm | Permalink
  12. Brad A. wrote:

    I’d have to disagree.

    Friday, January 29, 2010 at 9:15 pm | Permalink
  13. Halden wrote:

    Where are you finding it in the Bible that we “give shape to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit”? The logic of Pentecost is exactly the opposite. The Spirit is poured out freely and unilaterally and that in turn shapes human response to the Word of grace.

    Friday, January 29, 2010 at 9:19 pm | Permalink
  14. Nate Kerr wrote:

    Here again, it all depends on what “a means” is here taken to signify. Perhaps the sacramental understanding most resonant with the metaphor I’ve offered above is that of Wesley’s understanding of what a “means of grace” is, viz., an act ordained by God by which we are made to wait for the coming of God that hallows — makes holy. And in this to remember that God’s ordination is free and that to be made holy for Wesley is nothing but to be opened, be rendered a “void” capable (when you think “capable” think the Latin capax as in “capacious” or “roomy”) of being filled — and emptied — by the evernew grace of God. Here again, these acts are not “means” in any usual sense of the word.

    As for “giving shape” to the Holy Spirit, it seems to me that it is, as Halden points out, precisely the opposite: the Spirit “gives shape” by conforming us to Christ — which again, is no form in the usual sense, as if to be “looked upon” and “grasped.” “Do not grasp me!”

    Friday, January 29, 2010 at 10:29 pm | Permalink
  15. I’m going to be a tad provacative here. I’m saying it to see how it fits in my mouth.

    But I wasn’t the one who made Jesus condescend to humanity. He’s the one who decided to be a servant.

    While I believe that Christ is the head of the Church and the Lord, and that the Holy Spirit is the Lord and giver of life, the type of lordship and type of life is that which makes itself vulnerable to humankind.

    So I don’t get this ‘defending Christ or his Spirit from the Church’ mentality right now.

    The distinction between Jesus and ‘some theory’ is a totally different task than the distinction of Jesus with the church. Jesus identifies the church with his own body and lays down his life for her.

    Jesus didn’t lay down his life for a theory.

    Friday, January 29, 2010 at 11:51 pm | Permalink
  16. Brad A. wrote:

    Halden, we give shape to it (and notice I didn’t say exhaustive shape or exclusive shape) by embodying it in certain ways. The church does not confine the Holy Spirit in any way – He goes where he wills. However, the church is one – and a significant, if not primary – embodiment insofar as it is formed to be the embodiment of Jesus’ life and work. I thought that was pretty obvious from Scripture.

    Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 6:00 am | Permalink
  17. Brad A. wrote:

    I addressed “giving shape” above. Do we honestly think that the church is merely passive in all of this? That we simply receive without active interaction?

    The church is a means by which God shows the world what his reign and creation restored look like. Insofar as we are faithful in that, we give true witness to it. That is the church’s role in the salvation of the cosmos. To suggest that it involves no active participation on the church’s part is…both strange and erroneous.

    I’ll let the Wesleyans here speak to the Wesley point. However, I’m having trouble in this discussion not being reminded of Steve’s previous “apocalyptic Gnosticism” point.

    Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 6:04 am | Permalink
  18. Brad A. wrote:

    I completely agree. It seems to me that the Incarnation itself is a form of mediation, even if the Son’s presence was immediate. This is God binding Godself of God’s own volition, i.e., of God’s own love.

    Moreover, if we are to participate in the Trinity, constituted in part by the relationality between the persons, then it seems to me that we, humanity, must be likewise interrelated. It isn’t just each of us to God, as I’m sure we’d agree.

    Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 6:08 am | Permalink
  19. Halden wrote:

    If it was so utterly obvious, why would we be having this conversation? I can’t think of any Scripture passage that uses the language you keep using. I have no idea where Scripture tells us that the church is the embodiment of Jesus’s life and work. And I’m kind of getting tired of every time I ask you for some biblical discussion all I get is this line about “Well, it’s totally obvious from ALL of Scripture.” That a cop out, man.

    Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 9:44 am | Permalink
  20. Hill wrote:

    Perhaps this might be helpful, but if the church is in some sense the body of Christ, does it seem like a stretch to suggest that it might also in some similar sense be “the em-body-ment of his life and work” in the world? I’m not sure that requires a chapter and verse reference. What else would it mean to be the body of Christ?

    Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 10:16 am | Permalink
  21. Halden wrote:

    Well, the interpretation of that phrase is actually a particularly thorny one, especially in current NT studies. But even leaving that aside, I still don’t see how the phrase could be taken (at least in this sort of prima facie manner) to mean that the church is somehow the extension of Jesus’s life and work. That would mean that the church simply is salvation (because that’s what Jesus’s life and work are).

    That may be true, but it would require some arguing, and hence perhaps some of the chapter and verse stuff.

    Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 10:21 am | Permalink
  22. Brad A. wrote:

    Well, just for starters, what else does being the Body of Christ mean (Rom 12, 1 Cor 12, Eph 4 & 5, Col 1) if it doesn’t somehow include continuity with his ministry (Jn. 14:12)? What is the point of Israel and the Church if everything is as disembodied as it’s been made out to be here? For instance, what’s the significance of the appropriation of Exod 19:5-6 in 1 Peter 2:9-10? Brueggemann, Dumbrell, Lohfink, Cavanaugh, and others substantiate this.

    I’m not arguing here that the church itself is directly – much less exclusively – salvific (though I’m leaving the door open for the church’s participation in that project); I’m arguing that part of the church’s purpose is to embody the reign of God/creation restored as a sign to the world of God’s salvation. Insofar as the Spirit empowers us to do this, we are giving some sort of shape to at least part of the outpouring of that Spirit.

    Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 10:24 am | Permalink
  23. Halden wrote:

    See my most recent post and see what you think.

    But just for the record, I’ve never advocaded any sort of disembodiedness, nor do I know how what I have said could be construed as such. Only that the claim that the church embodies salvation itself needs more substantiating, and I’ve yet to see that claim substantiated in a satisfactory way.

    Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 10:27 am | Permalink
  24. Brad A. wrote:

    I think part of the problem here is that we’re thinking of salvation in slightly different ways. To me, salvation is a deliverance toward a new existence. Jesus alone provides that. However, the church is then called to embody that new existence as a witness to the rest of the world, and as a direct challenge (by its very existence) to the powers. That is the church’s work, and that new existence is precisely what Jesus’ life and work demonstrated. Hence my statement.

    Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 10:29 am | Permalink
  25. Doug Chaplin wrote:

    I suppose in some remotely abstract theory it’s possible to worship Jesus in complete isolation from all other worshippers of Jesus, but:
    a) If it weren’t for other worshippers of Jesus, neither you nor I would have heard of him
    b) For St Paul, at least, recognising Jesus rather than Torah or Temple as the focus of encountering God and living a worshipful (i.e. obedient) life before God was defined by the acceptance of those who were other (Jews, Gentile, weak, strong) as fellow-worshippers. If a Jew did not accept a Gentile, then they were not truly worshipping Jesus.
    You can, of course, construct your own Jesus, divorced from the historical mediation of the Church’s scripture and tradition, or the actual lived out practice of acknowledging those whom he calls brother and sister, but I suggest then that you are not worshipping Jesus but your own fucking theory.

    Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 4:03 pm | Permalink
  26. bruce hamill wrote:

    love this thread precisely because I have struggled for some time between Nate’s way of seeing this situation and say William Cavanaugh’s. One thing I do like is your comment about worship being bigger than the church. Is that yours or someone else’s phrase?

    Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 12:57 am | Permalink

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