What Stanley Hauerwas Dislikes

After reading and thinking about Stanley Hauerwas’s *Without Apology,” I know understand dislikes, with great intensity, the following:

  1. A domesticated gospel. The Christian gospel is never to be confused with worldly, secular, or political ideals, or some sort of bourgeois lifestyle. The gospel must be taken on its own terms, in all its strangeness. For Hauerwas, the gospel demands a creative, engaged pacifism.
  2. Generalities and theories. Hauerwas is deeply suspicious of universals, since they invite violence and manipulation. As a good Aristotelian, ethics is oriented around character, habit, disposition, and action, not theorizing. People and particulars save, not universals such as “loving the world” or “citizen of the world.” He rejects sweeping generalizations as areas of deception, hypocrisy, and violence. He doesn’t even like atonement theories, as these escape the scriptural basis (which presents no singular atonement theory) and the particulars of human living.
  3. Manipulations. Many of the words and phrases we bandy about today hide power games. Hauerwas cites things such as the President of the United States as the leader of the free world, leadership studies (as if there is one kind of generic leadership for all things; this masks our scorn of authority, which only leads to greater manipulations) or being called an “intellectual” (“a kind of self-indulgence as the result of the assumption that they do not need to justify what they do,” p. 152).

Teaching Hauerwas to undergrads has been challenging, as they are bewildered by his ideas. They are also bewildered by a small book of sermons, as a lifetime of textbooks means they don’t know how to master prose without headings, sections, vocabulary, and so on.

But I’d rather set the bar high; at least Hauerwas is provocative and interesting. As Hauerwas himself notes, "you cannot become friends with an author by reading half a dozen pages" (p. 153).

Stanley Hauerwas' Without Apology

I enjoy using Stanley Hauerwas in the classroom, as he is provocative and interesting for different types of students – those with no religious background, and those with a fairly typical (that is, bland) Protestant background. His writing style is fairly direct and clear, which is helpful for undergrads. As one of America's premiere theologians, his is an important voice to encounter. Since most students have given very little thought to issues of war and peace, a strong pacifist is a great path into raising those issues, along with religion, politics, and culture.

I had previously used War and the American Difference in the classroom, but I found it too challenging and disjointed for the students. This semester I'm trying Without Apology. As a collection of sermons, it is a non-threatening book in its size and words. Hauerwas has written these sermons for the ear, so they are more straightforward in structure and expression. Furthermore, each is a short piece, so it is easy to read one or two and then come back to them later (there's not a larger sustained argument to hold in one's mind).

Without Apology deals less with issues of war and pacifism than one might have thought, but as they are sermons Hauerwas is rightfully grappling with scripture passages instead of forwarding his theological positions. The book does feel somewhat disconnected, as did War and the American Difference, and the fact that both are collections of earlier writings cannot be erased.

I find myself deeply sympathetic with Hauerwas' homiletical approach. He has no time for historical background or the historical critical method; rather, he wants a direct encounter with the scriptural world. He is an existentialist who assumes that the same issues confronting the Biblical characters are the same issues confronting us today. Hauerwas avoids the easy outs that minimize the scriptures, such as pointing to the historical antiquity or the gulf of modernity (which a surprising number of preachers do in various ways). Hauerwas also assumes that God is present, which is something oddly missing in much current Protestant worship. I see many of our churches in their Sunday worship talking more to each other, explaining and announcing and joking around, than actually presuming and encountering the presence of God. To assume that God is present in our worship seems rather obvious, but it's often not, and yet what could be more profoundly true in the Christian life?

It remains to be seen what the students make of it all.

iPads and Schools: Turnitin

One of the challenges with using tablet devices in a school setting is integrating with things such as Blackboard and Turnitin. These services needed things to be uploaded through a web browser, which was pretty much impossible from a tablet device. But now Blackboard and Turnitin feature Dropbox and Google Drive integration. Now you really can type a paper and submit it all on an iPad. With instructors able to grade through the Turnitin app, with full access to marking papers, rubrics, and even voice comments, the move to mobile computing seems more and more certain.

What continues to challenge schools in terms of mobile computing is strong, consistent wifi, since these tablets don't have corded options to the internet, printing (AirPrint is fairly unusual and even impossible in a school setting), and backups. If an iPad is your only device, you are facing a world of pain if you lose your photos, work, emails, and so on.