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.

AuthorKevin Taylor