Saturday, June 02, 2012

New Book by Hauerwas

I downloaded and just started reading a new book by Stanley Hauerwas, War and the American Difference: Theological Reflections on Violence and National Identity. As an aside, it is curious how our language changed from "went to the book store and bought" to "went online to Amazon and ordered" to "instantly downloaded from my couch". Books are the antithesis of instant gratification but buying them no longer is! Anyway.

I have been interested in reading Hauerwas for  a while. Along with John Howard Yoder he is one of the preeminent peace theologians of our time and one of the "best" theologians on the leftward spectrum period. As one of his more recent works, published just last October, I feel like I am cheating a bit but I also think this book should give a good contemporary view unlike more dated books like Hershberger's War, Peace and Nonresistance written in the 50's. I am hoping to find Hauerwas more accessible than Yoder because frankly I found Yoder's The Politics of Jesus a reading quagmire that was not edifying or enjoyable, explaining why it sits partly read and un-reviewed on my night stand. Yoder has had a major impact on Hauerwas so I am hoping to see some of Yoder's thinking on a more accessible level from Hauerwas. This is the book description on Amazon:

How are American identity and America's presence in the world shaped by war, and what does God have to do with it? Esteemed theologian Stanley Hauerwas helps readers reflect theologically on war, church, justice, and nonviolence in this compelling volume, exploring issues such as how America depends on war for its identity, how war affects the soul of a nation, the sacrifices that war entails, and why war is considered "necessary," especially in America. He also examines the views of nonviolence held by Martin Luther King Jr. and C. S. Lewis, how Jesus constitutes the justice of God, and the relationship between congregational ministry and Christian formation in America.

That is a fascinating concept, that America depends on war for our national identity. A nation born of war and seemingly perpetually at war or on the verge of war for our entire history, Americans are a uniquely warlike people who honor and often glorify war even while tacitly acknowledging the horrors of war that have rarely impacted our own shores. This national character has infected the church here to an enormous degree, unprecedented in modern times, and that was on full display last weekend. I think this is an important concept, that we understand and recognize this infection so we can find a better way. Too many Christians in America don't see this as a problem at all and that attitude hampers our witness globally and our understanding of enemy love domestically.

At the outset I can say with some certainty that most introductions in books are a waste of paper, real or electronic. They seem forced and are generally unnecessary. Not so with War and the American Difference. I found myself highlighting a number of passages, more than I have highlighted in entire books!  His opening sentence makes the bold and counter-intuitive claim that war has been abolished. That seems an odd statement. War as I just said is all around us, a constant reality. But Hauerwas is right in that in the cross warfare has been abolished.

I do not want to convince Christians to work for the abolition of war, but rather I want us to live recognizing that in the cross of Christ war has already been abolished. So I am not asking Christians to work to create a world free of war. The world has already been saved from war. The question is how Christians can and should live in a world of war as a people who believe that war has been abolished.

That is such a fascinating outlook. Maybe being a peacemaker is not a matter of marches against war or refusal to kill on demand, although I think Hauerwas is going to be generally supportive of this. Rather we as the church are to demonstrate something radical to a violent, war loving world: a church that demonstrates the character of our Lord by being an alternative to war. When the world says kill, we say love. I don't think Jesus was speaking randomly in the Sermon on the Mount and as we read these words I think we see a lot going on, including a series of commands of what it means to love God and love our neighbor, the two "Great Commandments". Because we so often fail to do this Hauerwas suggests, I think rightly, that much of the ineffectiveness of the church comes from the incoherence of a people of peace supporting war.

I am looking forward to the rest of this book and plan on posting about it as I go, not necessarily chapter by chapter but certainly as interesting points come up. Nonviolence in the church is such a crucial, misunderstood and often ignored topic but loving our enemies gets to the core of the Gospel. All of our fancy theological systematizing is meaningless if we refuse to follow Christ.


Unknown said...

Arthur, on your recommendation I read the "look inside" that Amazon offers and like you, am intrigued by the intro.
The bible seems to send mixed messages about war because the God of the old testament seems so warlike but in the new testament he is non-violent. What do you think?

John Mureiko said...

Hey Arthur,

This sounds like a fantastic read. Very thought provoking and intriguing. This is probably a bit unrelated, but it struck as interesting, and admirable, that even though you are usually more sympathetic to the more "reformed" milieu of reading material (as I have been and am by and large), you are perfectly willing to step outside the box and listen to wisdom from other sources. This has been a bit of a journey for me, but I have found myself delving into those kinds of subjects and titles that are sometimes, off the cuff, rejected without any reflection or consideration because they aren't recommended by the "inner circle" (let the reader understand...)Are you familiar with N.T. Wright's book How God Became King? His chapter on God and Caesar is worth the price of the book alone.

In response to Tom, my thought on the matter is seeking to view the old testament through the lens of new testament fulfillment. As Don Carson has put it, in the new testament we find the same God making the same kind of promises, as well as judgments, but only on a greater scale. There's a kind of symbolic nature to the old testament stories when God tells the children of Israel that the sin of Canaan has "been completed", and God is now judging their wickedness through the people of Israel, followed by the kind of wrath (granted, in apocalyptic framwork) described in Revelation 14. It's not a matter to be taken lightly or just simply dismissed, but nevertheless, I think the overall narrative can be seen as coherent and unified if we seek to read the stories in a promise/fulfillment manner.

That could definitely be fleshed out further, but that's kind of my current line of thinking on the matter.

Arthur Sido said...

Tom, I think that is a great and honest question. I am putting together some thoughts in response that I will post a a stand alone entry.

Arthur Sido said...


I have read that book by Wright yet but it is in my Kindle wishlist! You are right that I tend to be sympathetic to the reformed viewpoint but I found myself atrophying intellectually by never reading anything other than approved reformed materials. I find that I am far more engaged when I read books from off the reformed reservation, eps. books like this since there is really no major voice for Christian non-resistance among the reformed, other than perhaps Piper.