Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hauerwas on the Way of Peace

Researching the contrasts and similarities between Karl Barth and Stanley Hauerwas on ethics and ecclesiology, I came across the following in Hauerwas' The Peaceable Kingdom (p. 87-90):

“Jesus’ cross, however, is not merely a general symbol of the moral significance of self-sacrifice. . . . Rather the cross is Jesus’ ultimate dispossession through which God has conquered the powers of this world. The cross is not just a symbol of God’s kingdom come; it is that kingdom come.... [Because of this], we believe that forgiveness and love are alternatives to the coercion the world thinks necessary for existence....[Thus] all life is valued, even the lives of our enemies, because God has valued them....

It is crucial that we understand that such a peaceableness is possible only if we are also a forgiven people. We must remember that our first task is not to forgive, but to learn to be the forgiven.... Only by learning to accept God’s forgiveness as we see it in the life and death of Jesus can we acquire the power that comes from learning to give up that control....

It is true, of course, that in a sense to be a ‘forgiven people’ makes us lose control. To be forgiven means that I must face the fact that my life actually lies in the hands of others. I must learn to trust them as I have learned to trust God. Thus it is not accidental that Jesus teaches us to pray for our daily bread... to learn to live on a day-to-day basis....

When we exist as a forgiven people we are able to be at peace with our histories, so that now God’s life determines our whole way of being – our character. We no longer need to deny our past, or tell ourselves false stories, as now we can accept what we have been without the knowledge of our sin destroying us....

That we are only able to have a history, a self, through the forgiveness wrought by God means that the resurrection of Jesus is the absolute center of history.... Only if our Lord is a risen Lord, therefore, can we have the confidence and the power to be a community of forgiveness."

At the end of the day I think my comparison between Barth and Hauerwas is going to side with Barth in emphasizing that the ethics of forgiveness is not so much a "confidence" and a "power" as it is a perpetual gift of God perpetually invoked and shared, but the sentiment is the same. Indeed, Hauerwas himself connects forgiveness to the prayer for daily bread and sums the whole thing up as follows:

“For this is no dead Lord we follow but the living God, who having dwelt among us as an individual, is now eternally present to us making possible our living as forgiven agents of God’s new creation.”

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. During the recent discussion on Hauerwas and Barth the claim was being advanced that they have fundamentally different "gospels." I was wondering if you have found this true in your reading of the two?

Jon Coutts said...

My thought is that there is a slightly exaggerated truth to that statement, but it is more appropriate in the context of a finer debate about how the two see the gospel in ecclesiology than in the context of a larger discussion of their overall theology. Hauerwas and Barth are close: it is no secret that Hauerwas was taken to school by Barth and I think it shows. However, in the debate about ethics and ecclesiology, while Hauerwas has more specifically to say in both areas, Barth lays better ground in Christology and the doctrine of God and ends up with a significantly different, and in my view better, take on how the two (ethics and ecclesia) are carried out.

All that to say I see the point of the polemic between the two, and would tend to side with Barth at this point, but I see the two as mainly complementary, as long as Hauerwas is willing to do a bit more of the complimenting (which I realise maybe he isn't)! I tried to indicate this difference a little bit in the post, while still trying to show how the two agreed.

mshedden said...

Thanks for your answering my question. I feel very much along the same lines you do although given our context (and that I could never pass for systematic) I am not sure who needs compliment each other more. I think Barth needs Hauerwas most clearly in his claims that if you are going to believe what Barth says about Jesus Christ then we need to accept that means living in the world peaceably, something Barth never quite reaches himself.
Thanks for the thoughts again and I do really enjoy your blog. I look forward to hearing more about your studies.