Brief Reviews, VOLUME 3

Brief Review: Unsettling Arguments: A Festschrift on the Occasion of Stanley Hauerwas’s 70th Birthday [Vol. 3, #39]

A Brief Review of

Unsettling Arguments:
A Festschrift on the Occasion of
Stanley Hauerwas’s 70th Birthday
Pinches / Johnson / Collier, eds.
Paperback: Cascade Books, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Enstad.

“Stanley Hauerwas is something of a character.”  With these understated words Charles Pinches, Kelly Johnson, and Charles Collier open the introduction to this collection of writings gathered to honor Stanley Hauerwas.  How does one honor this towering presence in the Church?  How does one write about a theologian who so steadily resists categorization?  How does one interact with a teacher and preacher who stands as a polemicist and intellectual-radical yet who continues, to this day, to operate as one who loves the Church and Jesus?

Hauerwas was born the son of a bricklayer and his upbringing would have pointed to any other vocation than the one in which we find him today.  Indeed he is quick to point out that he is among the most surprised to find himself a Christian!  Eighteen former students, many of whom are now teachers themselves, have written essays in honor of, in disagreement with, in criticism of, but always in conversation with Stanley Hauerwas.

The festschrift is divided into four sections: Influences, Politics, Bodies and Practices.  Anyone who has come across Hauerwas’ influence on the academy and the church has most likely done so through one of these pathways.  Perhaps the reader was a fan of Wittgenstein and discovered Hauerwas’ attempts to rescue the church from the liberal attempt to make it a “community.”  Maybe a Catholic theology student, in attempting to find some leaven amongst the loaves of Catholic thought, found Dr. Hauerwas’ brilliant interactions with Thomas Aquinas.  Most likely some emerging church folks tripped upon Hauerwas through a discovery of John Howard Yoder.

More recently Hauerwas’ name became associated with the debates over Just War theory.  It is interesting to read criticisms of Hauerwas’ membership in the Methodist Church while he pushes his claim that the true church can only be pacifist.  One can feel his admirers pushing this polemicist to become even MORE polemical or, at the least, to reconcile his actions and beliefs on this topic.  Hauerwas’ life is a living example of the God-created human being seeking, making, and teaching meaning even as he admits to never quite having a grasp on perfection.

In the “Bodies” section of the book we come across some of the more pointed criticisms of Hauerwas.  It is here that we interact with him around topics such as the question of Judaism, feminism, family and racism.  All of these are timely topics and all are written from the perspective of critical love for the man and his mind.  Both conservative and liberal church theologians would do well to check into these sections as they work to bring their own particular theologies into contact with the real world!

Finally we come across the idea of “practices”.  For Hauerwas, the life well-lived is one lived as a liturgy of discipleship.  It is in this section that we begin exploring the areas of friendship, worship, discipleship, and how Hauerwas has contributed to the question of moral formation at schools of higher education.

It is the last point that is the most telling, for me, in this entire collection.  Michael Cartwright seeks to engage our thinking around the the idea of Hauerwas taking up the Middle Age position of “Verger” of the Church-related University.  The Verger was the one appointed to walk in ahead of the bishop or president in any formal procession to clear their way.  In their life and in their work, polemical lovers of Christ and his Church, like Stanley Hauerwas, have always used their ideas to “clear the way” for new ideas and visions.

This festschrift, then, is truly a work of love from students of Hauerwas who, themselves, have taken up the task of theological or moral formation of students and the Church.  It is why we must, in the end, give thanks to God for lifting up voices like his, and to institutions like Duke Divinity School that allow for a Stanley Hauerwas to make a living following their calling.


Enter your email below to sign up for our weekly digest & choose a free ebook
from the four pictured ------> 


C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at:

Comments are closed.