Featured Reviews, VOLUME 7

Nicholas Healy – HAUERWAS: (Very) Critical Intro [Review]

[easyazon_image add_to_cart=”default” align=”left” asin=”0802825990″ cloaking=”default” height=”160″ localization=”default” locale=”US” nofollow=”default” new_window=”default” src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51wOl6TWYpL._SL160_.jpg” tag=”douloschristo-20″ width=”107″]Page 2: Nicholas Healy: HAUERWAS: (Very) Critical Intro

Given Hauerwas’s largely non-theological, ecclesiocentric methodology, Healy engages Hauerwas on common ground: social theory. Healy rehearses the hackneyed critique that Hauerwas’s “Church” is an idealized notion that fails to account for the complexities and sinfulness of concrete churches. Yet Healy’s is a more refined version. He does not mount a theological argument against the call for the Church to “be the Church,” but a social one. The bulk of the chapter therefore notes how ethnographical studies of various churches complicate Hauerwas’s ideal of a passive laity and show how individual members “negotiate” their identities within the confines of the Church in a “dialectical movement” between Christian and non-Christian influences (i.e. culture, location, sexual orientation; 89). The disparity among members of the same church in regards to various theological opinions and dispositions further displays that members are not merely bodies to be formed, but active agents in their own formation (91-6). Several implications for Hauerwas’s account of the Church emerge, chief of which is that an “ecclesiocentric pragmatic concept of truth cannot bear the weight of the churches’ empirical diversity” (97). Hauerwas’s account of the Church, precisely because it is so focused on the Church’s empirical performance rather than God’s activity within (and despite) the Church, “leads to his work being more unconvincing than it need be, as well as to significant distortion of the logic of belief” (99). What is absent is a thoroughly theological, i.e. theocentric, view of the Church.
The final chapter sharpens these criticisms. Healy challenges Hauerwas’s reduction of beliefs to practices, suggesting that practices themselves require a “conceptual component” and therefore engage “the whole person” (118). He also finds little about prevenient grace in Hauerwas apart from God giving us the right story (125), and even less about God’s relation to the virtues à la Aquinas (126-9). Healy recalls his earlier criticisms of Hauerwas’s view of the Church, authority, and salvation, showing how a theocentric perspective is a needed corrective to Hauerwasian reductionisms (129-36). Healy’s overall criticism is encompassed in these words:


for those who seek to dwell within the Christian tradition, our goal cannot primarily be to acquire and maintain a particular identity. The visible identity will follow, or it may not. Rather, our goal should be to move closer to God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, a movement that happens only as God acts to draw us closer and we, by grace, respond in fitting ways: grace upon grace (106)


One wonders if Healy has taken Hauerwas too seriously. Can such a systematic deconstruction of Hauerwas’s project properly account for his rhetorical genius? Hauerwas may lack theoretical consistency in his presentation of the Church, but is not his a more modestly hortatory program? Does not Hauerwas’s use of Yoder’s call for “the Church to be the Church” indicate his recognition that “Church” is both empirical and eschatological – much like Paul calling the messy Corinthian community both “church” and “sanctified” (1 Cor 1.2)? Nicholas Healy acknowledges such interpretative difficulties (9-14), but engages anyhow. He is right to do so not only because Hauerwas’s influence demands serious scrutiny, but because even through trenchant criticism Hauerwas’s work continues to benefit the Church.

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: C-Christopher-Smith.com

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