A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Another Good One From Hauerwas

"...[W]e believe that it is time for the church to recognize that it is in a missionary situation in the very culture it helped to create. Of course,... the church ought to be in a missionary situation at any time and in any culture. However, it happens that we have lived during a time when Christians thought that they had made themselves a home from which they could become missionaries to others. Because we Western, Northern-European Christians had succeeded in fashioning a 'Christian' culture, we could now speak to everyone else's culture. That was a tragic mistake."

"Christian recognition of their status as 'resident aliens' was muted when Christianity became a civilizational religion. That project, which in many ways is quite explicable, was the attempt to turn the world into the kingdom. It was the attempt to force God's kingdom into being by making the worship of God unavoidable. It was the attempt to make Christian convictions available without conversion and transformation."

"It is unclear who started looking like whom first, whether Southern Baptist pastors started looking like Texas politicians, or Texas politicians started looking like Southern Baptist pastors. Whatever genetic relations, Christians have been forever tempted to derive our status from those forms of power valued by the wider culture. The United Methodist Book of Discipline is no longer a handbook for church discipline but resembles a handbook for employees of IBM. Pastors are routinely relegated to the ranks of 'the health care professions.' In the process, the church loses its way. No one listens to a church which speaks the same truths that can be heard anywhere other than church."

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From In Good Company: The Church as Polis (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1995), 53, 54, 55, 56.


Eric Helms said...

Another way of phrasing this would be to question if the most important thing we have to offer is morality--which is how Kant marginalized the Christian story. We fall into this marginalization by spending our primary energy in moralizing society.

But this raises a question for me--just how are we to be involved in the political sphere. Certainly not to give power to Rep. or Dem. I have assumed to give voice to Kingdom concerns--speaking on behalf of the marginalized, speaking out on issues that we find important to God--but does that become part of our misguided attempts to create a world that looks more Christian without actual conversion and transformation?

Allan R. Bevere said...


A good question... if I might give my own twist on Hauerwas' words, is that once Christians buy into the notion that the primary political sphere is what happens in Washington DC, we lose the significance of the church, which is the primary polity for the believer.

We give voice to our kingdom concerns by embodying the kingdom as the church. By caring for the marginalized ourselves, we bear witness to the state that they should care for the marginalized as well.

But we don't need conversion and transformation when we insist that the government legalize the care of the marginalized. They may indeed to that, but our task as Christians is not first and foremost to lobby the government to do so. Our political task as the church is to be the church. Our very witness, therefore, reveals the significance of transformation of discipleship.

Country Parson said...

What a surprise! I could not agree more.

Eric Helms said...

Thanks for your comments Allan. I agree with you, about the locus of power and the central politics of the church. I am preaching about this on Sunday--I am combining Palm Sunday with the end of our series on "UnChristian" with the chapter on "too political." I thought Jesus' entry into Jerusalem was a good time to talk about where Christian politics really happens.

And yet I hesitate to separate the church's role from interaction in Washington DC in part because it lends itself to Republican ideology that the church will take care of the world's social needs--which becomes a Washington DC issue. Additionally, for instance, if we speak to the need for all to have adequate health insurance coverage, that is something that is beyond the capacity of most of our churches to provide--so in order to care for a need like that there is no way but to engage in a place like Washington--but then we lend ourselves to Democratic ideology, and we end up with the same problem as before... It just isn't a simple thing to navigate.

I also say this with an image in my mind if Hauerwas' secretary constantly on the phone with congressmen and senator offices giving them the Hauerwasian stance on any number of issues. Perhaps in terms of US policy we need to remember that our voice is far more important than our vote--with voice we keep power and with votes we give power away.

Allan R. Bevere said...


Thanks for your comments. I too do not want the church not to interact with the government, and I agree it isn't simple to navigate.

I would say only two things here-- first, while I agree that it is beyond the capacity of the church to provide health insurance for all, I do not think we appreciate the incredible resource that is the church. And I would suggest that the reason we don't appreciate that resource is because the Christian way of life is just as material as the pagan lifestyle, and we have limited resources in large part because we've used them on other things (i.e we've used them on ourselves).

Second, when you say with our votes we give away power... true... but considering that Christians journey in the way of the cross, why do we want power in the first place?

I just posted a new series on "A Christian Case for Limited Government." It would be great if you would join the discussion.

Allan R. Bevere said...


And people say miracles do not happen... :-)

Eric Helms said...

I completely agree that we vastly underestimate the ability of the church--our call, as Bishop Willimon once put it, is to quite simply cast out demons, heal diseases, and raise people from the dead. We neglect our call and what is possible when church becomes the place we gather for pot-luck.

When I say that votes give away power--perhaps better put, they place authority into the hands of someone else--where we believe that all authority on heaven and earth has been given to Christ--and so therefore we make disciples of Jesus Christ. So the problem with seeing voting as the primary place where Christians interact in the public sector is to deny our claim that Christ is King regardless of who the president or any other leaders are. So when life is not going as we would have it to go, instead of longing for God's kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven, we long for the next election cycle when we feel we can do something by ascribing authority to a different political party.

Allan R. Bevere said...


You write, "So when life is not going as we would have it to go, instead of longing for God's kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven, we long for the next election cycle when we feel we can do something by ascribing authority to a different political party."

That is a deeply profound and insightful statement. Thanks!... I wish I had said it. :-)