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Stanley Hauerwas, Working with Words: On Learning to Speak Christian

From Pneuma Review Spring 2013

Working with WordsStanley Hauerwas, Working with Words: On Learning to Speak Christian (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2011), 322 pages, ISBN 9781608999682.

I recommend this book to all Christians, and especially to those in pastoral and the theological vocations. Like his other publications, the Duke Divinity School professor of ethics and theology asks poignant hermeneutical and theological questions pertaining to Christian discipleship and witness. In Working With Words, Hauerwas shares his vision, approach, and experience as a pastor-theologian writing for the Christian public. His goal is to paint a vision of God with discipleship and witness in mind. And because he addresses life’s puzzling complexities honestly, this volume will be a good companion to his Hannah’s Child, a memoir of his theological autobiography.

The book has three parts, and Hauerwas writes seven essays for each section. Most of the essays are either public lectures or church sermons that he had shared in recent years. A few other essays fill the gaps for this compilation. Part 1 addresses disciplines for those learning to speak about God. These disciplines include reading, hearing, seeing and naming God amidst evil. Part 2 explains the Christian language of love for a) dealing with greed, b) discerning the Christian body, c) engaging the reality of “finite care[s] in a world of infinite need” (154) and d) explaining what it means for the church to be on a mission. In Part 3, Hauerwas co-writes (with a few theologians) on the lessons he had learned from some of his teachers. These teachers are political philosopher Charles Taylor, political activist-theologian Richard Niebuhr, and philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre. He also include a chapter examining the friendship between political pastor-theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Eberhard Bethge, and a few chapters explaining some of the virtues that underwrites medieval thinker Thomas Aquinas’s writing of Summa Theologicae, contemporary Catholic Social Teaching, and contemporary Methodist theological ethics.

Love is often slow, painful and difficult.

What can we learn from Working With Words? Hauerwas provides an exemplar model for those who desire to live faithfully to the gospel. He proclaims that “naming God matters”. The gospel should not be expressed in ways that exclude society nor should it be presented so inclusively that it fails to witness to message of the cross before a watching world. The gospel should show hospitality to strangers in the name of Christ (185-186). However, and ultimately, “only God can name God”; no Christian has and knows God as we think we are able to (80-81). Friendship with God is not a relation between co-equals; we are always the poorer partner ever in need of God and his goodness (74-77). The discipline of seeing the splendors of God often require that seers set aside or at least subjugate conventional ways of seeing, so as to embrace “a totally reconfigured kingdom” perspective (58-59). For instance, Hauerwas recommends silence as a valid response to genocides, like Rwanda and the Holocaust; he explains that one can only know sin (including the sins of society) in light of divine grace, even though evil is often expressed in idealistic and utopian terms (21, 32).

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Category: Living the Faith, Pneuma Review, Spring 2013

About the Author: Timothy Teck Ngern Lim, M.Div. (BGST, Singapore), Ph.D. (Regent University), is a Visiting Lecturer for London School of Theology and Research Tutor for King's Evangelical Divinity School (London). He is on the advisory board of One in Christ (Turvey) and area book review editor for Evangelical Review of Society & Politics. He is an evangelical theologian ordained as a Teaching Elder with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). He has published in ecclesiology, ecumenical theology, and interdisciplinarity. A recent monograph published entitled Ecclesial Recognition with Hegelian Philosophy, Social Psychology, and Continental Political Theory: An Interdisciplinary Proposal (Brill, 2017).

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