17 May

Stanley Hauerwas on Christian cultivation and cultural captivity

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 05/17/14

The disabling consequences of winsomeness

“The training entailed in being a Christian can be called, if you are so disposed, culture. That is particularly the case if, as Raymond Williams reminds us in Keywords, culture is a term first used as a process noun to describe the tending or cultivation of a crop or animal. One of the challenges Christians confront is how the politics we helped create has made it difficult to sustain the material practcies constitutive of an ecclesial culture necessary to produce Christians.

“The character of much of modern theology exemplifies this development. In the attempt to make Christianity intelligible within the epistemological conceits of modernity, theologians have been intent on showing that what we believe as Christians is not that different than what those who are not Christians believe. Thus [Alasdair] MacIntyre’s wry observation that the project of modern theology to distinguish the kernel of the Christian faith from the outmoded husk has resulted in offering atheists less and less in which to disbelieve.

“It should not be surprising, as David Yeago argues, that many secular people now assume that descriptions of reality Christians employ are a sort of varnish that can be scraped away to reveal a more basic account of what has always been the case. From a secular point of view it is assumed that we agree, or should agree, on fundamental naturalistic and secular descriptions of reality, whatever religious elaborations may lay over them. What I find so interesting is that many Christians accept these naturalistic assumptions about the way things are because they believe by doing so it is possible to transcend our diverse particularites that otherwise result in unwelcome conflict. From such a perspective it is only a short step to the key sociopolitical move crucial to the formation of modern societies, that is, the relegation of religion to the sphere of private inwardness and individual motivation.”

—from Stanley Hauerwas, “Church Matters,” in Christian Political Witness, edited by George Kalantzis and Gregory W. Lee (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2014)

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