Addenda

What We're Reading

5 Sep

Stanley Hauerwas on the modern idea of freedom

Category: What We're Reading
By: Ken Myers
Published: 09/05/13

American churches and autonomous choosers

Stanley Hauerwas

One of the themes that emerged in several interviews on Volume 118 of the Journal was the meaning of human freedom. I think Ron Highfield (God, Freedom, and Human Dignity) is absolutely right in insisting that the modern view of freedom is incompatible with the Gospel’s understanding of who we are and how we were meant to thrive. Unfortunately, much of American Christianity seems configured to justify many modern assumptions rather than critique them. 

Do American churches have the capacity and courage to offer an alternative to the central assumptions that comprise the spirit of our age? In a recently published essay called “The End of American Protestantism,” Stanley Hauerwas argued that “Protestant churches in America lost the ability to maintain the disciplines necessary to sustain a people capable of being an alternative to the world.” He further observes: “More Americans may go to church than their counterparts in Europe, but the churches to which they go do little to challenge the secular presumptions that form their lives or the lives of the churches to which they go.”

I have a lot of sympathy with Hauerwas’s evaluation of the cultural captivity of the American churches. And I think Hauerwas is right in this essay to identify a particular view of freedom (and of America) as fundamental to our confusion. That view of freedom is implicit in the glib concept of “church shopping” (as Daniel M. Bell, Jr., observed in our conversation) and in the proud championing of the “market-driven church” that has become uncontroversial in much of Protestantism.

Hauerwas argues that “America is the exemplification of what I call the project of modernity. That project is the attempt to produce a people who believe that they should have no story except the story that they choose when they had no story. That is what Americans mean by ‘freedom.’” Hauerwas has used this “no story” formulation to discuss the modern view of freedom in other essays, and it’s worth spending some time with his essay to discern what he means. I think that he’s right in insisting (here and elsewhere) that this is a view of freedom that issues in nihilism. American society, he asserts, is “a society that shares no goods in common other than the belief that there are no goods in common.” If churches really want to confront the implicit (and often explicit) nihilism of our cultural moment, they will have to confront their complicity in its nurturing.

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23 Aug

"What You Need to Know About Hans Urs von Balthasar"

Category: What We're Reading
By: Ken Myers
Published: 08/23/13

Rodney Howsare's new essay (and his 2009 book) provide instructive guidance for reading Balthasar.

To date, our Journal has featured no interviews about the work of theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar. There is probably no good reason for this omission. His name has been mentioned in passing during interviews, and many of our guests have been influenced by his work (perhaps most notably David Schindler, heard on vol. 112, and Stratford Caldecott, a guest on vol. 102 and vol. 116).

Reading Balthasar is not a project casually pursued. As Rodney Howsare has remarked, Balthasar “makes enormous demands on his reader, both in terms of the density of his arguments and in terms of what he expects them to already know.” Howsare has provided would-be Balthasar readers with welcome assistance in his 2009 book, Balthasar: A Guide for the Perplexed (T&T Clark). Now Howsare (Professor of Fundamental Theology at DeSales University) has offered an even more concise and tantalizing primer in an essay posted on the Front Porch Republic website, “What You Need to Know About Hans Urs von Balthasar.” In addition to a summary of Balthasar’s massive theological project, Howsare includes links to other introductory essays.

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19 Feb

Liberal Arts for the Christian Life

Category: What We're Reading
By: Ken Myers
Published: 02/19/13

by Jeffry Davis and Philip Ryken (Crossway, 2012)

This anthology, edited by the president of Wheaton College and one of the school's English professors, presents the case that liberal arts education is a form of Christian discipleship.

19 Feb

A Hobbit Journey: Discovering the Enchantment of J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth

Category: What We're Reading
By: Ken Myers
Published: 02/19/13

(Brazos, 2012)

A reworking and expansion of his earlier Following Gandalf, Dickerson (a guest on volume 85) discusses the moral vision of Tolkien in the Middle Earth books, focusing a good deal of attention on matters concerning justice in warfare.

19 Feb

Beauty in the Word: Rethinking the Foundations of Education

Category: What We're Reading
By: Ken Myers
Published: 02/19/13

(Angelico Press, 2012)

A sequel to his Beauty for Truth's Sake (discussed on volume 102 of the Journal), this new book examines how education, rooted in the classical trivium, enables us to "become more human (and therefore more free, in the truest sense of the word)."

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