Hauerwas: A (Very) Critical Introduction

Hauerwas: A (Very) Critical Introduction

Hauerwas: A (Very) Critical Introduction

Hauerwas: A (Very) Critical Introduction


Stanley Hauerwas is one of the most important and robustly creative theologians of our time, and his work is well known and much admired. But Nicholas Healy -- himself an admirer of Hauerwas's thought -- believes that it has not yet been subjected to the kind of sustained critical analysis that is warranted by such a significant and influential Christian thinker. As someone interested in the broader systematic-theological implications of Hauerwas's work, Healy fills that gap in Hauerwas: A (Very) Critical Introduction.

After a general introduction to Hauerwas's work, Healy examines three main areas of his thought: his method, his social theory, and his theology. According to Healy, Hauerwas's overriding concern for ethics and church-based apologetics so dominates his thinking that he systematically distorts Christian doctrine. Healy illustrates what he sees as the deficiencies of Hauerwas's theology and argues that it needs substantial revision.


Why write a very critical introduction to Stanley Hauerwas? in my opinion, Hauerwas’s work has not as yet been subjected to the kind of exacting critical analysis that is appropriate for such a well-known and controversial Christian thinker. There have been a good number of important criticisms of his work, to be sure, but for the most part these have been limited to one or two key issues, and they have usually been made in the course of developing an argument for a particular project not directly connected with his. Those who have engaged in book-length discussions of Hauerwas’s work have sometimes been somewhat critical, but not, I think, sufficiently so, and have generally been content to propose modifications at most.

1. Some of the most useful critical reflections have come from the following: Nathan Kerr, Christ, History, and Apocalyptic: the Politics of Christian Mission (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2009); James M. Gustafson, “The Sectarian Temptation: Reflections on Theology, the Church, and the University,” ctsa Proceedings 40 (1985): 83-94 (which, though misleadingly formulated, is not, in my view, quite so very wide of its target as some have argued); Oliver O’Donovan, e.g., in his The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996); Jeffrey Stout, Democracy and Tradition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004); David Fergusson, Community, Liberalism, and Christian Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998); and Christopher J. Insole, The Politics of Human Frailty: a Theological Defense of Political Liberalism (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2004). There are no doubt many other critical comments scattered in the literature, but, as I explain below, this book is meant more as my own systematic-theological critical reflection on Hauerwas than as a summary of scholarly research into the full range of others’ views.

2. This is not at all to say that such discussions are unhelpful. Among the best are, for example, Samuel Wells, Transforming Fate into Destiny: the Theological Ethics of Stanley Hauerwas (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 1998); and Arne Rasmusson, The Church as Polis: From Political Theology to Theological Politics as Exemplified by Jürgen Moltmann and Stanley Hauerwas

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