Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Friendship, Alienation, Love: Stanley Hauerwas and John Howard Yoder

Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Friendship, Alienation, Love: Stanley Hauerwas and John Howard Yoder

Article excerpt

Abstract: A robust moral psychology based in Aristotelian-Thomist thought is central to Stanley Hauerwas' theology in a way that it was not for John Howard Yoder. While Hauerwas's doctrine of the church is dependent upon Yoder, Yoder's lack of a moral psychology sits uneasily with the demands of Hauerwas's theology, one of which is a fully-developed account of friendship. Hauerwas follows a pattern evident in Yoder's thought wherein the doctrine of the church as a social polity short-circuits fulsome reflection on personal and affective dimensions of faith. By way of contrast, Sebastian Moore and James Alison have developed understandings of love and imitation that provide the basis for a social and personal account of friendship and, hence, a non-alienating vision of the Christian life.


[W]e can become transformed vicariously in the transformation of those whose lives have become intertwined with ours.

--David Burrell (1)

"I oftentimes feel I learned everything from John." (2) Stanley Hauerwas has little use for attempts to understand his contributions to Christian theology that do not point to the influence that John Howard Yoder exerted on him. Nonviolence, Christology, ecclesiology and eschatology are all areas in which Hauerwas's thought has been deeply shaped by Yoder in ways that he has openly acknowledged on many occasions. More importantly, one might say, Hauerwas owes to Yoder the insight that one cannot speak adequately of Christian nonviolence without a robust eschatology; that such an eschatology depends on an appropriately developed Christology; and that any such Christology will be a function of an ecclesiology centered in practices of discipleship. Yet, there are already many accounts of the theological relationship between Hauerwas and Yoder, and I do not wish in this essay merely to add my voice into the mix. (3) So, I will make only a few prefatory comments on the dependency of Hauerwas to Yoder before moving on to examine a connection between Hauerwas and Yoder that I think deserves deeper analysis than it has yet been given.

The subject I have in mind concerns how Yoder and Hauerwas solve issues of personal and existential alienation by treating the unhappiness many people experience as a kind of misdiagnosis that can be solved via a judicious application of ecclesiology. As I read Hauerwas reflecting on (and sometimes simply reflecting) Yoder, it seems to me that his posture fails to acknowledge the depth of people's unhappiness in one of two ways. First, Hauerwas can suggest that if people only had an account of the church like Yoder has, and invested themselves in the practices that constitute such an account, they would discover that they really are happy after all. He does this in his more Aristotelian moments, but the tactic of redefining happiness so that the problem we thought we had is no longer a problem seems questionable to me. Second, and more disturbing, is the sense Hauerwas can give that a robust ecclesiology should direct attention away from the cultivation of healthy subjectivities. Many of the students who have taken Hauerwas's "Introduction to Christian Ethics" course over the past few decades can no doubt attest to feelings of shock at his infamous "I don't give a damn about your subjectivity" lecture. Yet, I have no doubt that many of those same students will attest to a sense that the bluster accompanying Hauerwas's lecture is something of an act: He obviously does care about people's subjectivities, given how he is interested in becoming friends with others. To the extent that Hauerwas claims Yoder as a kind of warrant for this posture, I think he betrays his own best insights about friendship and moral psychology.

Am I am basing my reservations about Hauerwas's dependence on Yoder in a kind of misunderstanding? Perhaps. Hauerwas does care about the cultivation of healthy subjectivities; he just does not think that many of us have an inkling about health in this regard given the social deformation we endure in late modern cultures. …

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