Stanley Hauerwas on Confusing the ‘American’ We with the ‘Christian’ We

The video below is from a question and answer session with Stanley Hauerwas after a lecture he gave at Azusa Pacific University. His remarks are specifically in response to a question about Christian non-violence, but also speak well to the state of the church in the U.S. as we come off our most recent (and contentious) election cycle.

But an aside before getting to that: I want to be a better blogger, really I do. I am told that blogging regularly requires momentum, something that I can’t seem to really bring to critical mass for myself. Its not like I’ve nothing to write about. I’ve actually quite a bit really – thoughts are always churning through my head, but between the day job, the reading I do (which, while I consider it slow is still vociferous and something of a barely well-managed obsession :-)), and family time I find myself without a lot of uninterrupted time to put these thoughts into something readable. I’m told by a friend with whom I converse about theology and such that my insights and questions are helpful to him, not only in how he thinks about his faith but also in his spirituality (and of course the two are intimately interwoven) and he has exhorted, “Other people need to be able to hear/read what you’re saying. This is good stuff Russell. Why don’t you put this (whatever we are talking about) on your blog?” Well, there’s no quitting my job unfortunately, and the reading/conversations I have are a big part of what provokes my theological imagination. What’s left is family time and I have decided not to cut into that as much as absolutely possible and I think in the short and long run this is for the best. So, all that to say, I want to be a better (ie, more consistent and regular) blogger and less sporadic … but I’m not making any promises.

Ok, now on to the video…

I have a great love for the church. In fact, I see my vocation as being an ecclesial theologian – or that is, a theologian for the church in its 21st century, post-Christendom missional context (we could perhaps try to chase down what this looks like, and I have some thoughts, but I’ll save that for some other time). That being said, I find myself grieving quite intensely for the church in North American right now. On the heels of our presidential election it seems to me that far too much of the church has simply adopted the culture war (seen in terms of polarized American politics and its cultural forms as ‘cultural’ Christianity loses favor with the slow demise of Christendom), civil religion of Americanism/nationalism, and ‘Christian’ nation narratives far too readily.

These narratives have been evidenced in more than one conversation I’ve been privy to since the election that basically says that with the decline of the U.S. as no longer a ‘godly nation’ under Obama, Texas should secede and become its own ‘godly nation’ (I’m serious, this is the actual language that has been used). As far as I can see all three of these false narratives are at play in this kind of talk and are wholly and completely bad for the health, identity, and mission of the church. God has a people and an alternative polis or city with its own differently order ‘politics’ – that of cruciform love. This people and this polis is the church, not a supposed ‘Christian’ or even ‘godly’ nation-state in any form. More could (and needs to) be said on this, but the church, God’s ecclesia, is largely subsumed and co-opted under the weight of these alien narratives; the acceptance of which reveal, I think, that the church at large in the U.S. is in something of an identity crisis. Hauerwas gets to the heart of this identity crisis well in the video when he remarks that far too often,

…the ‘American’ we has been confused with the ‘Christian’ we.

I think Hauerwas speaks well here with much needed wisdom for the church in the U.S. May we heed his words.

Stanley Hauerwas on ‘Public’ vs ‘Private’

Stanley Hauerwas has become one of my favorite theologians and ethicists. He has a way of seeing possibility in seemingly disparate theological sources that most would think could never go together (who else could bring Karl Barth and Yoder together in a way that really does work). Hauerwas also displays a consistent knack for questioning the categories, concepts, and conditions of modernism which many others unquestionably accept as being ‘obviously’ true.

Below is a short video in which Hauerwas gives some food for thought on matters which seem especially important in today’s political and cultural landscape:

  • He touches on the issues of pluralism and secularism and our posture as Christians within a pluralistic milieu.
  • He calls Christians in particular to be a people who care about truth telling (especially pertinent during an election year in which many Christians are as willing as anyone else to tolerate lies as long as their guy wins).
  • He issues a call for the need of “eloquent and disciplined speech for the formation of a people who love the right things rightly” (with a little tweaking, a great statement on the task of theology and the church in my opinion).
  • And in the process he questions the very assumptions of modernity behind the notions of both ‘public’ and ‘private’ (and the attendant splitting or dichotomizing of public and private in modernity) which a great many seem to simply take for granted.

Should Faith Be Private? from CPX on Vimeo.

(HT: Allan Bevere & John Byron)

Jesus vs Religion [1] – What Do You Think?

Evangelicals love their clichés. No, they really do!

We hear them after a huge disappointment, “God obviously has something better in store for you.”

We can hear them at the break up of a longstanding relationship, “Well, he/she just wasn’t the one. You just need to wait on God’s timing.”

We can hear them at the death of a child, “God just needed another angel in heaven.” (This is but one of the many well meaning, yet completely unhelpful and theologically vacuous clichés offered to C.C. and I as we suffered through losing three babies to miscarriage.)

And we can hear them from tracts meant to supposedly explain the gospel, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”

I’m sure that many find clichés helpful. I don’t. In my perspective clichés (like these above and others floating around out there) reduce faith to mere self help motivational pseudo proverbs that claim the look and feel of wisdom but lack any of the substance. To often clichés run rampant over the realities of human experience, dismissing pain with a few words, and sucking the mystery out of God’s activity in our lives. Clichés lack any real theological promise to narrate us into the story of our suffering and liberating Messiah. While it may be true that each cliché is based on a ‘truth’ or represents a ‘truth’ they fail to account for how ‘truth’ is lived out contextually in the lives of real people and their theological shallowness twists and distorts whatever ‘truth’ might be embedded in them.

In the evangelical circles that I grew up in there were two clichés that were absolute favorites…

“I love Jesus but hate religion” and “It’s a relationship … not a religion!” Oh, and let’s not forget, “Religion says ‘do’ but Jesus says ‘done!” (ok, so I guess that makes three not two).

These were even favorites of mine when I was in high school and as a newly called minister after high school. There is even another variety that has popped up that goes, “I’m spiritual but not religious” (which is thought by some to more inclusive than the standard evangelical clichés). The fact is that this sort of thing still seems to resonate with the experience of a great many people, as the response to the spoken word video by Jefferson Bethke that recently went viral shows.

This video has garnered a kajillion views. Many of my facebook friends shared this video on their wall and had nothing but the highest praise saying things like, “This guy gets it!” But Bethke also drew a host of responses in the form of critiques of what many of these persons saw as the promotion of a false dichotomy.  These are some of my favorites:

1) From Jamie Arpin-Ricci, Why St. Francis Loved Jesus AND Religion.

2) From Christianity Today, The Business of Jesus vs Religion, and “why you can’t reconstruct a stripped down, organic, anti-corporate version of what you think Jesus should be.”

3) A Catholic response in the form of a spoken word video:

4) The ‘Internet Monk’ blog on Why I Just Can’t Hate Religion, Though I Love Jesus.

5) Brian LePort at ‘Near Emmaus’ responds with two great posts: Remember, Jesus Practiced Religion too! and Christianity Against Religion.

6) The normally peace loving folks over at the ‘Mennonite Weekly Review’ pull no punches with: The ‘I hate religion but love Jesus’ approach (and YouTube video) is simplistic, unbiblical and dangerous.

7) In addition to the Catholic spoken word response above, here is a Lutheran version (my apologies that we are still waiting on the Baptist version):

8) The ‘Tall Skinny Kiwi’ himself, Andrew Jones, has the skinny in his post: Religion: Love it and Hate it. He summarizes, “There is such a thing as dead, empty, powerless religion which God rejects” … “And there is also religion done right.”

9) Mike Morrell in a rather comprehensive post, Jesus and Religion’s Relationship Status: It’s Complicated.

10) Christian Piatt at ‘Red Letter Christians’ on Hating Religion, Loving Jesus: A Well-Meaning False Dichotomy.

11) Kevin DeYoung at the ‘Gospel Coalition’ blog asks, Does Jesus Hate Religion? Kinda, Sorta, Not Really (see here for a Follow Up on the Jesus/Religion Video with some interaction between DeYoung and Bethke).

12) And finally, Ed Cyzewski at ‘in.a.mirror.dimly’ with a wonderful post on Why Theologians Should Buy the Religion-Hating YouTube Guy a Fruit Basket.

Nowadays, even while trying to understand where Bethke is coming from (having been there once myself), I tend to agree with many if not most of the points made in these critiques (but not all, just because I link to it does NOT mean I agree 100% with it). My contention though is that there are even deeper concerns at the heart of this conversation about Jesus vs religion (as far as I can see) that most people are completely missing. I am going to get these in another post that should be up in the next day or two. For now I think we can say a couple of things completely clearly. First, Bethke is not the first to say these sort of things. The pitting of Jesus against religion has a long pedigree in modern evangelicalism. Second, its very clear this is a conversation that’s long overdue (and that needs some definite theological, philosophical, and hermeneutical thickness to it).

So, before I add my critique and response let me ask:

Do you love Jesus but hate religion? What is the relationship between Jesus and religion? Or do you think Jesus vs religion is an unhelpful false dichotomy? What do you think?

I look forward to reading your comments. Play nice though.