Hauerwas and a Faith and Practice for Emerging Churches

Today I spent time reading a dissertation by a now-graduated Fuller student named Brad Kallenberg.  And I found something interesting that points toward a strength within Quaker theory and how it might help other “young churches.???


In his (dishearteningly thick)  dissertation “Changing the subject in postmodernity : Narrative ethics and philosophical therapy in the works of Stanley Hauerwas and Ludwig Wittgenstein,??? he argues that in Wittgenstein the subject of philosophy changed from having a focus on theses to the human person.  He even calls Wittgenstein’s philosophy therapeutic, because it focused on changing the person so much.

Ethics as Grammar
He then argues that Stanely Hauerwas in the tradition of Wittgenstein, picks up where the earlier philosopher left off and argues that theoretical systems, like systematic theology, become so powerful and important that humanity is trivialized in the process.  Thus Hauerwas’ approach is understood as narrativist and argues that “Ethics is grammar.???

In other words until you understand the way in which grammar is used within a given context you cannot understand the essence of that context or community.  Theoretical systems don’t do anything for a given community, what matters is how the community understands itself, it’s practices, and the outside world.

This is why neither Hauerwas and Wittgenstein have systematic ethics and have tended to write in the form of short essays.

Quakers’ Faith and Practice
Quaker’s use of a faith and practice fits within this model understanding ethics within a context.  UK Quaker scholar,Ben Dandelion in his book, “A Sociological Analysis of the Theology of Quakers,??? argues that the Faith and Practice is the closest Friends have ever come to writing a creed.

It will be interesting to see if more Christian communities influenced by postmodernism and Hauerwas’ teachings will follow in the Quakers footsteps in creating a book of faith and practice instead of writing out theoretical and systematic theologies (or having nothing at all).  I am also curious in how blogs and wikis will take the place of printed “faith and practices.??? 

One main strength and weakness is that the Faith and Practice remains editable for each new generation, and as many Quakers have experienced it’s easy for our Faith and Practices to come to stand on very few identifiable beliefs; this is one of the main areas Dandelion focused his research on – how British Friends changed much of their language from the 1960’s and 1980’s version of the Faith and Practice.   

A Continued Need for Learned-Practitioners
One way I propose we avoid this is by continuing to encourage learned-practitioners within the universities and our churches.  Anti-intellectualism and fear of the broader culture will continue to keep us blind to the changes, both theologically and culturally, that negatively and positively shape us.  But we need people who are not only learners but people who are discipled in and continue to serve communities of faith, lest there be a breakdown between faith and practice. 

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Wess

...is the William R. Rogers Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

2 thoughts on “Hauerwas and a Faith and Practice for Emerging Churches”

  1. Hi Wess,
    I’m a big fan of Hauerwas and have long thought his tendency to write short essays and his lack of a “big book” is theologically significant. Lloyd Lee Wilson’s “Essays on the Quaker Vision” and Brian Drayton’s “Living with a Concern for Gospel Ministry” are also written in essay form. Recent Friends have written grand overviews (Thomas Hamm, Wilmer Cooper) but they tend to be rooted in history (and stories) rather than theology.

    I’m the kind of old codger that likes to read the old “Faith and Practices” just because of their different language. It seems like something that both Liberal and Evangelical Friends share is the impulse to constantly translate our faith into familiar, modern language. It’s commendable for us to want to be accessible and an active, growing faith but the danger is that we can all-too-easily translate the meaning out of ourselves. Words are powerful and come with worldviews of their own. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say that familiarity breeds contempt, but when we couch our ministry in familiar terms we sometimes hide the radicalness in it. It can be a useful exercise to force newcomes (and we’re all newcomers in some sense of another!) to wrestle with the hard language, just as a way of approaching the subject matter with fresh eyes.

    I’ve not read “A Sociological Analysis” but I’ve always like Pink-Dandelion’s other stuff and included his “Convinced Quakerism” pamphlet in the Quakerism 101 course I taught the other year.

  2. Martin, thanks for adding to this post with your thoughts. I agree with you, and don’t think it means you’re an old codger, that we need to struggle with what we already have. We do need to always fight the impulse to chage, that does seem to be one of the first impulses we experience.

    You are correct when you say, “growing faith but the danger is that we can all-too-easily translate the meaning out of ourselves.” In fact I think that part of this conversation will include what parts are less likely to be changed, or which parts we refuse to change. I think many of our own tradition’s ills have come from us changing the language, and theology too quickly in the midst of culture’s pressures.

    We certainly see this in the 19th century with all the splits – they almost without question ride the party lines of the day in terms of what happens in the culture, other conservative and liberal churches, and findings in science and theology.

    I do think it’s possible to couch our theology in terms that are familiar while remaining radical and faithful – I think this is something Hauerwas and Yoder have both showed us how to do.

    The problem is when we are crafting and recrafting our “Faith and Practices” we want to agree and not challenge the culture’s assumptions instead of struggle with it, call it out and subvert it.

    I certainly like the idea of having newcomers deal with the early stuff and find the richness that is there. We’ve changed things that didn’t need to get changed and it would be nice to have others read about it in order to discover that for themselves.

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