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.