Hauer­was: a (very) crit­i­cal in­tro­duc­tion Ni­cholas M Healey Eerd­mans, pb, £16.99

How (Not) To Be Sec­u­lar James KA Smith Eerd­mans, pb, £10.99

The Church of England - - Reviews - Paul Richard­son

Stan­ley Hauer­was has been de­scribed by Time as Amer­ica’s leading the­olo­gian. This makes him all the more tempt­ing as a tar­get for crit­i­cal study. Fol­low­ing Karen Kilby’s shrewd crit­i­cal study of Balthasar, the ‘In­ter­ven­tions’ se­ries edited by Con­nor Cunningham of the Not­ting­ham Cen­tre for the Study of The­ol­ogy and Phi­los­o­phy has now pro­duced a short, crit­i­cal study of Hauer­was by the Bri­tish-born Catholic the­olo­gian Ni­cholas M Healey.

This is a book wor­thy to stand be­side Karen Kilby’s work on Balthasar. If the rest of the books in the se­ries are as good as these it will be a very good se­ries in­deed.

In the past Healey has writ­ten on ec­cle­si­ol­ogy so it is not sur­pris­ing that he scores some of his big­gest hits against Hauer­was in this area. This is all the more sig­nif­i­cant in the light of the role the church plays in Hauer­was’ think­ing. In fact one of the chief crit­i­cisms Healey lev­els against Hauer­was is that he is more con­cerned with the church than with God. He draws a par­al­lel with Sch­liemacher who was ac­cused by Barth of con­cen­trat­ing on piety and re­li­gious ex­pe­ri­ence rather than on God who be­came ‘the whence of hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence’.

Healey is able to quote words of Hauer­was him­self to high­light the prob­lem. Most mod­ern the­ol­ogy, Hauer­was has writ­ten, is “more about ‘us’ than God.”

Hauer­was places great em­pha­sis on the way the church shapes Chris­tian iden­tity. Healey claims other fac­tors are im­por­tant, in­clud­ing place, time and back­ground. He ar­gues that Hauer­was’ own paci­fi­cism and polemics against Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural hege­mony may have some­thing to do with the fact that he came to ma­tu­rity in the 1960s.

Healey points out that it is re­mark­ably easy for a mid­dle class Amer­i­can to be a paci­fist. Hauer­was will prob­a­bly re­spond, with some jus­tice, that his rea­sons for be­ing a paci­fist de­serve more at­ten­tion than Healey gives them.

Hauer­was makes much of the church but he says lit­tle about the ques­tions that are dis­cussed in ec­cle­si­ol­ogy. He sits fairly lightly on church af­fil­i­a­tion, cur­rently wor­ship­ping as an Angli­can al­though he has also wor­shipped with Catholics and has long-term ties to Method­ism. What he is re­ally in­ter­ested in is that the church wit­nesses to the val­ues of the gospel. The church is meant to be dif­fer­ent, to be prophetic, to stand out from the world.

Un­for­tu­nately it doesn’t al­ways live up to this call­ing and Hauer­was never seems to recog­nise that many church mem­bers do not share his high ideals. As Healey recog­nises, church mem­bers are a mixed bag and Hauer­was seems to have lit­tle place for be­liev­ers who are less than heroic. There are quite a num­ber of them be­cause, as some­one once said, the church is more of a school for sin­ners than a mu­seum of saints.

Par­ish clergy know only too well that the life of a con­gre­ga­tion of­ten fails to match up to the mes­sage it pro­claims. As Healey puts it: “Je­sus is al­ways more ap­peal­ing and truth­ful than the very best church. Je­sus, we might say, dis­plays the truth of the gospel suf­fi­ciently to cover all the in­ad­e­qua­cies of the church’s at­tempt to fol­low him.”

Hauer­was and those who think like him have had an im­pact on how Chris­tians think about evan­ge­lism. The late Lesslie New­bi­gin used to ar­gue that it was the wit­ness of a Chris­tian com­mu­nity that re­ally at­tracted and con­verted un­be­liev­ers. Church life is im­por­tant but the church needs to do more that seek to draw people into its life.

Pen­te­costal the­olo­gian and philoso­pher James KA Smith has writ­ten a work that sets out to ex­pound the think­ing of Cana­dian Ro­man Catholic philoso­pher, Charles Tay­lor, on what it means to be sec­u­lar. Smith does of­fer some crit­i­cisms of Tay­lor but for the most part he aims to help read­ers un­der­stand what Tay­lor has to say in his im­por­tant work A Sec­u­lar Age.

Smith writes well. This is a rare book by a the­olo­gian be­cause it is a joy to read. It is hard to sum­marise a book that is it­self the sum­mary of a ma­jor work of over 800 pages but I know of no bet­ter guide to one of the most sig­nif­i­cant works of our time. It helps that Smith is able to make good use of mod­ern lit­er­a­ture and cul­ture to il­lus­trate his points. Even Steve Jobs makes an ap­pear­ance.

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