Stanley Hauerwas adds to his theological corpus with this thoughtful and provocative collection of sermons and reflections on the relationship between theology, as practiced in the academy, and preaching, as practiced in the pulpit. Although Hauerwas is not himself an ordained minister and preaches only occasionally at a local Episcopal parish church and at Duke Divinity School, he argues that preaching of the Gospel necessarily lies at the center of the Christian theological enterprise. If theology becomes purely academic, it loses its essential connection to the believing community. Likewise, preaching needs to be informed by the fruits of theological study and reflection if it is to help Christians to grapple with the world in which we live.
Hauerwas observes that many theologians and preachers today suffer from a “loss of confidence in the language of faith.” He describes what he sees as “the lack of trust of many who preach… that God will show up in the words we use” and likewise the fear that many preachers have that the congregation will not like or understand real, challenging, and “truthful” preaching. As a result, Hauerwas argues that much modern preaching merely restates the “superficial and sentimental pieties” of our secular society, rather than trying to struggle with the Scriptures in a way that would help both the preacher and the congregation to understand the complexities of their lives.
Hauerwas’ own preaching, he says, is informed by all of his other theological work, and in turn shapes his theology. He presents his sermons in four groups, “Seeing,” “Saying,” “Living,” and “Events,” with each sermon preceded by citations for the scriptural text, from the lectionary for each day on which he preached. In the sermons, Hauerwas reflects on Jesus, the Trinity, and the life of the church from the perspective of modern Christians reading the Scriptures seriously. In “Seeing,” Hauerwas explores what it means for Christians to believe, especially in the modern, post-Enlightenment world. His sermon on Jesus’ healing of the blind man asks if our particular blindness today is our belief in our uniquely enlightened state. At the same time, he points out, in a sermon for the feast of Saint Luke, the vital role all Christians play as witnesses to the Gospel—a role which makes the witnesses an inseparable part of the story of Jesus. “Saying” includes Hauerwas’ sermons on the Trinity, cross, sacrifice, and what it means for Christians to be weak and foolish with the respect to the world, including the university world of the divinity student.
In “Living,” Hauerwas speaks of Christian fears and denial of death; the church’s responsibility, like Mary who anoints Jesus, to pour “out ourselves as wealth for the world;” and the importance of peacefulness and gentleness in the Christian approach to the world. In these sermons, Hauerwas examines scriptural passages which speak of the poor and slavery in ways that are, as he himself says, both “conservative” and “radical,” refusing to give either a liberation theology reading or a purely traditional one. Finally, Hauerwas includes sermons delivered for specific “Events”—baptisms, a marriage, and an ordination—which illustrate how specific and concrete the Christian liturgical experience is. These sermons are followed by three interesting reflections, included as appendices: one on Matthew’s Gospel (reflecting on the richness of the Gospel, on which he recently wrote a theological commentary), one on repentance in wartime (specifically for Americans since September 11, 2001), and one on Hauerwas’ own theological work.
Overall, this collection of sermons, with its accompanying essay on Hauerwas’ theological work, lays the groundwork for a fruitful discussion of the essential interdependence of theology and preaching, and the ways in which theology and preaching can and should interact. This book provides a point of entry to many different theological topics and could assist in provoking discussions with groups of students at a variety of levels. Even more, Hauerwas’ sermons may encourage other preachers to be theological and other theologians to bring their theology into the daily lives of more Christians, outside the ivory tower. Perhaps this volume of sermons will be the first of many, as other theologians present sermons for struggling Christians today.