Stanley HAUERWAS, Approaching the End: Eschatological Reflections on Church, Politics and Life. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2013. pp. 251. ISBN 978-0-8028-6959-3. Reviewed by Marc TUMEINSKI, Anna Maria College, Paxton, MA 01612.
One of the features of this book which grabbed my attention from the start was the degree to which Hauerwas provides an instructive example of a theologian engaging deeply with the thoughts and writings of other theologians–including theologians from backgrounds and perspectives that Hauerwas does not necessarily share. It is no surprise that he quotes and comments upon the work of John Howard Yoder, given his numerous references over the years to Yoder’s importance to his own theology. Hauerwas also engages in this particular text, however, with a wide range of writings by theologians, philosophers, scientists, historians and writers. Despite the title and his comments in the preface about his retirement, Hauerwas in this book certainly does not come across as ‘approaching the end’ but as someone still deeply immersed in the work of theology. This work also reflects his commitment to, and love for, teaching–which Hauerwas reflects on in several places.
The backdrop to this book is Hauerwas’ examination of the Church which is living “between the times” (xi). While the chapter topics are not necessarily directly rooted in the traditional theological field of eschatology (except in the broader sense just mentioned), they do invite the reader to consider who the Church and Christians are to be in this world, in light of the victory that Christ has already won. Given Hauerwas’ dialogic style of writing, the book comes across less as a text on a single theme and more as a collection of richly overlapping, mutually reinforcing chapters. As a teacher, Hauerwas in this book tends to shy away from explicitly laying out connections among these various chapter topics, but rather invites his readers to look for and then explore such connections themselves (xiii).
As indicated by the multiple cross-references to his other publications, it is clear that this book picks up theological threads that have long interested Hauerwas. As one might imagine, based on his corpus, the themes of nonviolence, politics, disability, medicine and war run throughout this text. The chapters are divided into three sections, on: 1) theology, 2) Church and politics, and 3) life and death, with the last section being the most lengthy. Three of the chapters are co-authored with different writers: Charles Pinches, Joel Shuman and Gerald McKenny.
It is a nice touch that the first chapter addresses creation, and is titled ‘The end is in the beginning,’ which is appropriate given the focus on eschatology. The book does not include a conclusion, which leaves the reader a little bit hanging … though perhaps this too is appropriate, again given the book’s title. After all, we already know the ending of the Gospel story.
These chapters give the reader much to consider. Hauerwas invites his audience to contemplate thoughtful arguments on key issues in the life of the Church–such as witness and martyrdom, the contingency of creation, the relationship of revealed and natural law, the nature of ecumenical dialogue and (re)union–as well as contemporary socio-political issues–such as medical ethics, cloning, and the character of warfare in light of the history of the nation-state. Many of the chapters include Hauerwas’ reflections on his past writings, adding his further clarification, explanation and nuance.
In line with Hauerwas’ style, already mentioned above, the arguments are not always fully fleshed out, but the reader is given enough to see the main lines, and the references and footnotes would help the interested reader to easily search out other texts by Hauerwas and his interlocutors, and thus to continue exploring these ideas.
At times I was a bit unsure of the original audience or context of some of the chapters, though some were based on particular talks given by Hauerwas (e.g., he indicates that the chapter entitled ‘Bearing Reality’ was given as the 2012 Presidential Address to the Society of Christian Ethics). However, I would have found it helpful to have known, or been able to look up, the origin of each of the chapters.
At some point, and perhaps at many points, the reader will find him or herself challenged by Hauerwas, and invited to re-think or at least more deeply examine his or her theological assumptions. This is an engaging, well-documented and thought-provoking book that is well worth spending time and effort to read and re-read, to consider and re-consider, regardless of whether or not one agrees with Hauerwas’ arguments. For readers new to Hauerwas or well-read in his corpus, these chapters have much to offer.