Tag Archives: Stanley Hauerwas

Cruciform Justice 1: Introduction

CruciformJusticeHow long, O LORD,
must I call for help before you listen,
before you save us from violence?
(Habakkuk 1:2-4)

He came closer to the city,
and when he saw it, he wept over it, saying,
“If you only knew today what is needed for peace!
But now you cannot see it!
(Luke 19:41-42)

There is no place worldwide where Habakkuk’s cry is not heard; and Jesus’ tears still wet our cities’ streets today. The world’s pain and suffering cries out for justice and peace. Yet what does it look like when they finally prevail? And, more importantly, when and by what means will it actually come to pass?

So we ask, “What is needed for peace?” These perennial questions have had many proposed solutions. Yet, in a world where injustice still reigns supreme, it appears all human attempts to establish a global kingdom of peace and foster universal prosperity have so far ultimately failed.

Christians have taken different sides on this issue. Some quarters of “Christendom” have allied themselves with the political powers and socio-economic systems of the day, attempting to Christianize the worldly systems and use them as God’s instrument for peace and justice. Other Christians have separated themselves from society altogether, placing upon it the stamp of divine condemnation, and simply awaiting the rapture from this hopeless world.

Political and social activism is advocated by the former, while the latter focus solely on ‘soul-winning,’ shrugging off social involvement saying ‘it makes little sense rearranging the deck furniture on a sinking Titanic.’ Both of these approaches fail on biblical grounds. What then is the church’s appropriate response to the world’s injustice and suffering? And what ecclesial action (if any) is expected of us by God while we await the new creation — the kingdom “wherein justice dwells”?

Drawing significantly from the works of John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas and Jurgen Moltmann, the forthcoming series of posts will argue that the popular definitions of justice used in mainstream political and theological debate need to become more Jesus-shaped and our values more cruciform if the church is going to be faithful in its task of following the way of Jesus, i.e., the way of the cross, in the world today.  (Note: This is the unique call of the church, not the world, secular governments, etc.)

Join me on my search for a more Jesus-shaped, cruciform understanding of justice. Read full series HERE.

*This series is excerpts from a term paper I wrote back in 2004 at Bethel Seminary. -JB

A Faith Worth Living & Dying For?

Stoning of Stephen 3I’m preparing a message on the stoning of Stephen this Sunday. Here’s something to ponder from William Willimon in his commentary on Acts:

Stanley Hauerwas has written about the mass suicide at “Jonestown” when hundreds of followers of Jim Jones and his “People’s Temple” took their lives and the lives of their children (p. 106). He notes that in contemporary media accounts of the event two dominant theories were put forth to explain Jonestown: (1) The followers of Jim Jones were under the hypnotic spell of a maniac. They were insane victims of an insane leader who led them to suicide. (2) The followers of Jim Jones were mostly poor, ignorant, oppressed people whose suffering made them easy prey for the alluring promises of a crazed messiah like Jones. In other words both theories assumed that in the modern world only insane people would die for what they believed.

In the United States we have “freedom of religion,” which means that we are free to exercise our faith — as long as we do so within certain limits, as long as I do not become a fanatic — like the poor, deranged folk at Jonestown who committed suicides rather than forsake their belief in Jim Jones. Although we have freedom to be religious, that does not seem to involve freedom to die for what we believe, because only a crazed fanatic would do that.

Yet the story of Stephen reminds us practitioners of polite, civil, mentally balanced religion that once there were Christians who quite joyfully parted with possessions, family, friends, even life itself in order to remain faithful. Luke does not demean the sacrifice of Stephen by reducing his death to psychological or sociological factors, the way our media explained Jonestown. Rather, Luke sees Stephen as a hero of the faith, a quite rational person who died for the same faith b which he lived. Indeed not to die for what you hold most dear would seem, to the church of Acts, to be the essence of irrationality, even insanity. Continue reading

Some Key Christian Influences

We are largely the product of the many influences — both good and bad — that shape the people we have become.  We’re like lumps of clay that over time have been shaped and molded by a hundred different influential hands — and experiences and words and ideas and moments and conversations and books and dreams and successes and failures — but mostly people.

I am no exception. My journey as a Christian believer, thinker, writer and pastor has been and continues to be most powerfully and positively impacted by…

Timothy Keller for his sharp, sophisticated communication of Christian truth with a kind and gentle spirit.

Greg Boyd on keeping Jesus’ radical, Calvary-shaped Kingdom distinct from various Americanized versions of Christianity, and his teachings on free will and spiritual warfare.

N.T. Wright on understanding Jesus, Paul and the New Testament accurately in its historical context, and so much more.

John Stott for simply expositing the text and letting the New Testament speak afresh in Bible Speaks Today series.

Pastor David Johnson for his applicable, expository preaching that awakened new faith in me in college and continues to nurture me today.

Stanley Hauerwas on narrative theology and an Anabaptist Jesus-shaped ethics.

Erwin McManus for demonstrating and inspiring me to take risks and live life “on the divine edge of God’s activity.”

Lesslie Newbigin on missional engagement with the post-Christian culture.

Jurgen Moltmann on a theology of the cross.

Scot McKnight on balancing rigorous New Testament scholarship with a down-to-earth concern for laypeople and pastors.

Will Willimon on preaching the strange and peculiar God we serve and follow.

Michael Spencer (Internet Monk) on the search for a more simple Jesus-shaped spirituality.

John Howard Yoder for illuminating the sharp, subversive political edges of Jesus’ Kingdom teachings.

John Piper on “doxological exposition” of scripture, and for sharpening my theological views as I wrestle with our differences.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the cost of discipleship, radical obedience and the danger of cheap grace.

Eugene Peterson for being “a pastor’s pastor” and keeping me anchored in deep truths of scripture.

Dallas Willard for “The Divine Conspiracy” that nearly encapsulates the totality of Christian discipleship in one book.

C.S. Lewis for sharing his brilliant Christian mind and “baptized imagination” with the world.

Pastor David Brown for his revolutionary spirit and insistence that following Jesus means washing others’ feet in humble service.

Peter Herzog for our lifelong friendship rooted in Christian truth, love and transparency.

Dad & Mom for raising me in church and demonstrating that simple, child-like faith is enough (Mark 10:15).

My wife Keri who is my loving, supportive, faithful, prayerful partner and friend on this lifelong journey with God.

QUOTABLES: The Cost of Following Jesus

“The basis for the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount is not what works but rather the way God is. Cheek-turning is not advocated as what works (it usually does not), but advocated because this is the way God is — God is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. This is not a stratagem for getting what we want but the only manner of life available, now that, in Jesus, we have seen what God wants. We seek reconciliation with the neighbor, not because we feel so much better afterward, but because reconciliation is what God is doing in the world through Christ.”

-Will Willimon & Stan Hauerwas, Resident Aliens

Resident Aliens 2

Chapter 2 of “Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony” by Hauerwas & Willimon engages the issue of the church’s engagement with the powers-that-be.  In typical Hauerwasian fashion, they suggest the church focus it’s energy on being the church — a distinct, alien tribe that remains faithful to it’s own life shaped by in the story of Jesus.

“Christianity is mostly a matter of politics — politics as defined by the gospel. The call to be part of the gospel is a joyful call to be adopted by an alien people, to join a countercultural phenomenon, a new polis called church. The challenge of the gospel is not the intellectual dilemma of how to make an archaic system of belief compatible with modern belief systems. The challenge of Jesus is the political dilemma of how to be faithful to a strange community, which is shaped by a story of how God is with us” (30).

“[Our American society] is formed to supply our needs, no matter the content of those needs. Rather than helping us to judge our needs, to have the right needs which we exercise in right ways, our society becomes a vast supermarket of desire under the assumption that if we are free enough to assert and to choose whatever we want we can defer eternally the question of what needs are worthy having and on what basis right choices are made. What we call “freedom” becomes the tyranny of our own desires. We are kept detached, strangers to one another as we go about fulfilling our needs and asserting our rights. The individual is given a status that makes incomprehensible the Christian notion of salvation as a political, social phenomenon in the family of God. Our economics correlates to our politics. Capitalism thrives in a climate where “rights” are the main political agenda. The church becomes one more consumer-oriented organization, existing to encourage individual fulfillment rather than being a crucible to engender individual conversion into the Body” (32-33). Continue reading

Resident Aliens 1

Already 21 years old, “Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony” is a little book by the Duke duo Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon that purports to offer “a provocative Christian assessment of culture and ministry for people who know that something is wrong.”  Two decades later, something is still wrong.  This book speaks powerfully and prophetically to the challenge facing the 21st century church and deserves a place beside all the other newer books being written on what has come to be known as the “missional church” movement.

Let me share some highlights from each chapter in the following series of posts.

“In Jesus we meet not a presentation of basic ideas about God, world, and humanity, but an invitation to join up, to become part of a movement, a people” (21).

“In the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, all human history must be reviewed. The coming of Christ has cosmic implications. He has changed the course of things. So the theological task is not merely the interpretive matter of translating Jesus into modern categories but rather to translate the world to him. The theologian’s job is not to make the gospel credible to the modern world, but to make the world credible to the gospel” (24).

“Christianity is more than a matter of a new understanding. Christianity is an invitation to be part of an alien people who make a difference because they see something that cannot otherwise be seen without Christ. Right living is more the challenge than right thinking. The challenge is not the intellectual one but the political one — the creation of a new people who have aligned themselves with the seismic shift that has occurred in the world since Christ” (24).

“That which makes the church “radical” and forever “new” is not the church tends to lean toward the left on most social issues, but rather that the church knows Jesus whereas the world does not. In the church’s view, the political left is not noticeably more interesting than the political right; both sides tend toward solutions that act as if the world has not ended and begun in Jesus. These “solutions” are only mirror images of the status quo” (28).

ESSAY: Stanley Hauerwas & the Church as God’s New Language (2004)

“Your very lives are a letter that anyone can read by just looking at you.”

(2 Corinthians 3:2 MSG)

Stanley Hauerwas

Upon reflecting on the birth of the church and its purpose, Stanley Hauerwas claims that “at Pentecost God created a new language, but it was a language that is more than words.  It is instead a community” shaped and formed by the memory of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.[1]

The following essay explores this image of the church as God’s new language in and for the world.  Is this some strange and novel idea that Hauerwas recently invented?  Or is this metaphor rooted in the biblical tradition of the prophets and apostles, and retained by the early church fathers?

In this study I will explore aspects of Hauerwas’ ecclesiology more fully and examine them in light of the ecclesial teachings of the apostles and early church fathers.  I will argue that the church gradually shifted away from being God’s message to the world to a community who instead possessed a particular message for the world.  In other words, the church as a sacrament began with an incarnational model and as soon became an institution administering the sacraments with a more confessional and proclamational model.

Issues relevant to ministry and spiritual formation that arise in this study include (1) the question of what type of evangelistic approach should the church have in today’s post-Christian world and (2) the issue of whether Christian ethics should focus more on right acting (behavior) or right being (character).   Let us begin by exploring in more detail Hauerwas’ ecclesiological contributions. Continue reading

Cruciform Justice 10: The War of the Lamb

cruciformjustice1I have so far in this series highlighted the inadequacies of two of the key aspects of the popular human system of social ethics: (1) that human beings have the ability to wisely and justly direct the course of history, and (2) that humanly created structures, powers, and programs are able means to bring lasting justice and peace. I have also indicated the limited power of retributive justice and have invited us to consider God’s restorative, reconciliatory justice wrought on the cross. Now I want to address the popular utilitarian principle that guides so many efforts for establishing justice and peace. Does the end justify the means?

In a cruciform world, the answer is ‘No.’ First, the justice and peace we seek must be divided into two distinct classes. On the one hand there is temporal justice and peace, meaning the absence of war and short-lived prosperity that humans can to some extend secure for themselves by human governance. This is usually as far as theorists go in their thinking. But Christians—and all who dare to dream big—long for the eternal kind of justice and absolute shalom that ends the entire cycle violence, eliminating with it all conditions that lead to violence. Absolute shalom and eternal justice can only come from the creative and restorative work of the merciful God, i.e., a New Creation.

Second, this does not leave the Christian in some state of uselessness, passivity or despair. The church believes that God has already acted decisively on behalf of the world in the Cross and Resurrection of Christ to overthrow the unjust systems of the world—the ‘principalities and powers.’ The War of the lamb has already been fought and “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Rev 7:10). Christians are already tasting the fruits of the Coming Age in the present, and are called to manifest the ethics of God’s Kingdom (e.g., Sermon on the Mount) to the kingdoms of darkness that surround (Phil 2:15).

Third, if “might is not right” then and “those who live by the sword shall also die by the sword” (Matt 26:52), then how is peace and justice to prevail? How does Good vanquish Evil? How does weakness overpower strength? We at last turn to John Howard Yoder who helps draw our attention to the true means of victory: Continue reading

Cruciform Justice 9: Living Out of Control

cruciformjustice1As we mentioned earlier, the humanistic optimism that drives the prominent secular theories of government acts as if human beings control the course of history. This is a responsibility too large for any human being and inevitably stirs up within them an overbearing anxiety, fear and despair. Many have therefore painted themselves into a Darwinian corner and have no choice but to live out the unfortunate implications of the theory: the strongest survive by exposing of the weak. And the ruthless cycle repeats itself.

Stanley Hauerwas points to Babel as the culmination of such human self-intending. At Babel “our forbearers used their creative gifts to live as if they need not acknowledge that their existence depends of gifts” (Community of Character, 49). God’s scattering and confusing of their languages was meant to be a gift, according to Hauerwas. “For by being so divided, by having to face the otherness created by separateness of language and place, people were given the resources necessary to recognize their status as creatures” (49). Instead of accepting this gift, people “used their separateness as a club, hoping to force all peoples to speak their tribe’s language. Thus, at Babel war was born…” Herein lies the heart of the problem: “Violence derives from the self-deceptive story that we are in control—that we are our own creators—and that only we can bestow meaning on our lives, since there is no one else to do so” (Hauerwas, The Peacable Kingdom, 94).

Yet as I have argued, the Cross dropped the curtain on this violent Act of history and raised it up again on the third day, bringing this tragic drama to a gloriously new and strikingly triumphant new Act: Continue reading

Immigration Reform & the Tower of Babel

Immigration

From the DI archives written in 2007 at the peak of the Immigration reform media buzz. The question still remains for Christ followers: Which controlling story shapes our views on the macro issues of the day?  

When the human race, so long ago, decided that it no longer needed to depend on God’s daily provisions and blessings, and began building its own ‘structures’ (symbolised by the Tower of Babel) to sustain them apart from God, God scattered them and divided them by languages and cultures. This scattering and dividing was meant to bring healing and restore proper relationship with God.

Having been divided by clan and language, they were no longer able to launch this grand universal human project of playing God (i.e., global idolatry). The human race was again prompted to cooperate with God for life and prosperity. As Stanley Hauerwas argues, “For by being so divided, by having to face the otherness created by separateness of language and place, people were given the resources necessary to recognize their status as creatures.” Unfortunately, instead of accepting this gift, people “used their separateness as a club, hoping to force all peoples to speak their tribe’s language. Thus, at Babel war was born.”

The world still finds itself living in the Babel story.

However, as Christians, we are called into a different story — a story begun at Pentecost where the effects of Babel are gradually being reversed. Continue reading

My Top 3: Theological “Hobbyhorses”

098dan-and-beckyEvery scholar-teacher has their favorite topic — those aspects of their field of study they are most passionate about.  When a student raises a question related to one of your favorite topics, you get instantly energized, your voice gains added force and you launch into lecture mode.

In my Bible Studies and discussions with people and students over the past few years, the topics that get me most fired up are the following three: Platonic distortion of biblical theology, the politics of Jesus in “Christian” America, and radical discipleship in the 21st century church. Let me explain. Continue reading

PHILIPPIANS 12: Resident Aliens (1:27-28)

“Whatever happens, as citizens of heaven live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ so that — whether I come and see you or whether I remain absent — I should hear that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, by contending side by side for the faith of the gospel, and by not being intimidated in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign of their destruction, but of your salvation — a sign which is from God.” (Phil 1:27-28)

Is it coincidence that we find ourselves in this politically charged, counter-imperial passage on the weekend we honor the memories of all the brave, fallen patriots of this nation?  Let us honor and remember our American heroes today; but let us never confuse our American citizenship with our primary allegiance to Christ’s very different sort of Kingdom.  

Christians are not citizens of this current world order. We are not primarily good Americans. (Though, I am thankful I was lucky enough to have been born here and grateful for the freedoms we enjoy.) Our primary allegiance is NOT to the American flag (though we can honor that too). Our marching orders are not delineated in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, and our highest values are not “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We are certainly NOT called to live lives worthy of the “American Dream.”  I submit that the American Dream may be the single, most significant obstacle to understanding and embracing the true, radical teachings of Jesus and his Kingdom that is “not of this world.”  

D_IMAGE.11432118fbd.93.88.fa.d0.1350bf532This entire letter to the Philippians is saturated with counter-imperial messages that challenge the Jesus followers there to make Him their sole King and only allegiance.  Paul’s main message is this: “As citizens of heaven live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”  

We are citizens of heaven. We are loyal subjects of another King. We pledge our primary allegiance to the Cross of Christ and the Kingdom He is advancing through Calvary-like love. We are called to live lives worthy of this gospel. The current world is passing away, and we are called to be the forerunners of a new, inbreaking world set in motion on the Cross and with the Resurrection and to come in full in the future. “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev 21:5). ” For the present shape of this world is passing away” (1 Cor 7:31).

God is looking for loyal emissaries willing to set up faithful colonies that manifest Christlike love and values to the onlooking world around them. These “resident aliens” will inhabit the land, live peacefully among non-Christians, slowly drawing them into their remarkable counter-cultural life, evidenced by their unity of heart, mind and mission. Our mission and calling is not to seek our own life, freedom and personal happiness. Rather, we are called to “lose our life” for the sake of others (Luke 17:33), to become “slaves of Christ” (Eph 6:6) where we’ll find ultimate freedom, and “seek first the Kingdom and His righteousness” (Mark 6:33). This is a life worthy of the gospel of Christ. This is a life that sets us up like a city on a hill, with everyone looking on and liking what they see.

aliensHere’s the challenge:

“Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. Live an exemplary life among the natives so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they’ll be won over to God’s side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives.”
(1Peter 2:11-12)

For more on this central teaching on Christian identity and kingdom citizenship I recommend reading Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, The Myth of a Christian Nation by Greg Boyd or Jesus For President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne.