神學王見王:侯活士和邱慕天的的虛擬擂臺 A virtuel convo with Stanley Hauerwas

Mu-tien Chiou

This is a theological conversation between Me (Mu-tien Chiou, student of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) and Dr. Stanley Hauerwas of Duke Divinity School. The general topic of this conversation is on the nature of the church. The real conversation has not physically taken place, but only imaginatively.

本篇學術對話文章為一模擬性神學交鋒,由杜克大學資深神學倫理學教授史丹利.侯活士和三一福音神學院學生道學碩士邱慕天,就「基督教會」的本質和其周邊神學議題的同異進行對談。 文中對話並未真實發生,與著作雷同之處並盡量加以註腳說明。

  • Me: Good afternoon, Dr. Hauerwas. It is really a privilege to have you here talking about one of the most important issues of our Christian faith today, namely, the nature of the church. I think for every believer in God, there has to be a first theology from and through which other conceptions about God and world are made possible. For me, one becomes a serious theologian when s/he starts to be aware of her/his own cognitive dissonance between beliefs and practices and tries to cope with it through thinking process. You have been teaching Christian liturgy at various theological institutions in United States for over some 30 years. So what has made you so concerned about liturgy in the church?

  • Hauerwas: Well, Mu-tien, you just call Stanley. This isn’t a formal interview, is it? My first thought of ecclesiology was emerged from and against the backdrop of the rampant theological liberalism back in the first half in the 20th century. That is when I realized that we are living in a world without foundations. So is our church in the world. The power structure in the world tended to be so corruptive and abusive to the legitimacy of everything in our Christian faith. This is the moment that certain post-structuralists had pointed to and so eagerly hoped for. Bonhoeffer has rightly challenged us in a prophetic manner with the question « Can an ecclesiastical authority be established on the sole base of scripture and confession, after separation from Papal and from secular authority? » If no such authority is possible– which means there is only returning to Rome or to the state church, or to path of the individualization of faith, or remaining as guerrilla protesters against false authorities[i]—, then the last possibility of evangelical church is dead.[ii]

  • Me: I agree, Stanley. The church has to be salvific enough to pick up and hold our faith. The church is called out to be people of God while it strives for the kingdom of God. There are always dynamics and tensions between them. While there could be more discussion on how Christians should be engaged in the culture, is it out of this concern that liturgy popped out as an alternative foundation of our faith?

  • Hauerwas: Let me tell you, in the beginning stage of my formation of thoughts about Christian ethical life, I didn’t go so far as to affirm the communal nature of the church in our faith. All what I was trying to do is just to move from preoccupation in ethics with decision to vision. To flesh that out more clearly, it was about the separation of « fact value » from « moral life » in Post-Enlightenment ethics, which inevitably leads to nomism that I think is illegitimate. It should be noticed that principles do not exist independently of stories, but are parasitic upon them, acting as shorthand summaries/abstractions of more complex stories. We are not formed by rules, nor are our decisions governed by principles. Instead, we are formed by narratives and stories—it gives our life vision and coherence. Moral decisions are the reflection of the moral agent’s formation of character and virtue.

 

  • Me: I see, the historical contingency on the part of the ethical situation and of the moral agent should be both given due regard, as this has been articulated in your earlier works such as Vision and Virtue and Character and the Christian life. However, if narrative is to be related to character formation and thus identity of a person, it inevitably demands a set of beliefs and resources which provide the ground for such process connection.

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  • Hauerwas: Very true. That time when I was charged me by many as advocating a « narrative foundationalism », I had indeed a hard time denying it— though I definitely wish to draw a line between my approach to narrative theology and those suggested by Ricoeur and Crites. It was later on through the assistance of Yoder’s Christological focus that I began to see connection between narrative and identity of the church. The Christian story locates the meaning of narrative in the way of the cross, typified by the self-giving non-resistant love of Jesus, and understood as a pattern that his followers seek to duplicate. Hence there is no way this narrative/story can be known or manifested apart from ecclesial practices, through, and only through which, the church community serves as witness to Christ for the world.

  • Me: So Stanley, if I understand you correctly, this pacifistic marker of Messianic community makes the fundamental difference between your thoughts and those liberal agendas. Apparently you noticed how in the past liberal methodologies have allowed the Scripture to be separated from church-centered practice and in consequence kept American Christians captive to this reading. However, it seemed to me not a completely developed idea regarding how this liturgy/community-centered church as polis could help believers better survive the vicissitudes from our world in anticipation for the Parousia of our Lord. The nature of church, in my understanding, is the embodiment of God’s kingdom on earth, with four ministry dimensions— to God (as worshipers and servants of God), to the world, to the saints, and to the Word (as recipients and keepers of God’s revealed Word). For me, ministry to the Word inevitably involves dealing with our interpretation of the culture and hence the universe. This aim seems less possible to be achieved if Christians stand in sharp distinction to the culture, and even more so if without referencing to a theological system for Christian worldview.

  • Hauerwas: Well, I do not have a finished theological system; I actually hesitate to believe in such a thing. My suspicion is that the desire for such a system may indicate the theologians’ lack in the church. Indeed, church historians are called to engage in a systematic fashion of collecting/organizing memories, yet Christians don’t believe in an ecclesial golden age that serves as a perfect church model. Its achievements, despite how splendid they were, cannot free our generation from being as courageous as they were.[iii] For me, the church does not have a social ethic; instead it has to become a social ethic. Our ministry to the Word should not hold us captive of logocentrism. In all various attempts to achieve an encyclopedic explanation in the abstract I have been noticing a narcissistic tendency, presumably intrinsic to liberalism and underlying in its version of truth claims. Only by rooting our identity in the churchristological narrative of ecclesial practices can we be emancipated from the futile liberal project of the theoretical Babel. This is not to say doctrines or empirical truths are without value, rather the reintroduction of the traditioned nature and non-verbal aspect of story should give us awareness that the concepts/norms drawn from them are secondary and relative and will never become universal and complete. I am not against transcendence, but transcendence cannot save us. Theology by itself is not sufficient since it lacks the company.

  • Me: Well, I doubt why is that we cannot be a social ethic while still having a social ethic. In a place Anthony Thiselton speaks about « truthfulness » and « truth » and gives an impression that only truthfulness in its hermeneutical or explanatory powers can « justify » or « warrant » truth. If I understand both of you correctly, you are in his camp along with Barth (!?) and Torrance in terms of anti-Kantian introspective epistemology.[iv] But what I worry about is that the alternative you offered— mere ecclesiology— relativizes propositional truths and hence leads to similar ramification of Derrida’s Deconstruction. No doubt that the particularity of narrative must be preserved, but I suspect if command ethics should be given up to its all. There is a huge expense to put particularity as more foundational than universality. For example, we certainly don’t impose supererogatory command of self-sacrificing love upon the world, but a certain level of retributive justice and human dignity, if not being insisted as a world value at a universal level, would prevent any possible character formation from taking place. Sometimes this insistence upon universal value may demand enforcement— even in a violent way. Since you mentioned the pacifistic pattern set by Jesus, he occasionally used physical violence (when cleaning the temple) and confronted the unrepented with curse, too! In much of the history the Word of God has been misused and abused, resulting in genocide and many other tragic events; it takes great discernment, but we just cannot exclude the possibility that God still may use violence  [KJV jumped in and O.S.: “but not the church…“] for discipline and transforming the world. This is how the church can faithfully live for the kingdom of God.

  • Hauerwas: Wow, some of your thoughts tend to be more Catholic than mine, Mu-tien. I both agree and disagree with you. Let me finish this with one word, and I will be interested in how you will respond to this: that you know you are saved by Jesus is because of the theoretical account surrounding this person, or more because you have experienced the embodied social reality of a church identified with this Jesus? I always believe in [that] a tangible and trained character rather than theoretical confession is the sign of the church, for it is the love story of God in Christ crucified that we must be trained in.[v] This love story frees us from alienation and moral slogans in the air; its narrative character attend to the underrepresented groups (of the retarded, unborn babies, the disabled, the euthanized, and so on) whose rights would otherwise be neglected and reduced when universality– which has been inevitably associated with power and ideologies in human history— is given the primary place over particularity. The brutal nature is what Foucault sees and has exposed so unrelentingly. I see it as non-Christian and non-Christological. The manifestation of the nature of the church, instead being a set of doctrines, should be closer to a drama, in which « suffering » and « disability » have their particular roles in asking us for The Story which, as Johannes Metz noted, can subvert their anti-historical appearance.[vi]

  • Me: Regarding your question, I was born in and Christian family and grew up in the church. Christian stories, church disciplines, and family formations have all contributed to my upbringing. But this didn’t make me a virtuous person—I had not reached the level of understanding to comprehend all these. It was rather through continual processing of thoughts and dialectical exchange of propositions that I later began to grasp what these narratives meant to me. I am not sure if your notion of « ecclesial practices » includes family upbringing, but my paradigm shift through contemplating the paradigm Christ set for us taught me about the significance of special revelation. Human being, though situated in dasein, is made capable to grasp the idea of perfect/infinity. I believe this ability is intrinsic to our having image of God rather than being informed by narrative or community. When God choose to redeem a people He doesn’t start from a « traditioned story » but the individual. He gave Abraham the faith to abandon the « narrative » he used to live on and hence to trigger a new one. Israel community did not give birth to the Mosaic Law; the opposite is rather true. The Torah, a great proportion of which are propositions, is a revelation from God. In all these cases, theophany is found to be more foundational than anything. Then the greatest theophanic revelation: Jesus Christ. The revealed purpose of God seeks embodiment in our obedient practices, rather than parasitic upon them. Theology, in particular doctrine, I would say, is an effort to outline this. Your mention of the « retarded » and « unborn » remains valid, though. I don’t have a determined answer for this yet, since they might not be able to conceive what is beyond finite and material. But while you understand church as God’s harvest field is constituted of tares and barleys, I wonder how, given the highly compromising nature of the institutional church, its practice-based rendition of the theo-drama could witness to Christ without reducing Him? The final reason I am reluctant to locate root of the church in the narrative or other church practices is that it tends to breed the pride of church tradition and overlooks how the form of these practices can be diversified from culture to culture and denomination to denomination. For instance, the frequency, duration, interpretation, and content of the Eucharist all can differ among churches. Some churches which celebrate the Eucharist as we do can even have a distinct confession about Christ and salvation. It certainly is too risky to base our unity on this ostensible solidarity. Thus for me only the confession of the church as body of Christ, which is to follow and focus on Christ the head, the Alpha and the Omega as the ultimate reality, through the help of doctrines, marked the by Holy Spirit, can be the unique undergirding foundation of the worldwide, diachronicle, universal church.

  • Hauerwas: Well, this is really not easy to talk about this huge topic in such limited time and space. While I can only partly agree with you, I hope I can unpack more my thoughts about the church. To conclude it in brief, I am just not sure which version of confession will do full justice to what God has revealed to us though Christ. I personally believe narrative does a better job, since the imperial character of this narrative only requires our non-resistance witness, not coercion, thus opening the rich possibilities for how God can use it as an inviting message and for the manifestation of « His presence outside the church »[vii].

Hauerwas, Stanley

Position:

Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics

[Publications] [Courses] [Links] [Recommendations]

Education:

B.A., Southwestern University,
B.D., M.A., M.Phil., Ph.D., Yale University
D.D., University of Edinburgh

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