Professor Stanley Hauerwas of Duke University’s Divinity School is retiring. Hearing the news made me think about what I consider his most helpful essay. He is a man who enjoys probing questions and as a Barthian and pacifist he has a habit of irritating both liberal and conservative Christians. John Piper once called Hauerwas’ essay “Preaching as though We have Enemies” the best essay on preaching he ever read. Whatever theological differences I have with Hauerwas (and they are legion) this essay on preaching and his analysis of what is wrong with much preaching is too profound to be ignored.
For a taste of the essay:
“Cosmic struggle” sounds like a video game that middle-class children play. Most of us do not go to church because we are seeking a safe haven from our enemies; we go to church to be assured we have no enemies. Accordingly, we expect our ministers to exemplify the same kind of bureaucratic mentality so characteristic of modern organizational behavior and politics. I sometimes think that there is a conspiracy afoot to make Alasdair MacIntyre’s account of the manager in After Virtue empirically verifiable.
That the manager has become characteristic of liberal politics should not be surprising, but I continue to be taken aback by the preponderance of such character types in the ministry. Of course, I should not be surprised that a soulless church produces a soulless ministry devoid of passion. The ministry seems captured in our time by people who are desperately afraid they might actually be caught with a conviction at some point in their ministry that might curtail future ambition. They, therefore, see their task to “manage” their congregations by specializing in the politics of agreement by always being agreeable. The preaching such a ministry produces is designed to reinforce our presumed agreements, since a “good church” is one without conflict. You cannot preach about abortion, suicide, or war because those are such controversial subjects-better to concentrate on “insights” since they do so little work for the actual shaping of our lives and occasion no conflict.
I confess one of the things I like about the Southern Baptists is that they have managed to have a fight in public. Fundamentalists at least believe they are supposed to have strong views, and they even believe they are supposed to act on their convictions. The problem with most of the mainstream churches is that we do not even know how to join an argument-better, we think, to create a committee to “study the issue.”
To read the entire essay: http://www.firstthings.com/article/2008/09/003-preaching-as-though-we-had-enemies