Brian Brock and Stanley Hauerwas, Beginnings: Interrogating Hauerwas, edited by Kevin Harden (Bloomsbury, 2017), 348pp.
This book is the transcript of eight lengthy conversations between two theologians, one of whom is Stanley Hauerwas. The book, as the title suggests, is an interrogation of Hauerwas and his work. Brian Brock who is the other theologian, does not let Hauerwas get away with his stock answers, which you might expect from someone who has had a forty-year career and is now in their 70s. (Brock himself was the subject of a set of conversations in Captive to Christ, Open to the World). This is what makes the book both interesting and not just another book from Hauerwas. That is, this is not a one-sided listening to Hauerwas. This is not a set of interviews, but conversations, in which Brock does as much, if not more, of the work in reflecting on the broad areas of Hauerwas' work. Brock is certainly someone who knows Hauerwas' body of work in detail and these are not off-the cuff conversations, but ones in which Brock has prepared. I enjoyed - the right word, I think - overhearing the process of starting from Hauerwas' work and then taking it further, questioning and challenging it. In so doing Brock's own theological work is touched on.
Eight conversations are turned into eight chapters. Chapter one reflects on biography and in particular the act of Hauerwas writing his memoir Hannah's Child. Chapter two engages with the areas of contingency, virtue and holiness. Chapter three looks at questions of temperament, habit and ends with an unplanned discussion of the work of Paul Holmer (one of Hauerwas' teachers at Yale) and its impact on Hauerwas. Chapter four turns to ecclesial politics, peacemaking and the eschatology of worship. Chapter five is centred on casuistry, natural law and virtue again. Chapter six has it focus on just war, pacifism, gender, and includes an exchange on Yoder's abusive actions towards women. Chapter seven (probably the best chapter in the whole book) opens up a conversation about disability, medical ethics and the cross. And chapter eight picks up Hauerwas' more recent emphasis on preaching, praying and Christian language.
Particular highlights for me in the book are a discussion about dying, ageing, in which Hauerwas talks about churches having a columbarium (I had to google it); a conversation about the strengths and weaknesses of the Blackwell Companion of Christian Ethics that Hauerwas co-edited with Sam Wells; and the whole chapter on disability. The chapter on disability is interesting because it develops an argument for the centrality of Hauerwas' work on disability to understanding his work as a whole. Where Hauerwas is usually first and foremost seen as a pacifist, partly by himself, Brock develops an argument (building from essays by Jonathan Tran and Peter Dula) that we should see disability as the 'hermeneutic key' to Hauerwas' theology:
... your constant engagement with disability as the central internal bulwark in your work resisting all attempts to turn it into a theologia gloriae, a triumphant theology ...'
To which Hauerwas responds, 'the gospel is not a successful story. Or is it a story of success. It's a story of redemption.'
Within the chapter come also very helpful reflections on disability by both Hauerwas and Brock, helpful to any pastor and/or church wanting to understand something of what it is to have a 'disability' or a child with a 'disability.'
Like any book that involves Hauerwas, Beginnings: Interrogating Hauerwas will repay revisiting. The model of two theologians engaged in conversation which are then published is also one I hope others undertake. Some theologians never make themselves present in their work, at least obviously. Hauerwas, from the 1980s onwards, has increasingly made himself present in his work. In a recent essay Sam Wells says that Hauerwas shows (amongst other things) that 'it is not possible to separate Jesus from the narrative of his life' and 'it is not possible to separate Jesus' person from his work'. It seems to me this is equally true of Hauerwas himself. Not many theologians would enter the exercise of this book (probably also, not many would be in the position too). This is not acceptable to some views of doing theology. Hauerwas always shows that theology is a struggle (to quote his friend Jim McClendon) and in these conversations, Hauerwas and Brock demonstrate that struggle, but also discovery and joy of reflecting theologically on what it means to be Christian. Hauerwas is a one of a kind theologian and Brock draws that out in these conversations for our enjoyment and edification.