Interview With Stanley Hauerwas (Mar-Apr 2005)

By Matt Dabbs

by New Wineskins Staff
March – April, 2005

Stanley Hauerwas’s newest book, Cross-Shattered Christ: Meditations on the Seven Last Words, is the occasion for our conversation.

NW: How would you explain the sayings of the cross to a sixth grader or someone who is forming faith in early stages?

SH: I think you’d want to help them see that Jesus is like and unlike us. He thirsts and yet the way he thirsts as the son of God is the result of our inability to receive the good gifts of God. And so you would try to help them get a sense of the absolute difference of Jesus from us.

NW: So you start with the difference between God and man? OK, build on that. When we at the very basic level—we’re seeing the very God very man, one of the things you bring out in the book is that God is so different and we’re not trying to domesticate him but also we don’t fear to draw near, so for a child or college student or seminarian, you’re calling them to draw close.

SH: Right. You draw close and the closer you come, the more the assumption that you know who this is, is challenged. The temptation is to say, “Oh, when Jesus says ‘today you will be with me in paradise,’ that must be God, when Jesus says ‘I thirst,’ that must be man.” It’s like he’s fifty percent God here and fifty percent man there. When what you must come to understand is that he’s one hundred percent God and one hundred percent man in saying ‘today you will be with me in paradise’ and when he says ‘I thirst.’ And that’s a lot to get our lives around.

NW: So in other words, the one hundred percent God side might be the ‘today you will be with me in paradise,’ and ‘I thirst’ more the man side?

SH: No, they’re both. (laughs) He’s a hundred percent God and a hundred percent man when he says both of those things, which helps us to begin to realize, Oh, this is different.

NW: So God is not . . . comment on the “cuddly God syndrome” that seems to be out there. Say one thing to the average person who is looking for God in culture today . . .

SH: Well there are two kinds of fundamental attitudes, both of which I find horrible. One is, I say, the most determined conviction among American Evangelicals: that God is nice. You can’t make any sense of the cross if God is nice. This is high stakes stuff. The other equally disastrous view is people walking out of Mel Gibson’s The Passion saying, “Gee, I didn’t know he had to suffer that much for me.” What that does is indicate an inadequate view that this is some suffering that has to be undergone because the Father is mad.

NW: Because God needs to be satisfied?

SH: Right, no this is the second person of the Trinity. This is justice. So there’s no justice to be satisfied—that isn’t this justice.

NW: So how do you separate that in our minds? Because this is a very common misconception … when you try to explain the opposite, it’s mysterious in a way …

SH: Of course (laughs)

NW: It’s slippery to hold on to.

SH: It’s very hard.

NW: How do you go forth and explain the real mystery there?

SH: What you have to remember, where you need to start, is getting over narcissistic fascination with your sin. There’s bigger stakes going on here (laughs) than just God helping us to think that even though we’ve messed up in life, God’s forgiven us and we’re going to be okay. This is about the cosmic re-orientation of all that is. That reminds us that we no longer have to live as if we’re our own creator. Therefore, we’ve been brought within God’s eschatological kingdom in a way that we no longer have to live the desperate lives that think we have to make sense of all this on our own grounds.

NW: So, a college student comes to you and says, “Tell me about the Tsunami” . . . apply this.

SH: Well, what that does, “Tell me about the Tsunami” assumes that—that’s a deist God they’re asking me to explain: namely, why does a good God allow bad things to happen to good people. For God’s sakes, read the Psalms. (laughs) I mean the Psalms are about—and what’s happening in the cross is Jesus is God’s Psalm. He’s the Father’s Psalm, in which we understand that our lives are filled with suffering and that it’s to be expected as God’s people. And what it means to be a Christian is to be given a way to go on as part of God’s very life for the world such that we don’t have to make things come out all right, in the attempt to eliminate suffering.

NW: How do you still be a person of joy and laughter—I mean you laugh a lot—and have what some people would say is, “Boy, what a downer view, God’s not nice! Suffering is an accepted part of life!”

SH: Oh, because (laughs) isn’t it a wonderfully happy thing that we don’t have to make the world come out all right? I mean, you can enjoy the sheer thatness of God’s creation. Listen to that mockingbird sing. That’s God’s glory (laughs).

NW: Yes, but you also speak about natural theology and sort of bomb that in (your book) With a Grain of the Universe . . .

SH: With a Grain of the Universe, yes . . .

NW: So how do you really get joy out of that and give God the glory when . . .

SH: Oh, look I didn’t “bomb” natural theology, I bombed the presumption that you need to prove God’s existence before you can worship God.

NW: Okay, changing the subject, have you always had these inclinations from childhood—your moving in faith?

SH: Oh, I’m never responsive when people ask me, ‘When were you saved?’

NW: I’m not really asking when you were saved …

SH: Yeah, I always give them Karl Barth’s answer: 33 A.D. (laughs)

NW: (laughs)

SH: But I also never have taken my own so called ‘spiritual biography’ that seriously.

NW: Really? Why not? I’m curious why that is.

SH: What’s important is being engrafted into God’s people in a way that my friends make me more than I am.New Wineskins


Cross-Shattered Christ by Stanley HauerwasStanley Hauerwas, Cross-Shattered Christ: Meditations on the Seven Last Words (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, 2005) | ISBN 1-58743-131-9 (hardcover)

Reflections on Cross-Shattered Christ
The First Word | The Second Word | The Third Word

Resources: More about Dr. Hauerwas

Dr. Stanley Martin Hauerwas is the Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics at the Divinity School of Duke University. Though he is often identified as an ethicist, his work is more properly described as theology. Certainly his work involves questions many associate with ethics, but his primary intent is to show in what way theological convictions make no sense unless they are actually embodied in our lives. To that end, he was among the first to reclaim the importance of character and the virtues for the display of Christian living. He has also drawn attention to the importance of narrative for explicating the interrelation of practical reason and personal identity, and correlatively the significance of the church as the necessary context for Christian formation and moral reflection.

Accordingly, his work draws on a great range of literatures–from classical, philosophical, and theological texts to contemporary political theory. He also works in medical ethics, issues of war and peace, and the care of the mentally handicapped.

A graduate of Yale Divinity School (B.D. 1965) and Yale University Graduate School (M.A., M. Phil., Ph.D. 1968), Hauerwas did his undergraduate work at Southwestern University, Georgetown, Texas. He taught for two years at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, before joining the faculty of the University of Notre Dame, where he taught from 1970-1984. He joined the faculty of Duke University in 1984. There he served as Director of Graduate Studies from 1985-1991. He is married to the Reverend Doctor Paula Gilbert. Their son Adam Hauerwas is married to Laura Boynton and resides in New England.

He is a member of the Society for Christian Ethics, the American Academy of Religion, and the American Theological Society. He has delivered many lectures all over the United States as well as overseas and was invited to give the Gifford Lectures at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland in the year 2000-2001. He has received honorary degrees from DePaul University (1988) as well as the University of Edinburgh (1991).

Prof. Hauerwas has been co-editor with Alasdair MacIntyre of the Revisions Series published by the University of Notre Dame Press and associate editor of the Encyclopedia of Bioethics.

His publications include Vision and Virtue: Essays in Christian Ethical Reflection (Fides, 1974); Character and the Christian Life: A Study in Theological Ethics (Trinity University Press, 1975); Truthfulness and Tragedy (University of Notre Dame Press, 1977); A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic (University of Notre Dame Press, 1982); The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics (University of Notre Dame Press, 1983); Against the Nations: War and Survival in a Liberal Society (Winston-Seabury Press, 1985); Suffering Presence: Theological Reflections on Medicine, the Mentally Handicapped and the Church (University of Notre Dame Press, 1986); Christian Existence Today: Essays on Church, World and Living In Between (Labyrinth Press, 1988); Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony, with Will Willimon (Abingdon Press, 1989); and its sequel of 1996, Where Resident Aliens Live; Naming the Silences: God, Medicine and the Problem of Suffering (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990); After Christendom (Abingdon Press, 1991, 1998); Preaching to Strangers, with Will Willimon (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992); Unleashing the Scripture; Freeing the Bible from Captivity to America (Abingdon Press, 1993); Dispatches from the Front: Theological Engagements with the Secular (Duke University Press, 1994); In Good Company: The Church as Polis (University of Notre Dame Press, 1995); Lord, Teach Us: The Lord’s Prayer & the Christian Life, with Will Willimon [also with Scott C. Saye] (Abingdon Press, 1996); Christians among the Virtues: Theological Conversations with Ancient and Modern Ethics, with Charles Pinches (University of Notre Dame Press, 1997); and Wilderness Wanderings: Probing Twentieth-Century Theology and Philosophy (Westview Press, 1997); Sanctify Them in the Truth: Holiness Exemplified (Nashville and Edinburgh: Abingdon Press, T&T Clark, 1998); Prayers Plainly Spoken (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999); The Truth About God; The Ten Commandments in Christian Life, with Will Willimon (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999); A Better Hope: Resources for a Church Confronting Capitalism, Democracy, and Postmodernity (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2000); The Hauerwas Reader, eds. John Berkman & Michael Cartwright (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2001; With the Grain of the Universe; The Church’s Witness and Natural Theology, being the Gifford Lectures delivered at the University of St. Andrews in 2001 (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2001); Performing the Faith; Bonhoeffer and the Practice of Nonviolence (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2004).

Stanley HauerwasStanley Hauerwas is the Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke University. He received his Ph.D. from Yale University and is the author of many books, including Performing the Faith, The Peaceable Kingdom, With the Grain of the Universe, A Better Hope, and Christian Existence Today.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1584 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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