Recently I had a long conversation with my friend Cabe in which both of us pondered whether Hauerwas’s corpus might be better read as liberation theology for American Christians. I can’t remember who came up with this thought but it gave some shape to my thinking about the critiques Hauerwas receives and what his project holds in our mind shapes the holes and themes we will see throughout his writings. Some who will read Hauerwas’s project as primarily about proposing something counter to identities produced by modern liberalism will find different holes than those who see his project as proposing a Christocentric form-of-life via Wittgenstein.
I had held off on blogging this thought, but today I came across this line in Mangia’s review of Hauerwas’s commentary on Matthew:
As I read the commentary, two things began to dawn on me: first, the extent to which Hauerwas’s whole corpus can be read as a kind of liberation theology for North Americans and Western Europeans, asking the embarrassing question as to how we can be Christians and yet so rich; second, the extent to which wealth and poverty are also themes in Matthew’s gospel.
Here, I agree with Mangia, but instead of using the word rich I would use the word comfortable. I would do this not as an effort to escape a critique of riches but I think Hauerwas seriously wonders how we can as Christians can be so comfortable in what he sees as a deeply disturbing society. Why nobody has yet attempted to read Hauerwas in such a way is beyond me given the large of amount of books we have interacting with his project for someone who is still living.
Luke Timothy Johnson, another scholar I respect, wrote a very powerful rebuke of Hauerwas’s commentary that asked “Hauerwas or Matthew?: Pick one.” While I thought his review pointed to several interesting critiques, I think he misses the question Hauerwas is asking those in biblical studies, theologians, and all readers of Matthew, “Matthew, Hauerwas, or Jesus? Pick one.” Hauerwas has no problem losing Matthew (or himself) in writing a commentary, as long as we find Jesus in his place. Near the beginning of his commentary Hauerwas explicitly makes this point in a discussion of apocalyptic and time:
Apocalyptic is the disruption of time by God’s time so that time might be redeemed. Apocalyptic means that there is another world, another time, than the one in which we live; but it turns out to be the same world in which we live. As Rainer Maria Rilke puts it: "There is another world, the same as this one." We simply must learn to see the world in which we live as the world that the Father created and redeemed through the Son. . . . Matthew’s gospel is, therefore, an ongoing exercise to help us see the world through Christ.