Hauerwas and Individualism

Well, for anyone curious as to why all of the silence on here lately, don’t worry – I am still here. I’ve been busy, however, working on my thesis project. Considering this process is taking up most of writing energy, I’ll admit, blogging has been sparse. In an attempt to maintain some level of blogging production, therefore (and to possibly peak peoples’ interest in what I am writing about), I thought I would spend some time over a few posts to discuss aspects of my project.

First, here’s my catchy title (I may have to spice it up at some point – we’ll see)

“Individualism & Community:
Stanley Hauerwas & the Mennonite Brethren”

The motivation for my project has been to respond to the challenge of individualism in North American culture – in particular, individualism in Christian ethics. Typically, individualist ethics believes the autonomous individual, separated from the accountability of community, has the adequate rational and moral capabilities for engaging ethical issues. I am not so sure…

The primary source for my project is Stanley Hauerwas, a leading voice in the disciplines of ethics and ecclesiology in North America and someone concerned with the impact of individualism on Christian ethics. Hauerwas is critical of the ethical approach that stresses “freedom, autonomy, and choice as the essence of the moral life” (The Peaceable Kingdom). It is wrong, according to Hauerwas, to approach ethics with a focus on the individual’s ability to extract universal principles from scripture and use them to direct moral reasoning. Basically, he has little confidence in the human ability for autonomous ethical reasoning, as the variety of ‘right’ answers to complicated ethical issues is too much pressure to place solely on the shoulders of individuals. Hauerwas argues that the North American church too often succumbs to this approach when understanding Christian ethics.

Hauerwas’s argument is that individualism wrongly detaches individuals from being formed ethically in the historical contexts and communities of which they are a part. Theologically, individualism fails to recognize the centrality of community in ethical formation, witnessed to in the biblical narrative. Hauerwas argues that being able to approach ethics ignoring our particular historical contexts does not make sense, as all people live in particular times and places which shape who they are. Too often, laments Hauerwas, “we fail to see the narratives that in fact constitute our ‘autonomy’” (A Community of Character).

Well, this only sets the stage for my paper, and my subsequent posts will discuss how Hauerwas’s view of ethics in the context of community can address this individualism. Later, I will discuss the implications of his work specifically for Mennonite Brethren.

Upping the Ante with Rob Bell

Here are some sobering comments on the role of the church in North American culture:

If Jesus comes to town and things don’t get better, then we have to ask some hard questions.

I think the problem is that when people say ‘church’ many mean religious goods ad services where you come and there’s a nice inspiring talk, good coffee in the back, snappy music and everything ends up fine. Jesus speaks of His people who are willing to suffer and die so that the world can be healed – that’s an entirely different proposition.

(Rob Bell, interview in Relevant Magazine – sorry, there is no link to the interview)

“I see a people” – An Ecumenical Vision

In the absence of motivation to blog anything original, I thought I would share the following quote:

Right now we remain largely a scattered people. This has been the condition of the Church of Jesus Christ for a good many years. But a new thing is coming. God is gathering his people once again, creating of them an all-inclusive community of loving persons with Jesus Christ as the community’s prime sustainer and most glorious inhabitant. This community is breaking forth in multiplied ways and varied forms.

I see it happening, this great new gathering of the people of God. I see an obedient disciplined, freely gathered people who know in our day the life and powers of the kingdom of God.

I see a people of cross and crown, of courageous action and sacrificial love.

I see a people who are combining evangelism with social action, the transcendent Lordship of Jesus with the suffering servant Messiah.

I see a people who are buoyed up by the vision of Christ’s everlasting rule, not only imminent on the horizon, but already bursting forth in our midst.

I see a peopleI see a people… even thought it feels as if I am peering through a glass darkly.

I see a country pastor from Indiana embracing an urban priest from New Jersey and together praying for the peace of the world. I see a people.

I see a Catholic monk from the hills of Kentucky standing alongside a Baptist evangelist from the streets of Los Angeles and together offering up a sacrifice of praise. I see a people.

I see social activists from the urban centers of Hong Kong joining with Pentecostal preachers from the barrios of Sao Paulo and together weeping over the spiritually lost and the plight of the poor. I see a people.

I see laborers from Soweto and landowners from Pretoria honoring and serving each other out of reverence for Christ. I see a people.

I see Hutu and Tutsi, Serb and Croat, Mongol and Han Chinese, African-American and Anglo, Latino and Native American all sharing and caring and loving one another. I see a people.

I see a people, I tell you, a people from every race and nation and tongue and stratum of society, joining hearts and hands and minds and voices declaring,

Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound –
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.

(Richard Foster, Streams of Living Water)