Correcting Mennonite Brethren Individualism: The Pertinence of Stanley Hauerwas’s Theology

Well, earlier this month I finally submitted my MCS thesis for binding. While the whole process pushed me in just about every way imaginable, I can truly say it was an extremely awarding project. The chance to explore the historical developments of my own religious heritage (Mennonite Brethren) in relation to a contemporary theologian has been an experience that will impact my life forever.

If you're interested, I've included the abstract to my thesis here and below is a link to the document itself for anyone brave enough to wade the waters of Mennonite Brethren history and the oftentimes refreshing yet frustrating Stanley Hauerwas.

Abstract

Individualism is a pervasive problem in Christian faith and practice in the twenty-first century, elevating the individual experience of faith at the expense of acknowledging the community-implications of Christian identity. Stanley Hauerwas, prominent Christian ethicist and theologian, provides a response to individualism that is both compelling and frustrating, offering an inspiring argument for the centrality of community in the Christian faith, but leaving to his readers the task of applying his ideas.

A contemporary North American denomination susceptible to individualism is the Mennonite Brethren. By emphasizing the individual nature of the Christian experience, the Mennonite Brethren movement has demonstrated a propensity towards individualistic interpretations of the Christian faith, both in its historical roots and North American assimilation. Considering their individualism, the Mennonite Brethren are an appropriate case study for assessing the applicability of Hauerwas’s theology.

This thesis examines the applicability of Stanley Hauerwas’s theology for responding to Mennonite Brethren individualism. Hauerwas’s project helps Mennonite Brethren identity by challenging them to rebalance their theology and practice away from individualism and towards a more community-oriented faith. Unfortunately, Hauerwas lacks practical and realistic solutions that could help envision Mennonite Brethren community in the twenty-first century. Ultimately, Hauerwas’s project is only partially valuable towards correcting Mennonite Brethren individualism.


MCS Thesis - David Warkentin

A Healthy Dose of Doubt

Doubt: a feeling of uncertainty about the truth, reality, or nature of something

Lately I’ve been wondering about the role and value of doubt in the Christian faith. Be it discussions with friends, thoughts on various theological issues, discussing life’s conundrums with my wife, or reading other blogs (see Ryan’s helpful thoughts here), the topic of doubt is constantly coming up. So I figured it was time to share some of my own perspectives…

It seems that today doubt has become an acceptable part of the Christian faith. For instance, much of Christianity (not all) accepts Mother Teresa’s doubt – her “crisis of faith” – as a further sign of her already profound expression of true faith. I tend to agree. Now, I am careful not to endorse doubt as the only or the primary expression of one’s religious exploration. The tendency to deconstruct all truth in our (post)modern context can lead to endless questioning without any real desire for answers. It exhibits itself more as pessimism towards all things “modern” than actually being a serious consideration of religious truth.

Despite this problem, I actually think a healthy dose of doubt exhibits religious vitality. For one, doubt pushes us take seriously the truth claims we so often take for granted. And considering that Christian beliefs can and should have a profound impact on how we live, doubting these beliefs reflects an acknowledgment of just how serious and life changing our understanding of truth can be.

Second, doubt is simply a reality of the human experience. Being a Christian isn’t reality-denying, as some perhaps have interpreted it to be. Rather, a Christian perspective on life attempts truth to the reality of human experience, doubt included. I think our attempts to live ‘Christianly’, for example, could translate far better into the brokenness of our world if Christians were willing to at least acknowledge the doubts many people have regarding the applicability of Christian principles in our world.

Finally, these signs for doubt as religious vitality reveal the ongoing necessity for humility in the Christian life, in particular humility regarding our ability to answer life’s bigger questions. While we may accept our own theologies and biblical interpretations as true (as individuals and communities), we must recognize the context from which these ideas come from and be willing to recognize areas in which human brokenness may or may not have ill-construed our interpretation of truth. From this position of humility, I believe, we acknowledge as Christians that our experience of truth is yet limited. From our humility, then, we place hope beyond ourselves for complete truth. Hope, however, amidst our doubt, never in denial of it.