By Brian Welter
“'I believe that Jesus Christ is my Lord, but that's just my opinion.' What produces that grammar?” asked noted Duke University Stanley Hauerwas on March 8, 2009 at Vancouver's First Baptist Church, where he gave the first of his 2 talks for the annual Grenz Lectures hosted by Carey Theological College. He said that Christians who follow this relativistic way of thinking actually believe in something higher than Christ.
The American Protestant challenged his audience to put Christ first and risk everything. Life is worth nothing unless we are willing to die for our ideals.
At both lectures (the second took part the next day at St. Mark's, UBC), Hauerwas used bold, provocative, humorous language to illustrate the bold, provocative nature of the gospel. A noted pacifist, he questioned America's military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan: “Why do we continue to call it war? It's just slaughter.” In his critique of the modern university and the secular values it teaches, he added that the prime movers for the wars were Ivy League graduates.
Hauerwas tried to upset people's comfort with the world of the university and its values of progress and economic growth by noting the sheer radical nature of God's revelation. The Tower of Babel story tells us that humans became proud when they discovered brickmaking, thinking that this new technology could take them to heaven in a sort of human-inspired and -led unity. God knocked that plan to pieces, and at the same time affirmed the diversity of creation through the diversity of language.
Modern globalism, Hauerwas said, likewise tries to unite humanity through its worship of technology, particularly medical advances: “Modern humanism is built on the presumption that human suffering must be eliminated.” Humanists will, ironically, eliminate all those who disagree with that outlook, he said, adding: “Medicine has replaced the Church in modern life. You care more about who your doctor is than who your minister is.” The ethics that doctors learn in med school is taken more seriously by society than the ethics preached by the churches.
The churches offer a radically different path. God's answer to the sin of the Tower of Babel was “the experience of Pentecost, a continuing resource God has given the church to respond to those suffering.” “We [Christians] cannot help but be revolutionary. The Christian moral position will always seem unreasonable,” Hauerwas continued. It is based on hope, he added, as well as freedom, but not “bourgeois freedom.”
Christianity to a large degree cannot make its peace with the world and the current move towards technical, economic globalization, because the world is profoundly warlike. Rather than being “liberal cosmopolitians,” “we must be what we are – the Church of Jesus Christ.”
Hauerwas called Christians to build their own kind of cosmopolitanism, a worldwide Christian diaspora of people “in service to one another.” This ideal of service requires our suffering. The theologian rejected all utopianism: “The first task of the church is not to make the world more just, but to make the world the world.” “The church is God's new language,” God's new way of communicating. This is a challenge to the conflictual nature of the world, but Christians must be Christians, and avoid compromising with global liberalism.
Catholic theologian Karl Rahner believed that Vatican II represented the first step towards a worldwide church, when the Catholic Church began to move away from being a European institution, according to Hauerwas. Bishops from the entire world attended Vatican II, and the vernacular replaced Latin.
Without the diaspora of this worldwide church, the world will suffer because it doesn't know the unique justice brought about by agape love, the love of the New Testament. Hauerwas noted, “Economic growth is always seen as a necessity in advanced societies because it is impossible to think that justice is impossible in limited situations.” This kind of society needs the “truthful judgments” of Christianity.