Over the last few decades, Duke ethicist Stanley Hauerwas has been a thorn in the side of his colleagues both in the church and academy, mainline and evangelical, who would endeavor to make the Christian faith a friend rather than an enemy of American civil religion. Allies will not be disappointed with A Better Hope, although if they are familiar with After Christendom, Against the Nations, and Resident Aliens (coauthored with William Willimon), this book may seem repetitive.
It is the third section of the book, "Church Time," that deals with issues touching on the emerging church. The section begins with an illuminating chapter on the importance of memory in the light of suffering and evil. Modern Reformation readers will find chapter 10 worth the price of the book. Here Hauerwas seeks to restore the relatedness of worship, evangelism, and ethics. "Tents-I think the problem began with tents," he says. One "got saved" in tents and "worshiped" in churches. The only difference now is that the tents have become stadiums and they have become the churches (155-156). This breaks up worship, evangelism, and ethics. People aren't getting saved, so we need the tents (now "user friendly worship"); church wasn't changing people morally, so we invented "ethics" as a distinct discipline (157). But what we need more than anything today is "truthful worship." "The church's worship, therefore, is evangelism" (157). The form, not just the content, matters. We seem to need more ethics and more evangelism because our churches are not truly worshipping communities where God is rightly known and praised. Therefore, we are no longer formed as disciples through Word and sacrament. Good order, music, and words are displaced by carelessness and pandering attempts to attract "seekers."
Hauerwas notes the irony of conservatives scandalized by the pagan worship of Sophia in some mainline churches while their own churches "are more than ready to distort the proper order of Christian worship in the name of evangelism. They, of course, say they use the name of Jesus, but they fail to see that how Jesus' name is used makes all the difference. Without the Eucharist, for example, we lack the means to know the kind of presence made possible by Jesus' resurrection" (158). Not only must the Word be transformed by the demands of the market, crucial elements like the Eucharist that make us a community of Christ are relegated to secondary status or removed from ordinary worship completely (159). "The problem with churches that make 'evangelism' (that is, the continuing acquisition of new members) the purpose of their worship is not whether the worship is contemporary. The question is whether they are worshiping the God of Jesus Christ" (159). Despite the Arminian emphasis ("Worship is what we do for God," though he admits "this may sound Pelagian" apart from acknowledging that we do it together with God), he is correct to suggest that the real service we can perform for the world is to worship: "That is, after all, why we believe that there is nothing more important in a world that does not believe it has the time to worship God than to take time to worship God truthfully" (161).
We desperately need to address the issues Hauerwas puts before us and even learn from some of his answers, but the evangelical temptation has always been for quick solutions and stark either/or options. The very fact that the book closes with a manifesto for the Ekklesia Project, a parachurch organization to serve as something like a church-within-a-church, displays the author's own apparent realization of the distance between the idealized church he presupposes and the actual churches that exist.
Michael Horton is the J. Gresham Machen professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California (Escondido, California), host of the White Horse Inn, national radio broadcast, and editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine. He is author of many books, including The Gospel-Driven Life, Christless Christianity, People and Place, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, The Christian Faith, and For Calvinism.
Issue: "Faith A La Carte? The Emergent Church" July/August 2005 Vol. 14 No. 4 Page number(s): 32-33
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