Minding the Web
Making Theological Connections
- ISBN: 9781532650055
- Published By: Cascade Books
- Published: November 2018
Minding the Web is a collection of Stanley Hauerwas’ (b. 1940) articles and sermons edited by Robert J. Dean, who has published a monograph on the Christology and ecclesiology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hauerwas. Due to Dean’s research interests in Hauerwas’ theology and preaching, Hauerwas invited Dean to edit a volume of his sermons because he has “grown tired of trying to justify in Preface after Preface another book by [him]” (ix). He perceived Dean to be a suitable editor for this volume since the Canadian theologian is “distant enough from [him] for that distance to be fruitful”—meaning the differences of their age and of nationality (x-xi).
Beginning the book by referring to Hauerwas as the “theological Spider-Man” (14), Dean connects various themes of Hauerwas’ theology is evident. For him, the task of understanding Hauerwas’ theology is more in “keeping with Hauerwas’ own self-understanding to see him scurrying across the surface of the web, diligently working to repair, discover, and make articulate the connections necessary for Christians faithfully to make their way in the world” (11). The structure of this book illustrates this direction, with four major parts mostly written by Hauerwas, and the introduction and the epilogue written by Dean.
The first part, chapters 1 to 4, is about theological matters, such as the use of theological language (chapter 1) and the Christian tradition (chapter 2). The second part, chapters 5 and 6, reflects on the university matters, based on Hauerwas’ position as a theological educator. The third part, chapters 7 to 10, concerns the matters of daily lives, where Hauerwas expresses his opinions as a Christian ethicist. The last and the longest part, chapters 11 to 33, lists out Hauerwas’ sermons preached between 2013 and 2017 in chronological order, with geographical locations ranging from the United States and Ontario, Canada, to Aberdeen, Scotland, where he holds a part-time position as Chair in Theological Ethics at the University of Aberdeen.
While this book presents Hauerwas’ roles of being a theologian at a university and preacher, it also illustrates his Christological approach to tackle the struggle of navigating these positions, which I think may illuminate or challenge the audiences of Reading Religions, many of whom may be graduate students and faculties in seminaries and universities. For example, Hauerwas laments that theologians in academia nowadays seem to write for other theologians and have lost the clarity of language in their writings (22–23). Moreover, he also worries that he gets paid to be a theologian, which may be criticized by others who question whether he is a genuine Christian (210–211).
To address both issues, he points to Christ as the first reader he addresses when he writes about God (31), and he would consider Christ as the one who judges one’s character despite one’s several attempts to be a genuine Christian (214). His commitment to a Christological method of approaching Christian ethics is still observable in both his writings and his preaching.
Although I believe that Dean is the right person to edit this volume and there are numerous interesting points raised from the articles, the majority of the selected topics are heavily drawn from Dean’s research interests, such as the use of languages (chapter 1), Dietrich Bonhoeffer (chapter 4), and Hauerwas’ role as a theologian and a preacher (chapter 5, 18). To some extent, as a reader, I wonder whether the key elements of this edited volume truly reflect the recent theological approach of Hauerwas, or whether the role of the editor is too visible and may overshadow the author. However, I suppose this would be a challenge to both editor and preacher regarding how the words in a volume or a sermon can truly represent the character one intends to present.
Moreover, the attempt to connect numerous themes can be a two-edged sword. Although the book has rightly referred Hauerwas as a “theological Spider-Man”, with which I am sure many theologians would agree, the side effect of linking a diverse range of themes is that the main message of this book becomes slightly loose. Perhaps it would be helpful for the readers, especially those who are new to Hauerwas’ theology, to have an additional chapter on a more critical analysis of Hauerwas’ later thought to compare to his early works, such as The Peaceable Kingdom or the Community of Character (University of Notre Dame Press, 1983), to demonstrate to the readers the centrality of Hauerwas’ Christian ethics. Due to Dean’s research background on Hauerwas, I believe he would bring interesting discussions to such a matter.
Nonetheless, this is a welcome addition from a prolific scholar who has devoted himself tremendously to academia and the church. Both the theological articles and the sermons respond to many major concerns of not only American audiences, but also every Christian in this highly connected world. I would recommend this readable volume to Christian ethicists, academic theologians, pastoral leaders, and even laypeople who may wish to explore Hauerwas’ theology in his sermons.
Calida Chu is a PhD candidate at the Centre for the Study of World Christianity, School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh.Calida ChuDate Of Review:May 27, 2020