We all knew that when Stanley Hauerwas, a post-Constantinian if there ever was one, was given the opportunity to review Peter Leithart’s book Defending Constantine, things were going to get ugly. For a pacifist, Hauerwas sure can get rhetorically violent. Here is an excerpt from his Christian Century review, which can only be described as cutthroat:
I think Leithart is right. It is not only that Yoder’s account of Augustine… is inadequate. Nor is it simply, as Leithart argues… that Yoder relied on outdated accounts of the patristic period. Rather, Leithart’s fundamental criticism of Yoder is that he betrayed his own best insights when he denied the possibility that by God’s grace emperors (or whoever is the functional equivalent, such as “the people”) might receive a vision sufficient to make them Christian. That is a point that I think Yoder would find worth considering… As a pacifist I could not want a better conversation partner than Peter Leithart. God is good.
Likewise, we all knew that once Walter Brueggemann, a noted Old Testament scholar, got a hold of the first volume in Brazos’ theological interpretation series, R.R. Reno’s commentary on Genesis, then the dust was really going to fly. Brueggemann, jealously defending his scholarly turf, really let Reno the theologian have it. His Theology Today review reads like a barroom brawl:
My points is not to urge a further conflict between theologians and exegetes. It is rather to describe fairly what this commentary seeks to do and does. As I read the book, I have wondered if it is the case that theologians (like Reno) and exegetes (like me) have different disciplinary DNA, leading to certain questions and certain satisfactions. If the difference is not genetic, it is at least a cultural divide… This commentary (and series) will be quite satisfying for certain readers but will disappoint others…. I am glad, in any case, to stand alongside Reno in his thoughtful effort. None of us can do everything, and we are blessed by “a variety of gifts.” I will will watch for and wait for a new series engaged across this cultural divide, but at best that is work for another day.
Needless to say, I’m highlighting the conciliatory passages—for the details of disagreement one will need to consult the reviews themselves. But I thought it worth pointing out that in two of the major theological controversies of the last decade, Constantinianism and the theological interpretation of Scripture, some common ground appears to have been reached, and progress is being made. I suppose, as Hauerwas suggested, God is good.