In his wise contribution to the Blackwell Companion to Political Theology, RR Reno concludes that Hauerwas’s theology is “a thoroughgoing Christian liberalism” (314). 

This isn’t a criticism or a charge of inconsistency. Reno knows that Hauerwas “he rejects the liberal ideal of critical detachment. We can never begin by distancing ourselves from that which gives life. We must seek the density of a properly Christian life; otherwise, our claims to freedom and reason are fantasies. Only as we fall under the power of another – God – do we participate in practices that will empower us as agents with sufficient ballast and force to act rather than react.”

Yet, this enables Hauerwas to “consistently adopt the vigorously critical tropes of modern, liberal thought. The ‘step forward’ into a life of discipleship allows us to ‘step back’ from economic, political, military, and cultural forces that dominate contemporary life, because the church has given us a place to stand. In this way, Hauerwas vindicates the liberal desire to escape the debilitation and diminishment of powers presumed and imposed. We can say ‘no’ to the world’s rules, if we will but say ‘yes’ to God’s law.”

It’s ironic that Hauerwas would be here, but Reno claims that “the irony is fruitful”: “For Hauerwas may well succeed in doing exactly that which his bête noire, liberal Protestantism in America, has failed to do – articulate a theological vision for men and women who wish so to serve the kingdom of God that they will be citizens of the world rather than representatives of an imperial nation and a liberal culture.”

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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