With the Grain of the Universe contains lectures that explore how natural theology, divorced from a confessional doctrine of God, inevitably distorts our understanding of God’s character and the world in which we live. Hauerwas criticizes those who use natural theology to defend theism as the philosophical prerequisite to confessional claims. Instead, after Karl Barth, he argues that natural theology should witness to “the non-Godforsakeness of the world, even under the conditions of sin.”
Stanley Hauerwas has good news for the church: theology can still tell us something significant about the way things are. In fact, the church is more than a social institution, and the cross of Christ, never peripheral, is central to knowing God. Whatever our native moral intelligence, the truth is that God is not available apart from moral transformation. Ultimately—and despite the scars left by modernity—theology must translate into a life transformed by confession and the witness of the church.
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In this stunning book, the great Christian ethicist Stanley Hauerwas offers the comprehensive theological argument we have long requested. Of course, if we were worthier students, we would have known that this could not come in the form of a conceptual system. Like Barth, whom he makes the hero of this book, Hauerwas teaches that Christian theological argument begins not with our own rational constructs, but by bearing witness to God’s life among us. The argument proceeds not by speculating on what God’s life might mean, but by narrating how it is in fact imitated by sanctified lives here in this created world. The argument ends not by framing doctrines, but by warning us of the error, violence, suffering, and death that remain in this world, and it calls us, in imitation of God’s life, to help heal this world and to work for its final redemption. For those whose habit is to call this world ‘nature,’ Hauerwas’ theological argument may be dubbed ‘natural theology,’ and the consequence will be a radical change in what we take natural theology to be: the story of God’s life as it is lived, visibly, in this world; as its meaning is disclosed to the community of those who inquire after it; and as its truth is displayed through its visible effects in transforming this world into the one it would be and will be.
—Peter Ochs, Edgar Bronfman Professor of Modern Judaic Studies, University of Virginia
This is a book to delight and to educate the reader. As always, Hauerwas is wonderfully worth reading, and here the wide-screen scale of his vision is at full stretch. I cannot imagine any reader of this book not benefiting in all sorts of tangential ways from its densely packed route through some of the highways and by-ways of twentieth-century theology.
Through imaginative and often provocative arguments, Hauerwas challenges and often inverts many conventional assumptions in Christian theology and ethics. Written for the Gifford Lectures, this is an academic book. But anyone broadly conversant with Christian theology will be able to follow the main ideas here and will be richly stimulated by one of the leading theologians writing today.
Hauerwas’ story is a simple one—and this is his most sophisticated, and convincing, telling of it. The story is that ethics—theology—is about God. He goes on telling it for an even simpler reason. The reason is this: most of his colleagues in the Church, whom he longs—as Barth longed—to be witnesses, continue instead to believe, bewilderingly, that ethics and theology are not about God; they are about America.
—Science & Theology News
Few theologians are as punchy and readable as Hauerwas. Though he may generate more heat than light at times, he practices in academia what he preaches—that the church should be a visible witness to the God of Jesus Christ who redeems the world on his own terms.