The Gifford Lectures were instituted by Lord Adam Gifford in his will to provide, in four universities in Scotland, a forum for the discussion of natural theology, or in Lord Gifford's words, "the true knowledge of God...and the true and felt knowledge of the relations of man and the universe to Him, and the true foundation of all ethics and morals..." They have been at the forefront of intellectual endeavors in religion since they began in 1888. It is a tremendous honor for someone to be chosen to give the Gifford Lectures. So when Stanley Hauerwas was chosen to give the Gifford Lectures at the University of St. Andrews in 2001, he felt honored and grateful, although a bit surprised. With the Grain of the Universe is the compilation of his lectures, and a fascinating comparison of the natural theology of William James, Reinhold Niebuhr and Karl Barth, each of whom was a Gifford lecturer at one time.
Hauerwas starts with the belief that "the God we worship and the world God created cannot be truthfully known without the cross" and that "the knowledge of God and ecclesiology--or the politics called church--are interdependent." From this belief, he then goes on to argue that Karl Barth was the was the only true natural theologian from among the three lecturers looked at. This is because Barth refused to separate his trinitarian doctrine from his "natural theology."
Though many have compared Reinhold Niebuhr to Barth in terms of natural theology, Hauerwas feels that Niebuhr is actually closer to the pietistic humanism of William James. The pietistic humanism, as Hauerwas calls it, of William James, is best seen in his The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature. Through the writings of all three lecturers, and their biographical information, Hauerwas traces the development of each one's particular natural theology. His conclusion is that Barth developed the most vital and rewarding natural theology, and that the church needs to look to Barth's natural theology as the standard.
This ultimately means, for Hauerwas, a change in the definition of natural theology, because it has lost its connection to the trinitarian theology which undergirds all creation. With the Grain of the Universe calls for natural theology to truly witness to the "nongodforsakeness of the world even under the conditions of sin," valuing the entire creation as God-loved, though fallen.
"America's Best Theologian"
"Hauerwas is contemporary theology's foremost intellectual provocateur."--Time
Stanley Hauerwas is a no-nonsense, confessional Christian theologian whose scholarship, sometimes disputed yet always demanding a response, has earned him a prominent reputation on the theological horizon. Brazos Press is proud to present With the Grain of the Universe: The Church's Witness and Natural Theology, Hauerwas's distinguished Gifford lectures at the University of St. Andrews (2001).
These lectures 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 that is 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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