One way of telling the story of modern theology would be to trace the alienation of the task of natural theology from the task of articulating a richly Christian doctrine of God; one way of healing some of the unhappy divisions of modern theology would be to reintegrate those two tasks. Hauerwas's Giffords set out to do just that, and to do so with grace, wit, intellectual energy, and spiritual cogency. In its animated conversations with William James, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Karl Barth and in its constructive proposals, this book makes for fine reading and ought to stir up some new and serious debate about what the church's confession has to say about natural reality.
An unexpected threesome, William James, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Karl Barth make for a surprising story and an original book. In Hauerwas's fresh interpretation of American intellectual history, Niebuhr, the neo-orthodox theologian, appears not as the Christian alternative to James's pragmatism but a thin religious version of the same, packaged in the vocabulary of Christian theology. Against this backdrop, Hauerwas draws on Karl Barth to set forth a 'theology without reservation' that takes modernity seriously but meets it not on modernity's terms but on the church's terms as witnessed by Christian thinkers such as John Howard Yoder and John Paul II. This is a book we have long awaited: Hauerwas's account of what went wrong and what went right with theology in the twentieth century. With the Grain of the Universe is Hauerwas in full sail.
-Robert Louis Wilken,
University of Virginia
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's 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
Bronfman Professor of Modern Judaic Studies, University of Virginia
Never adverse to barking at a hand that ostensibly supports him, Hauerwas seizes the occasion of the Gifford Lectures to contend that the natural theology Lord Gifford advocated contradicts itself. At a minimum, Hauerwas meets his own criterion that he would 'rather be wrong than "profoundly boring" and offers a highly informed account of his claim that Karl Barth understood what two other equally famous Gifford lecturers--William James and Reinhold Niebuhr--did not: that natural theology is intelligible only as part of the whole doctrine of God revealed in Christ. Whether or not one agrees with Hauerwas--I do not--this book will rightly set the agenda for future discussion about the sources and authorities by which 'natural theology' may proceed.
Fletcher Otey Thomas Professor of Religion, Washington and Lee Universit