Saturday, May 1, 2010

Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir, Part 4

This is probably my favorite section of the book so far:

“The presumption of many scholars at the time was that the task of theology was to make the language of faith amenable to standards set by the world. This could be done by subtraction: ‘Of course you do not have to believe X or Y’; or by translation, ‘When we say X or Y we really mean . . .’ I was simply not interested in that project. From my perspective, if the language was not true, then you ought to give it up. I thought the crucial question was not whether Christianity could be made amenable to the world, but could the world be made amenable to what Christians believe? I had not come to the study of theology to play around.

“I am not sure why I thought like this, but I suspect it had something to do with being a bricklayer. I simply did not believe in ‘cutting corners.’ I was attracted to Barth because he never cut any of the corners. He never tried to ‘explain.’ Rather, he tried to show how the language works by showing how the language works. There is a ‘no bullshit’ quality to Barth’s thought that appealed to a bricklayer from Texas and that seemed to me the kind of straightforwardness Christian claims require.

“Listening to Hartt, I had come to appreciate the complexity of the simple beliefs we have as Christians. Reading Barth with Hartt had forced me to realize that a claim such as ‘Jesus is Lord’ requires constant variations to be said rightly. Every volume of his Church Dogmatics is an exercise to show the connections necessary to say one thing well. From Barth’s perspective, therefore, the task of theology can never come to an end. Paul Tillich had to finish his Systematic Theology. Barth could not finish Church Dogmatics, because if he had finished he would have had to start over” (59).

I appreciate the ways in which Hauerwas critiques certain forms of accomodationism. Hauerwas also, effectively I might add, shows that theology is not a task that a person ever finishes. It is an ongoing process of "faith seeking understanding."

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