Andrew Fulford Nota Bene

Stanley Hauerwas on Reformation Sunday

Dr. Hauerwas occasionally writes against various aspects of Magisterial Protestantism from his Yoderian/postmodern perspective on theology. Today Dr. Francis Beckwith shared an excerpt from a lecture he gave on the topic of Reformation Sunday. Two paragraphs, at least, deserve a little comment:

Reformation names the disunity in which we currently stand. We who remain in the Protestant tradition want to say that Reformation was a success. But when we make Reformation a success, it only ends up killing us. After all, the very name ‘Protestantism’ is meant to denote a reform movement of protest within the Church Catholic. When Protestantism becomes an end in itself, which it certainly has through the mainstream denominations in America, it becomes anathema. If we no longer have broken hearts at the church’s division, then we cannot help but unfaithfully celebrate Reformation Sunday. …

Unfortunately, the Catholics are right. Christian salvation consists in works. To be saved is to be made holy. To be saved requires our being made part of a people separated from the world so that we can be united in spite of — or perhaps better, because of — the world’s fragmentation and divisions. Unity, after all, is what God has given us through Christ’s death and resurrection. For in that death and resurrection we have been made part of God’s salvation for the world so that the world may know it has been freed from the powers that would compel us to kill one another in the name of false loyalties. All that is about the works necessary to save us.

It is difficult to disagree with the sentiment that there’s a problem if protest becomes an end in itself, as sometimes can happen. However, it would be misleading to say what, perhaps, Dr. Hauerwas does not quite say, which is that Protestantism as such looks at itself as an end in itself. For the magisterial Protestant traditions, the Reformational stream of Christianity, certainly has a fuller vision of the Christian life than as just an endless protest. The about page of TCI gives a brief hint of what that vision entails.

Regarding salvation and works, it is difficult to know whom Dr. Hauerwas is addressing. Certainly his words would give no comfort to people who have an experience like Martin Luther, i.e., who want to know how to get right with a just God. Further, as many have pointed out about Dr. Hauerwas’ ecclesiology, it’s not clear what, if any, church actually corresponds to the description in his statement. And that raises larger questions: if that is Christian soteriology and ecclesiology, and they do not correspond to reality (since what individual and what Christian body is perfectly holy?), is Christianity falsified? If it isn’t, some qualifications will have to be made. Of course, qualifications are sometimes less rhetorically exciting, but careful thought requires them; real reality is not simple.