Gold from Hauerwas, or ‘Sell the cathedral’

Posted: September 19, 2013 by J in Church, Church history, Discipleship, Theology
Tags: , ,

So privileged to hear Stanley Hauerwas last night at New College, UNSW. Of the many helpful things he talked about, here’s the one that stuck in my mind:

He quoted Robert Jenson’s famous statement: God is whoever raised Jesus from the dead, having first raised Israel from Egypt. 

Commenting on the Israel bit of that, SH said roughly this: ‘the word ‘raised’ links Israel’s experience to our Christian faith, as we trust in the risen one. It makes us realise how much we have in common with the story of Israel. In particular today, we the Christian church share Israel’s uncomfortable experience of not being in control.

That’s what stuck with me: not being in control. For Israel, election started off as a kind of crazy rollercoaster ride, they never knew what was around the next bend. They were totally in God’s hands. When you read the adventures of the early Christians in Acts and elsewhere, it seems our election in Christ is pretty much the same.

Not in control: I sense that we are struggling to adjust, after more than a millenium of church-state connection taught us to see Christian faith from the point of view of the powerful insider. It’s only been a few hundred years that that power has been on the wain, and only recently that we’ve felt really outsiders. Back in 1959, Sydney’s newspapers promoted the Billy Graham crusades. Now they are hostile or indifferent to Christian faith.

I think we’re still feeling the shock. And the ones feeling the most shock are us Anglicans. We are used to rule. We have establishment in the very fibre of our being. But that establishment has rejected us. It’s a profound identity crisis. The anabaptists, on the other hand, probably feel ok about things…  🙂

So now we’re not in control, and we need to reframe our faith, retell our story, rethink our practises, reinvent ourselves. We need to get comfortable with this. At present we’re still longing for the old power back, still wanting to tell our society what to do, etc. We’re still worrying that the media doesn’t like us, and desperately trying to turn that around. It’s time to stop.

I think we need some time out in the wilderness with God, like Moses, to adjust our bearings. We’re not princes in Egypt any longer. When we come back, it will be as prophets, not princes. We must embrace an identity that is alternative, unpopular, edgy, shameful, subversive.

Christian faith began as an underground movement, and it’s time we got back to those roots. The upper room. The catacomb. Speaking psychologically, you understand.

STEP 1: sell the Cathedrals. They are our strongest link with our privileged, insider, establishment past. They are powerful symbols of being in control. They are now part of the problem, hindering us from adjusting to the new reality. Everything we like about the cathedrals is why we should sell them. We need to stop liking those things.

Cathedrals are things to repent of.

This may seem to painful to contemplate. But friends, we’ve already lost our identities. Losing the cathedrals is surely a small price to pay to regain our own selves.

I should clarify: SH did not say sell the cathedrals. That is my take on living out his program of learning to not be in control. I As a friend texted me the other day, Hauerwas is the man to help us negotiate post-Christendom. And boy do we need help!

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