Albert Mohler-Stanley Hauerwas: An Interesting Exchange

al_mohler_low_reshauerwas-2This past week, Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, posted an interview he did with Stanley Hauerwas. Fascinating interview it was. You can listen to the entire interview or get it in transcript form HERE.

As I saw it posted, I said to myself this should be quite interesting. I’m a very close student of one and most often a critic of the other. I see one as the answer for the problems represented int he theology of the other. I’ve been deeply affected by both. So for me, this was an interesting interview.

Mohler proved himself a good student of Hauerwas. And Hauerwas engaged Mohler generously and warmly. Hauerwas did not say anything new. Nonetheless, it was interesting to hear Mohler’s take on Hauerwas. I would say two of the big takeaways for me from the interview are:

1.) Mohler used Hauerwas positively as most evangelicals do. They hop on his critique of the consumerism of American Christianity. But they avoid (or are unable to see) what Hauerwas is criticizing – the very foundations of evangelical thought that make such a critique possible: i.e. Enlightenment individualism, reading the Bible isolated unto oneself, a critique of conversion as a moment before God where he pronounces pardon upon faith, and the alignment of evangelicalism with American values/economy/nationalism. Hauerwas takes shots at all of these in the interview. Mohler seems to avoid disagreeing with him when he does. The inter-change is interesting.

2.) Mohler doesn’t get the Anabaptist theological posture of giving up control. At the very end of the interview, Al Mohler is ‘vexed’ by the question ‘What would Hauerwas do if he was in control?” In other words, Mohler wants to know how Hauerwas would organize the church and the U.S. government from his minority posture if he were indeed the boss. As I said on FB this morning, what Mohler and many Reformed oriented evangelical friends don’t get is that Hauerwas rejects the posture of control entirely and assumes such a question is unanswerable. If Jesus is Lord and we are living under His reign, then we cannot be in control, and we therefore cannot predict what the shape of our social existence will look like down the sight line of history under Christ’s rule and our faithfulness in that Kingdom.

As someone who has learned, written on and extended Hauerwas into evangelical church world, I run into these two theological dynamics often. These are two ways most common in the mainstream evangelical reading of Hauerwas.

Enjoy the interview! And if you have any thoughts yourself, would you mind posting them in the comments?

 

 

 

 

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12 comments on “Albert Mohler-Stanley Hauerwas: An Interesting Exchange
  1. Andrew Arndt says:

    I love this interview, Dave, and had the same sort of thought as you did about Mohler’s not “getting” the anabaptist theological posture initially. I’m inclined to give Al some credit, though, since he showed great fluidity in handling Stan’s ideas (so he must know about the anabaptist rejection of control). My guess is that he asked the question the way he did b/c he wanted to dive deeper into the heart of Hauerwas’ vision for how “things should be”…

    Two cents. Thanks for posting, and for your thoughts.

    Grace…

    andrew

  2. I enjoyed the interview very much. We discussed it in our weekly leadership small group in the church where I serve as a pastor. I thought it was a wonderful example of how Christians from different theological streams SHOULD dialogue; i.e. with respect and affection. I thought Mohler was kind and respectful, but I would have liked him to engage with Hauerwas more in some areas of disagreement. Nevertheless it was so refreshing to see the exchange of ideas in the context of Christian unity and civility.

  3. Madison says:

    First – I’m with all the others at being thankful & impressed by this interview.

    On to your question:

    Hauerwas has said that he is a theocrat – that he is ready to rule. It is not out of place for Mohler to ask: “So, what should we do?” Anyone who speaks with the authority and content of Hauerwas ought to expect this kind of question.

    However, I do think that you are right that an out-of-control posture is unfamiliar to Mohler (which is probably a reflection of Mohler’s day-to-day existence as much his theology).

    I don’t think it is Hauerwas’”anabaptist theology” as much as his understanding of reason that prevents him from suggesting more than very direct church disciplines as the best way forward at this point. Can’t you hear him say, “Try to administer the eucharist correctly, and see what happens.” Or “Always tell the truth” as Hauerwas often says. This kind of advice is not disingenuous. The best way forward simply isn’t clear from a macro level, and it doesn’t need to be for us to actually move forward – at least if Hauerwas is correct. Adopt correct community practices, see what it does to your vision, and act accordingly.

  4. Dan says:

    Does Mohler not remind you in some weird way of 1 Samuel 8 where Israel demands a king? Does Samuel’s warning still apply?

  5. Nathan Smith says:

    Dave,

    For years I’ve heard you talk about a higher ecclesiology needed for evangelicals and others and I am coming to agree more and more. Our family joined an Episcopal church and it has been wonderful. I’m getting it.

    The thing that I struggle with in Hauerwas (and Mohler) is the low view of humanity that is understood both in an out of the church. If I was to say it more succinctly, I would prefer,

    I am convinced by Hauerwas’s high ecclesiology and resonate with the fusion of anabaptism, but unconvinced by the inattention he gives to a robust theological anthropology – for humans in and out of the church. In the language Mohler and his consorts would use – he has an overdetermined ecclesisology and an undetermined anthropology. This is the only reason I can’t buy his full vision and am frustrated by his religio-fatalism.

    I wonder what his interaction with missiology out of the American context would do to his vision if he’d come from an experience like Newbigin or Donovan – I think we’d be listening to a different Hauerwas – not substantively different but different nonetheless.

    Am I off or does he address this?

  6. Rob Fairbanks says:

    Hey Dave, I thought the interview was terrific. I loved SH responses and actually appreciated Mohler’s even-handedness. It seems like, though disagreeing at points with SH, he sincerely admires him. I say more civil dialogue like this one! It makes me think that Christian people with different positions can be both civil and honorable. A rarity.

  7. Chris Morton says:

    I wanted to like the interview, really. Mohler was much more purposefully engaged with the actual material than I would have imagined.

    However, he still felt the need to preach. Leaving his criticisms at the end, without an opportunity to for Hauerwas to respond, throws doubt on the entire posture of conversation.

    Nevertheless, Hauerwas content was at poignant as always. Good listen.

  8. David Fitch says:

    Thanks for all these great comments.

  9. Jeff martin says:

    The interview made both look good and then hauerwas snuck in there a critique about inerrancy which mohler did not touch. Wouldn’t that have been interesting?

  10. Scott Moore says:

    Let me start by saying I was surprised by the genuine graciousness of Mohler towards Hauerwas. As was pointed out in the comments above, he engaged SH on the issues of his work instead of chasing him down on his own projects. That said…

    Mohler’s commentary at the end, with his continued overtures to SH’s gracious view “from the outside” led me to wonder whether or not Mohler sees SH as a fellow Christian. Obviously, “from the outside” could simply mean SH is not a fellow evangelical, which is beyond clear. However, Mohler has seemed to have harsh words toward anyone not an evangelical who yet claims to be a Christian in the past. Just made me wonder.

  11. Paige says:

    Were Mohler’s long-winded comments/questions typical of him? I read him as obfuscating, but I’d be willing to believe it’s a characteristic of his social location, i.e. Southern Baptists talk in circles all the time, and not just when they’re engaged in conversations with respected persons with whom they are known to disagree.

  12. Barbara Kidder says:

    The interview was very interesting; the comments, too!
    Mr. Morton observed that Mohhler waited until the end to sneak in his critical comment, but I observed that Hauerwas snuck in his comment about ‘sola sciptura’ late in the day, too, so they both applied ‘tactics’ to the discussion.

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David Fitch
Betty R. Lindner Professor of Theology
Northern Seminary
DMin in Missional Leadership
Prodigal Christianity
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