Monday, November 26, Dr. Stanley Hauerwas graced Greenville College with his presence. Hauerwas is the Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke Divinity school, and before teaching at Duke, he was a longtime professor at Notre Dame. Time magazine named him “America’s Best Theologian.” He has authored or co-authored numerous books and essays, and his works have pervaded universities and theological discussions internationally. He has also appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show. I do not jest when I say that we were graced by his presence. He would probably disagree with this assessment, however, as he is very magnanimous, but it was quite an honor to have him here.
His first speaking engagement of the day was an interview in the Krober room conducted by Dr. Kent Dunnington. This was more light-hearted than his following talks, and had a lot to do with being a Christian college student. Two main ideas stood out from this talk. When asked about how students should think about love and romance, Hauerwas assured us all that we have no idea what we’re saying when we say, “I love you,” and that we need a Christian community around us when we start to realize the serious commitments involved in marriage. It was a little more sobering than a lot of romance talks around Greenville, but one that was probably necessary. His last piece of advice was to read five books by the time we graduate: Plato’s Republic, Augustine’s Confessions, Barth’s Dogmatics in Outline, George Elliot(Mary Anne Evans)’s Middlemarch, and David James Duncan’s The Brothers K.
Next, he spoke in chapel. His address was dense and delivered quickly, and it was easy to fall behind. However, it was worth the close attention that needed to be paid. He began with a quote from William James that poetically describes our “nothingness” as humans—our short and seemingly purposeless existence. He then offered the paradox, “The universe may be hopeless, but [we] cannot refrain from living lives of hope. The question, of course, remains whether there is any basis for lives so lived.” After a discussion of why people have adopted certain philosophies about life, such as kill or be killed, and better the world so as to be remembered, in attempts to evade the idea of our insignificance, he points out that our purposelessness is in fact our purpose. The fact that we wither and die and will not last forever is a necessary condition for the Word of God to stand forever. We were created to conform to God’s purposes, confirming that the world in fact does have a purpose. “We have been created to be disciples of Jesus. Through baptism into this man’s life and death we are not fated to nothingness but rather by God’s grace our fate has been transformed into a destiny otherwise unimaginable.” His address was quite full of information, and I’m sure more and more meaning will come through with a re-read of his sermon, but an impact was made.
That evening he gave the first annual McAllaster Scholars Lecture. His address was on faith and politics. He talked about how we seem to be experiencing the end of Christendom—a sort of equating of Christianity and
citizenship. The end of Christendom means that Christianity will no longer be the norm, and it will no longer be the same as being an upstanding citizen. He finds this to be exciting for the church’s future, and believes that Christianity will be in tension with the world again, as it was after the death of Jesus and before Constantine. One of his final thoughts for the evening had to do with Christian pacifism (he is a pacifist), and it was a sobering thought. He believes that the greatest enemy of Christianity today is sentimentality, the thought that we can live as Christians and raise our children and expect them not to suffer for our convictions. He also pointed out that few people go to church to realize that life is difficult. He ended by reminding us to be in Christian community to help one another, and to speak truthfully.
Hauerwas’ visit was an opportunity for us all to soak up wisdom from one of the most influential theologians of our time. Many students were positively impacted, everyone was given something to think and pray about, and our campus was honored to have him.