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Book Review: A Community of Character - Stanley Hauerwas



Hauerwas, Stanley, 1981. A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press.

Stanley Hauerwas is currently Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke University Divinity School. He was named by Time in 2001 as "America's Best Theologian." He has a prominent voice in current American theology, and even has been interviewed on Oprah. According to his bio and a brief scan of this book, it is obvious that he emphasizes the importance of the church, the narrative in which the church lives, and the many disciplines with which the church must interact.

The thesis of the book is this: Jesus' story, God's story, is a social ethic (p. 40), and that story is to shape and drive the peculiarity of the community of God, the church (p. 1). This story, what Hauerwas calls a narrative, is the basis of hope and courage for the community, and the driving force behinds it unique nature and call in society.

Part I speaks to the claim that the narrative is a requirement for every community and polity (p. 4), and it is the church’s unique narrative that should give it a distinctive voice in society (p. 69). Part II deals with the philosophical ramifications of the claims of the importance of narrative for a virtuous social ethic (p. 4, 128). Part III deals with the "political significance of the family" (p. 5), specifically as they interrelate with sex (p. 186) and abortion (p. 226).

I was captivated by Hauerwas' use of the language of narrative as the basis for the social ethic of the church. I certainly agree that this foundation (although foundation would be too small a definition) of God's narrative, Jesus' story, is the heart of our interaction with and redemption of society. My bias, however, is decidedly Trinitarian and missional. So, I am constantly asking how those are represented in Hauerwas' work. Although he didn't use "missional" language, he did talk about, for example, peace as a fruit of narrative (p. 33). And the idea that the story, the narrative, we tell offers us a place in an adventure (p. 151) certainly gives wings to the idea that we are all on mission, inviting others, by the nature of our story, into that adventure with us (i.e. community). But what I found lacking was a truly Trinitarian language and underpinning. Doesn't the theology of the Trinity have more to speak to ethics than Aristotle or Aquinas and their understanding of the acquisition of virtue? Doesn't Trinitarian theology speak volumes to the nature of our narrative, and therefore our community? I would have desired this to be the pool from which his arguments were drawn, but, again, I am biased.

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