Hauerwas' 2001 Gifford Lecture regarding MacIntyre, James, Niebuhr, Barth, Yoder, and Pope John Paul II, natural theology, and witness.
If I followed the line of argument correctly, Hauerwas spends his Gifford Lecture demonstrating the ultimate failure of Gifford's conception of natural theology to make a case for God according to rationalist assumptions, despite his best intentions, and does so by exploring the work of James, Niebuhr, and Barth: James, while not specifically Christian, can only make a rational case for religion through religious psychology; Niebuhr tries to make the case for liberal Christianity, attempting to find Christian terms to describe religious phenomenology so as to make the rational case, yet ultimately does so at the expense of historic Christianity, and finally Barth, whom Hauerwas champions as leading the way forward since he remains firmly attached to historic Christian ways of thinking, rejects natural theology as conceived of by Gifford, James, and Niebuhr, and instead provides a way forward to understand how the world, Christian, and church testify to God in Christ in a more accurate kind of "natural" theology, one in which God's being is taken seriously as all there really is and that all flows from Him. In this telling, Barth attempts to find a way to proclaim God in Christ to a post-Christian rationalist world, and sees the need for witness and testimony through the life of the church. Hauerwas concludes by identifying Yoder and Pope John II as examples of this type of embodied witness, leading to Dorothy Day as a premier example of what Yoder and JPII were aiming at. This particular edition also includes an afterword written a decade later by Hauerwas in which he talks about the reception of the Gifford Lecture and the first edition of the book, identifies some weaknesses, engages with some of the criticism, yet ultimately reinforces his confidence in what he originally wrote.
I personally am not nearly sufficiently read in any of these authors to judge how well Hauerwas has characterized them and found it challenging to keep both the line of argument in mind as well as trying to keep straight both what Hauerwas was primarily attempting to say as well as the line of thought in the notes, made that much more difficult on a Kindle galley edition. This is one of the rare books in which reading the concluding chapter first would help clarify the argument for the reader so that s/he could then go through the rest and understand why Hauerwas is telling the story he is telling.
In theological terms I felt Hauerwas did well in critiquing the way natural theology has been done; it melds nicely with other readings I have done of postmodernist critiques of rationalism and apologetics. I especially appreciated his insistence on witness, both in terms of oral proclamation as well as embodied living of life in God in Christ, especially as manifest in the church. His critique about the way we think we must "prove" our religious beliefs needs to be heard: we are under no obligation to provide a rationalist scientific (or even pseudo-scientific) "proof" for God's existence or our faith; instead, the faith is most attractive when it goes well beyond a series of propositions to be agreed upon and is lived and leads to transformation in the individual and the collective church. Faith is to be a matter of life, not a matter of ideas; modern rationalistic thought paradigms have always proven insufficient to explain or argue life choices and always will be. It is not enough, then, to attempt to inculcate a set or propositions and think that will be effective; instead, Christianity must always be rooted in its trust in the Person of Christ, His relationship to His Father, and His Lordship, and the living out of that faith in the life of the individual and communally in the church, and it is that kind of faith that can sustain and nourish no matter the antisupernatural secularist onslaught or the trials of life.
Recommended for those interested in any of the above authors/theologians/philosophers or Christian theology/philosophy in general.
**galley received as part of early review program