Read: Without Apology

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Article Reviews

By Stanley Hauerwas (Seabury Books, 2013)

It’s a weird thing to review a book of sermons, let alone one written by a theologian known less for preaching than his academic work.

It makes more sense if you know that Stanley Hauerwas is an odd breed of theologian. Recently retired from Duke, he is an Episcopalian but is seen as a deeply Catholic thinker. Unlike many scholars who do their work within the academy, he has often written with those outside the university in mind.

Taken together, the sermons in the book might be understood as an effort to break the impasse between academic theology and the church. In his introduction, Hauerwas says preaching is, theologically speaking, “the most fertile work I do.”

The title, Without Apology, expresses his hope that Christians “learn again the odd grammar of Christian speech” at a time when the church’s authority can no longer be assumed. Moreover, Hauerwas considers his sermons to be “arguments” against readings of scripture that trivialize the demands of faith.

To be sure, these sermons are serious attempts to overthrow the tyranny of sentimental preaching in churches today. In particular, his handling of difficult passages, such as the Sermon on the Mount, successfully shows how the gospel challenges the reigning pathologies and idolatries of our age.

His preaching is fairly plainspoken, aside from occasional forays into more challenging territory. Hauerwas’ glosses also may strike those unfamiliar with his work as idiosyncratic—for example, his connection of Jesus’ discourse on the mustard seed to nonviolence.

But if you want to truly understand Hauerwas, this is a good place to start. These sermons contain topics that have occupied his mind for years: salvation, holiness, martyrdom. It’s churchy stuff, not exactly what you’d associate with someone who TIME named “America’s Best Theologian.” But then again, Hauerwas is peculiar, and if he’s right, so are Christians.

This article appeared in the March 2014 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 79, No. 3, page 43).