Religious Studies Faculty Publications

Document Type

Book Review

Publication Date

Fall 2015

Publication Source

Anglican Theological Review


One of the central aims of the work of Stanley Hauerwas has been to combat the tendency of modem academic theology to see the tasks of theology and of Christian ethics as fundamentally separate in their nature. This separation results in abstraction on both sides, with theology addressing itself to a set of disembodied beliefs and ethics cataloguing behaviors that are perfectly intelligible without God as their backdrop. Nicholas Healy’s book can be viewed and assessed as a kind of grappling with this basic Hauerwasian motive, and its manifest ramifications in Hauerwas's writings, including the latter’s rhetorical style, occasionalism, engagements with philosophy and social theory, and turn to the liturgy as a source for theological ethics. Healy claims to be quite in sympathy with this agenda. But Healy concludes that, all things considered, Hauerwas's work undermines its own agenda as much or more than it promotes it. Healy has therefore set out in this book to provide a systematic critique of one of the most widely read theologians of the last thirty years. By “systematic” I point to the way Healy criticizes Hauerwas's work through the application to it of abstract, typological categories. He reads Hauerwas's work as a system of concepts orbiting around a conceptual “center,” the church. After an introduction to the book and a skillful treatment of the development of Hauerwas's work in the first two chapters, in chapter 3 Healy lays down his basic charge in a succinct form. Hauerwas's theo-ethical writings evince what the author calls “ecclesism,” defined as “a distortion of Christianity consequent upon a reductive focus upon the church as the central and structuring locus for all theological inquiry” (p. 40). In other words, he is claiming that, as a system whose aim would be to provide a conceptual map of “Christianity,” Hauerwas's work is compromised by its center, the emphasis on the church. Because of its emphasis on the church, or a “reductive focus on the church,” both God and the church are distorted within his work. First, the church itself is idealized. Hauerwas's church, claims Healy, imagines a more uniform process of forming its members, coupled with a more sure structure of authority, than empirical studies and the self-understanding of Christians can support. Further, Hauerwas's emphasis on formation through practices leading to visible witness tends toward the exclusion of “ordinary Christians.” Second, Hauerwas's ecclesism tends to push God out of the picture.

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Citation information for the book reviewed: Hauerwas: A (Very) Critical Introduction. By Nicholas M. Healy. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2014.


Anglican Theological Review