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HAUERWAS, Stanley. The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics.

Notre
Dame: UNDP, 1983.

1. Summary and synthesis

In a certain sense, the subtitle of this book is misleading since, for Stanley Hauerwas, it is
impossible to discuss Christian ethics as if it were its own discipline, distinct from
theological reflection. He writes, Christian ethics is not what one does after one gets clear
on everything else, or after one has established a starting point or basis of theology; rather
it is at the heart of the theological task (55). The reason being, theology is a
fundamentally practical enterprise, concerned to display how Christian convictions
construe the self and world. This primer in Christian ethics, then, is nothing less than a
primer in the theology of Stanley Hauerwas; the two cannot be separated. With this
caveat in mind, we move to the books substance.

In The Peaceable Kingdom, Hauerwas contends for a Christian ethic that is unabashed in
its distinctiveness; indeed, it could be no other way. The modern world attempted to
manufacture a supposedly universal ethic, equally applicable (and enforceable) to anyone,
anywhere, yet in doing so undermined the rationale for ethics to begin withnamely, that
we are a situated people with certain convictions. The modern program inevitably leads to
violence, becausebeing founded on a lieit must resort to coercion in the conviction
that anyone taking an opposing stance is manifestly irrational.

The nature of Christian ethics is decidedly different. As Hauerwas puts it, The nature of
Christian ethics is determined by the fact that Christian convictions take the form of a
story, or perhaps better, a set of stories that constitutes a tradition, which in turn creates
and forms a community (24). To be a Christian therefore means to bear witness that we
live in the creation of a good God, who has been made known through Israel and Jesus.
This identity is what forms the Christian character, so that apparently discrete ethical
decisions arent that at all; the decision makes itself if we know who we are and what is
required of us (129). Character determines circumstance, Hauerwas writes: who you
arethe community of which you are part, and the story by which you liveaffects your
vision, your interpretation of a given circumstance, making possible or impossible a
certain course of action.

The community of which he speaks is of course the Church. The Church is the story-
formed people of God, who are, above all, a people of the truth. They tell the truth about
themselves (we are sinners), and they tell the truth about the worldnamely, that it
stands condemned apart from the Gospel and in need of repentance, not fix-up.
Hauerwass charter for the Christian congregation, then, is staggering in its simplicity: Put
starkly, the first social ethical task of the church is to be the churchthe servant
community...what makes the church the church is its faithful manifestation of the
peaceable kingdom in the world (99). Far from being an accommodation our retreat, this
is an emphatically political assertion (though not in the way we usually think of
political): The gospel is a political gospel. Christians are engaged in politics, but it is a
politics of the kingdom that reveals the insufficiency of all politics based on coercion and
falsehood and find the true source of power in servanthood rather than dominion (102).
As he says elsewhere, the Church is that hard thing the World butts up against.

For Hauerwas, the politics of the Church lead inexorably to peaceableness and non-
violence. The story that is told in the life of the Church is the story of Jesus, who willingly
suffered at the hands of a world hell-bent on killing itself. In having its way with each of
us, this story makes us a people of peace, committed to the way of the cross:

As Christians, we must maintain day in and day out that peace is not something to
be achieved by our power. Rather peace is a gift of God that comes only by our
being a community formed around a crucified saviora savior who teaches us
how to be peaceful in a world in rebellion against its true Lord. (12)

This is finally the nature and goal of Christian ethics according to Stanley Hauerwas:
becoming a people of the truth in a world that lives by the lie.

2. Interaction with the text

Hauerwas prevails on me every time I read his work. He writes with such forcefulness
(ironically) and conviction that it is hard not to be compelled by his argumentationand
for the most part, I have no desire to resist it. When he isnt dwelling in the details of the
contemporary ethical milieu, of which I am mostly ignorant, I hear a message that strikes
me as merely true.

His most difficult word for the Lutheran is of course what he has to say about non-
violencenot because we are violent, per se, but because we are committed to a program
in which violence is permitted if not sanctioned. Moreover, as a husband and father, I
have entertained (if thats the right word) the kind of theoretical scenarios he
countenances then rejects (e.g., what if theres an attacker in your home...). And this is
where Peaceable proved most profitable for me: who we are as the people of Godwho I
am as a follower of Jesus and baptized member of the kingdomcreates a world within
which a certain life is possible...or not. The kind of person that I am and the things I do are
notcannot bedivorced from my actions. Hence, in a situation in which it would
appear that violence is a possible option, for the Christian it isnt even on the table; the
decision has already made by the story that is forming me.

Hauerwass take is liberating and ennobling of the typical LCMS congregation. He posits a
theologyand theological ethicsuited to the small church striving only to be faithful
amidst a fragmented and violent world. No heroics of church growth or programmatic
excellence; simply learning to confess and to receive extended training in being
dispossessed (86). He emphasizes formation, the kind of formation borne of close,
mentoring relationships within a community of care and mutual concern. That we have.