Review: Without Apology

September 26th, 2013

Stanley Hauerwas has made his reputation as a scholar by writing what he believes is the candid truth about Christian theology and ethics. His sermons reflect the same commitment to rigorous thought and fearless truth-telling, albeit in a different form than many of his other academic writings.

Without Apology: Sermons for Christ’s Church (Seabury, 2013) tells us much about Hauerwas and his approach to preaching. Because he does not preach to the same congregation each week, Hauerwas enjoys a perspective somewhat removed from the specific local interactions that most pastors consider from the pulpit. He is free to address important issues from enough distance to offer fresh insight, as he does concerning loneliness in “Prisoners No More.” He speaks to the church not as a pastor managing the competing interests within a congregation, but as a theologian able to deal coherently with complex ideas that matter to the church’s identity and practice.

That is not to say, however, that his sermons are without context. Hauerwas organizes the book according to setting, providing the date and location of each sermon. He often references in his texts the season of the Christian year in which they were preached. Sermons in the first two sections were delivered to congregations in which Hauerwas preaches regularly: Church of the Holy Family in Chapel Hill, NC, and Christ Church Cathedral in Nashville, TN.

The third set of sermons covers a variety of topics. It includes a notable sermon, entitled simply “Transfigured,” that examines the connections among transfiguration, baptism, and politics as the season of Lent begins. The fourth collection includes four sermons on the priesthood. Although Hauerwas is himself a lay person, he offers clear and urgent insights, such as the all-encompassing nature of ordination he describes in “Clothe Your Ministers with Righteousness.”

The final section of this collection provides three of the most interesting pieces. Although written as essays and not delivered to a specific congregation, they nonetheless illuminate truth and exhort readers to action. “Leadership” calls for a way of training clergy to counter the “politics of manipulation that so dominates our world” (p. 147). “An Open Letter to Christians Beginning College” encourages students to view their education as a calling in and of itself, not simply a means toward employment. Finally, “Sexing the Ministry” once again returns to the topic of loneliness, this time in regards to unfaithfulness among clergy.

By the author’s own admission, Without Apology does not break any new ground in his theological or ethical work. The sermons and essays contained within are rather a continuation and reinforcement of his many previous writings. Still, even when he is not suggesting anything new, Hauerwas’ voice remains fresh and powerful.

The sermons contained in Without Apology reject cheap sentimentality and empty rhetoric. Rather, they offer the truth that is Christ with precise language and razor-sharp insight, providing lay and clergy readers plenty with which to wrestle.

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