Performing the Faith : Bonhoeffer and the Practice of Nonviolence
by Stanley Hauerwas
Brazos Press, 2004
Reviewed by Chris L. Rice
Dietrich Bonhoeffer represents a life of lived theology. His personal commitment to a way of doing theology that involved the whole person in a community of faith as witness to the confrontation of the Gospel can still inspire us today. Stanley Hauerwas leads us through his approach to truth-telling. To set the record straight, only the first two chapters of this book deal specifically with Bonhoeffer’s thought, but in those two chapters we find a blue print for understanding Bonhoeffer’s method of dealing with and speaking the truth, and the importance of the truth for a truly just society. The first chapter aims at understanding Bonhoeffer’s political ethics, which was not fully realized at the time of his execution. This is done by working with Bonhoeffer’s writings in Sanctorum Communio, Act and Being, Ethics, and letters surrounding his first trip to America found in No Rusty Swords.
The second chapter appropriates Bonhoeffer’s writings on truth to our conversations in public life. Again he uses letters but also the monumental work Ethics, which it must be admitted, has not been given its due.
Its clear that a big part of Stanley Hauerwas’ work is in the ebb and flow of language. In the introduction to Performing the Faith he dialogues with critics, tries to clarify his intentions, and even confesses when he uses some words wrongly. (p. 22 “metaphors, maybe, but certainly not symbols”) This book gives me hope that politics, theology, and ethics can be both academic and practical. Hauerwas is hopelessly academic—he is far too well read not to be—but he desires practicality above all and to be of service to the Church and our country. He almost makes pacifism attractive and believable. When he writes,
“pacifism is just too “passive” and nonviolence too dependent on being “not violence.”” We can only begin to understand the violence that grips our lives by being embedded in more determinative practices of peace—practices as common and as extraordinary as prayer and the singing of hymns”
I am ready to sign on, albeit as a self-proclaimed non-aggressionist. Whatever that means.
Stanley Hauerwas is no doubt one of America’s most controversial theologians. I must confess I was skeptical that he would try to make Bonhoeffer into his own image. Instead I found that Hauerwas has introduced some of the more complex aspects of Bonhoeffer’s theology into a very vibrant conversation about today’s political and ecclesial climate. He is one of the founding members of Ekklesia Project, which I’ve personally found to be a very stimulating ecumenical gathering of friends who bear witness to a Christian way of life that critiques and separates from the lust for violence and war within our culture.