John Webster reviews Healy on Hauerwas


Over at First Things, Professor John Webster has a review of Nicholas Healy’s Hauerwas: A (Very) Critical Introduction, which was released earlier this year. Here are his closing comments:

A final note: Is it really Schleiermacher who is Hauerwas’s progenitor? Might not a better candidate be the great, and neglected, Albrecht Ritschl, surely the theologian of liberal Protestant Christian moral culture? Ritschl was, to be sure, no sectarian. But his repudiation of metaphysics, his fear that preoccupation with fides quae is a speculative distraction from viewing the world in terms of moral value, and his conviction that Christian faith is principally a mode of active moral community are not far from much that may be found in Hauerwas’s corpus. Perhaps one of the services of this fine book may be to cause its readers to ponder the irony that a body of writing that sets its face resolutely against the liberal tradition of modern moral theology may in important respects be that tradition’s heir.

“Ecclesiocentrism,” First Things, October 2014

If you’re familiar with Webster’s works, as you should be, then you will have a good grasp of why Webster appreciates the book so much.



  1. I thought hauerwas was vague with metaphysics and the like in order to reach a bigger audience of Christians. I read in one address to newly ordained ministers they were “ontologically different”. That sort of stuff slipping out sounds like he mostly keeps his cards to his chest.

    Yet what intrigues me the most is that neither Healy or Webster mention Yoder once, he being Hauerwas’ hero. Maybe Hauerwas is trying to make a rather Mennonite position into a catholic one. I think he’ll lose out though if he doesn’t allow a serious grounding of his writing in the life of the Lord.

    • Wow, “ontologically different”! I knew that he has been attending an Episcopal church for a while, but he’s really been drinking the Anglo-Catholic kool aid apparently! Of course, what he means by “ontological” could be reduced to moral categories entirely. Who knows. (And, there are people like Bruce McCormack who use “ontology” in contradistinction to “metaphysics,” which I find a bit curious.) Hauerwas does strike me as more coy about metaphysics, but I haven’t read a broad enough cross-section of his works to have an informed opinion. I assume that Healy has, so I will enjoy reading his account. That’s an interesting point about Yoder. Webster’s review is short, so he didn’t address all the relevant questions of influence and direction. That would open-up a fascinating discussion.

      • I’ve only read a little Hauerwas, but what seemed to me his emphasis on the Church as a kind of continuous physical reality passed on from generation to generation put me in mind of the Apostolic Succession back then (I read him back in the early 90’s, when he described himself as “a Mennonite camp follower”). So it comes as no surprise to hear that he has been hanging out with Episcopalians, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they were Anglo-Catholic. Heck, it wouldn’t surprise me if he were to swim the Tiber.

      • The lack of yoder is very odd. Does he think Hauerwas has moved from a Mennonite focus on discipleship and imitation of Jesus to a Ritschlian, liberal social justice?

      • RE: Robert,
        The ethicism of both Mennonite and Roman Catholic theology is what unites them, despite their ostensibly vastly different orientations. The Mennonites are suspicious of “form,” as are all radical types. But the motivations are the same. Both Mennonites and Roman Catholics believe that the Reformed doctrine of an extrinsic righteousness is incomprehensible and/or dangerous. Webster is nothing if not Reformed, at the deepest levels. Hauerwas is definitely not Reformed, so a Tiber swim would not require a radical change, materially-speaking, in his theology.

        RE: Cal,
        Does he think Hauerwas has moved from a Mennonite focus on discipleship and imitation of Jesus to a Ritschlian, liberal social justice?
        I think he sees these as pretty much the same thing. They are kindred spirits — ethical, relational, and anti-metaphysical.

    • Nothing explicitly targeted at Hauerwas that I can recall, though I could definitely be wrong. But criticisms are rather strongly implicit in Webster’s emphases on the metaphysics of aseity, his resourcing of scholasticism in that regard, his fondness for CD II.1 (God’s perfections), and how all of this is seen as obscurantist in the current climate of moral theology / political theology.

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