Today I stumbled upon a very interesting and refreshingly simple video from Stanley Hauerwas defining what it means to be a Christian. Hauerwas is a theologian and professor at Duke Divinity School. He’s known for some of his polarizing and incredibly counter-Christian-sub-cultural views on everything from Biblical interpretation to Pacifism: views that, though you may disagree with them, will at the very least, cause one to stop and think.
Hauerwas’ definition of Christianity does the same. On the surface, its nothing terribly mind-blowing or overly charismatic. He opens by stating, very plainly that: “I’m not that interested in Christianity…. I certainly think that what it means to be a Christian is to worship the God who raised Jesus from the dead, having first raised Israel from Egypt.”
Hauerwas takes this a step further when he explains that:
“To be a Christian is to be made a participant in an ongoing history of God’s care of the world through the promise of the people of Israel, who we know as Jews, and the integration of Gentiles into that people through the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Christ.”
Implicit in Hauerwas’ definition is the idea that Christians operate on a narrative that is different from the narrative of the world. This is crucial to the definition of Christianity, especially in a world in which our narratives are often blended together and there seems to be no predominant narrative, certainly not a hopeful one. My narrative as a husband may dominate my life from 5-9PM while I am home with my wife, but my narrative as a (enter job description here) is the dominating source of identity in my life from 8-5 while I am on the job. My narrative as a citizen of the United States, as a Green Bay Packer fan and as a person who likes literature is much more of a driving force to who I define myself to be (ie: my Facebook’s page “About” section) than any Biblical or Theocentric story.
Just today I received an email from a good friend of mine who is working through a recent tragedy. In the email they said they had to stop reading books, because literature constantly brings us to an inevitable confrontation with the tragedy of so many lives outside of our own. As if their own world wasn’t enough of a struggle, here’s a thousand more to consider.
I never have the right words for a situation like this. But in trying to think of a response I can’t help but meditate on Hauerwas’ final words on the subject:
“Our world is filled with God’s presence through people who do small things, the neighborly things, that helps us discover what God’s peace is like.”
The narrative that defines our lives as Christians, the backbone of our faith and definition of what it means to be a “Christian”, originates in a message of hope and optimism, one that can calmly reply to all the doomsday and depressing notions to which other narratives eventually lead. The reply is not one of arrogance or superiority, but the humility of the smitten, the blind, the beggar, the despicable, the chosen. And it centers on the cross.
Anyways, I’ve said too much already. But such are my reflections on the video. Needless to say, Hauerwas says it all better. And faster: