13 March 2012

When he's right, he's right

by Phil Johnson

'm no fan of Stanley Hauerwas. I'll be candid: to quote him approvingly on my blog causes deep pain in the right temporal lobe of my cerebrum (which is where I think those latent fundamentalist scruples are housed). But Hauerwas certainly gets this right:

One of the problems with evangelicals, particularly as it has taken the form of church growth, is the presumption that you get to make God up. You get to make God up. You get to make Christianity up. So it's like you don't receive it.

Phil's signature


Tim said...

I would like to know in what way(s) he believes we "Make God Up"?

Phil Johnson said...

I don't know what Hauerwas had in mind specifically, but the assessment is certainly correct, if you take the broad spectrum of well-known evangelical megachurches as a barometer--and especially if you factor in postmoderns, Emergents, and self-styled "post-evangelicals."

The ironic thing is that Hauerwas himself is something of a pioneer when it comes to re-imagining Christianity in terms of postmodern values. His theology would improve significantly if he would apply this scolding to himself.

Anonymous said...

I don't know in what ways Hauerwas says we make God up, but here's a few I see...

We say God wants you to be healthy and wealthy.

We say God's highest goal is to save as many as he possibly can.

We say God has abdicated his sovereignty in favour of letting people perish in order not to violate our personal choices.

We say God is a tyrant if he dares to kill someone for reasons we don't understand.

We say that was mean in the OT and now he's nice.

I would say that Hauerwas himself makes an awful up himself. But Phil already alluded to that.

I agree with the post. We don't treat the faith as something we received. We chose instead to evaluate what's worth keeping and what's not, rather than letting Scripture evaluate us.

Fred Butler said...

I don't know who Hauerwas is. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

I'm taking it that he fancies himself to be some sort of theological pundit?

Mike said...

I believe the "make God/Christianity up" is similar to the old, popular "Choose Your Own Adventure" books for teens. I loved those! Read some pages, "if you want to do this, turn to page 47, if you'd rather do this, turn to page 86." Evangelicalism's fascination with Church growth is doing the same thing. I mean, seriously, did anyone think we would be promoting a 4 week sermon series on SEX (might be inappropriate for your kids, so send them to children's church) to increase non-Christians to come to church? How about a TV giveaway? By doing that, we are reinterpreting Who God is, and how He works. Sort of like Abraham and Sarah thinking God needed help to give Abraham an offspring.

romans923 said...

How odd. The article you linked to does not sound like the same man who is being interviewed in the video. Maybe his views have changed over the past five years?
Or he is inviting evangelicals to his position which is where he believes Christian orthodoxy is represented?

heath lloyd said...

I was struck by the comment that we believe that we have the New Testament and NOW; disregarding the 2000 years in between.
This seems to be true. Perhaps it is a symptom of postmodernism. One sses this in my own context of the SBC. The men who carried the banner of inerrency and led the charge to halt the rise of liberalism in our churches and institutions are all but forgotten or marginalized in SBC life today. Forget it . . we have to be in the NOW. What is the hip theolgy or whatever of the moment, and disregarding important history.
Hauerwas is an interesting person; thanks for sharing the link.
-- Heath Lloyd

Robert said...


This made me think of your sermon on Titus 2:11-15 from the Shepherds' Conference. Surely these self-promoting, rock star "pastors" make up their version of what it means to be a pastor instead of following the Biblical instruction that Paul lays out for Titus (and us). They certainly didn't receive any of their methods from church history.

I wanted to take the time to thank you for being gracious in speaking to me (and plenty others) after your sessions. And after speaking with you, I have an even harder time understanding how people can criticize your "tone" or saying you are too hard on people. Something you told me actually made me back off a bit from my train of thought because I think I was being a bit too hard on people.

Thanks for defending the truth while speaking in love for God and the Church. Keep up the good work!

Frank Turk said...

That Phil Johnson should post here more often. he's clever.

Pat said...


I don't know what he "fancies" himself to be, but he actually is a theologian, ethicist, and commentator on Scripture (cf. Matthew commentary).


You said that Hauerwas" reimagines Xianity in terms of postmodern values." In what ways? He spends a lot - A LOT of time in Aristotle, and Aquinas, and Anabaptist resources (hence his pacifism). But "postmodern" might not stick as accurately. You don't typically hear pomo types lauding tradition and institutional church. In fact, like lots of evangelicals (!) pomos are dismissive or "deconstructive" of those things.

Great blog, btw.

Grace & Peace,

Nash Equilibrium said...

Oh gosh no, not "America's most foul-mouthed theologian" (or he used to be, by now I'm sure he's been outdone. (This moniker was assigned as I recall, because he was named by Time magazine as "America's Best Theologian" in the 1990s sometime - cause after all, Time knows theology don't they?)

I don't know what exactly he was referring to here in this quote, but usually he is spouting off about radical pacifism being the only true Christian belief, and he is the darling of radical pacifists. He is generally irked that Christians have not embraced radical pacifism as a cause and are therefore "making God up" as they go along.

aslannn said...

Well, considering that pacifism has never been even close to the majority position of the church, I suppose that would be one of the areas in which tradition has erred, as he said. It really is a very convenient system he has there. That's not to say that he hasn't stumbled upon an actual point. It is only to say that he has no basis for making that point. In all my reading of him, I've never gotten the sense that he has that high a view of Scripture. He's certainly not a Sola Scripturist. Therefore, all of his critiques are somewhat subjective. So even when he's right, he's right for the wrong reasons, or right without a proper foundation.

Nash Equilibrium said...

I agree with aslann. I've read a lot of his stuff but it's mostly what I would call "Hogwash from Hauerwas." Biblically unfounded, politically correct stuff preached to the liberally-converted. But for that same reason, loved by teh journolist crowd.

Fred Butler said...

Well, from what I read here and elsewhere after I discovered who the guy is, I think "fancies" is an apt description of what HE thinks he is doing as a "theologian."

dac said...

@Tim (1st comment).

it's clear what he means - he contends (right after phils quote of him) that they "have the new testament and now", i.e. they ignore 2000 years of tradition - a very catholic type of criticism of protestants. It's a fair criticism of many . Of course it has nothing to do, per se, with post moderns, emergents or other post evangelicals that cannot be applied to many fundamentalists.

Phil Johnson said...

Pat: You said that Hauerwas" reimagines Xianity in terms of postmodern values."

OK, I realize that's not the most technically correct thumbnail description/critique of Hauerwas's ideas. He is a sometimes critic of postmodernism, and I gather he rejects that term as a description of what he's doing.

But change the word "postmodern" to "politically correct," or perhaps "French liberal" and I think it gives a fair enough single-sentence descriptor of Hauerwas's method of developing ethical and moral doctrines.

C. T. Bennett said...

I understood him to mean the term "God" as representing basics of historical Christianity. I agree that parts of mainstream Evangelicalism is tweaking its message to fit more comfortably with culture: Enns has inerrancy as the Bible being exactly what God wants it to be right now, Adam as "everyman" rather than an historical person, Saddleback worships "one God" just as Islam does, etc. There is now pressure from a UN consulting group to ban The Divine Comedy from schools because of its homophobic, racist, and anti-Islamic content. It is hard to imagine lots of Evangelical mega-churches lining up to support teaching those cultural taboos. (link: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/culturenews/9140869/Dantes-Divine-Comedy-offensive-and-should-be-banned.html )

Manfred said...

The quote from this otherwise unknown-to-me person shatters Rick Warren's ecclesiology, and likely his entire theological construct.

Warren created (made up) his god, and built a phony church around it, celebrating numerical growth as a gift from his god. As his disciples are wont to say - "People count, so we count people!"

Halcyon said...

"And Evangelicon formed God out of the dust from His/Her self-help books and best sellers, and S/He breathed the breath of fresh thinking and new ideas into him, and God became a living mass of ambiguity. And Evangelicon cried, 'I/We have made a God in our own image. Let him be fruitful and multiply in his ambiguity.' And so it was."

The Book of Evangelicon, Agensis 1:5-9

JR said...

I always quote Hauerwas in marriage counseling.

He insightfully said, "You always marry the wrong person."

Meaning we are all the wrong people. Sin has messed up all of us, making marriage can be difficult, selfishness creeps in, etc...

And though I didn't agree with everything therein "Resident Aliens" was a good book. It was way out ahead of the pomo conversation of the middle 2000's.

Nash Equilibrium said...

"Golden Calf Evangelical Church?"

Ken said...

What Phil recognizes about what is right about Hauerwas' comment seems to me to the root reason why some thinking Evangelicals convert to Rome or Eastern Orthodoxy.

- those who believe in the "catholic" (little c, universal, creeds, the Trinity, sense of historical linear movement of the church marching forward in kingdom power in discipling the nations, historical theological development) - recognize something is wrong with mega church and seeker sensitive stuff and emerging church stuff, prosperity theology and church splits and disunity, etc.

- Hauerwas seems to be alluding to the "me and Jesus with my bible in the woods" kind of attitude; "I don't need to go to church anymore" and watching TV preachers at home, even good ones on the internet and radio,

- this seems to be the root reason why so many Evangelicals are converting to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

When they are disillusioned with their own church, and then read the early church fathers and study church history, they think the RCC or EO is the answer, because Evangelicalism as a whole does not equip them in the value of church history, historical theological development, discerning the good and bad in the early church fathers, the right view of the canon and how it came to be; the doctrine of the Trinity (not just the Biblical basis, but the historical development of it in light of the different heresies), etc.