Stanley Hauerwas on evangelical immediatism and the need for tradition

I have written here before on evangelical immediatism (the assumption that we meet God in an unmediated way) as a toxic solvent that destroys the good we could gain by submitting ourselves to various aspects of Christian tradition.

For all that Stanley Hauerwas annoys me on a number of fronts, he sums up this issue pithily in the course of an interview about his recent memoir Hannah’s Child, with Wunderkammer Magazine:

WK: I’m curious about one part of your readership, American Evangelicals. Considering that Evangelicals have produced some of the realities that you have spent a career resisting, how do you receive Evangelicals as readers?

SH: I think that what Evangelicals bring is Jesus and energy. And insofar as evangelicals still have a high regard for Scripture and in particular the Christological center, then we are on the same side; and that they bring to that a desire to tell other people of the joy that this has given their lives is a great good that I’m all for. I try to help them recover a sense of the church that they don’t have because they think that the church is a secondary reality to their immediate relationship with God, which is why they so often times they have no way to resist Protestant liberal alternatives. So, I’m very pleased that Evangelicals can recognize some continuity between what I represent and what they represent, but it’s going to change them.

WK: So, is there a sense in which you appreciate the gifts of Jesus and energy but you don’t want them to stay there?

SH: Yes [laughs]. But by ‘I don’t want them to stay there’ I mean I don’t want them to continue to presume that they have a relationship with God that is unmediated. That’s the crucial issue that I see. And that one of the problems with Evangelicals, particularly as it’s taken the form of church growth, is the presumption that you get to make God up, you get to make Christianity up. It’s as though they don’t receive Christianity through the gifts of 2,000 years that have made them possible. I think that too often, Evangelicals have the New Testament and now. But, tradition matters and I’m a catholic in this regard. Of course, a tradition is always subject to error, but the way you know error is through the tradition.

Read the whole article here.

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