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Cross-Shattered Christ: Meditations on the Seven Last Words

Stanley Hauerwas, Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics
Brazos Press: 2005
Hardcover, 112 pages, $14.99

Disrupting Time: Sermons, Prayers and Sundries

Stanley Hauerwas
Cascade Books: 2005
Paper, 252 pages, $20.80

Reviewed by Carole Stoneking

Stanley Hauerwas is (and always has been) a writer on his own terms, and a very good one. In Cross-Shattered Christ and Disrupting Time Hauerwas departs from the style of some of his other work and writes to show the connections in his own life; these two books are the most personal collections Hauerwas has yet published.

In the introduction to Cross-Shattered Christ, Hauerwas confesses that he found the writing of this small volume of meditations “hard and difficult,” and that he hoped those reading them would find them “hard and difficult.”

Indeed, these are not reflections to be read in a single sitting. Hauerwas’ meditations on the seven last words of Christ are unadorned and unsparing examinations of sayings that we are at once drawn to, yet fear. An earnest grappling replaces the usual fare of the often witty verbal combat that characterizes so much of Hauerwas’ work. But veteran Hauerwas readers will recognize the insistence upon beginning any theological conversation with the God of Christ, not with human experience or human need. Hauerwas doggedly refuses to try to say or to imagine more than the text allows. So, for example, the fourth word, the cry of dereliction, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is not an announcement that God feels our pain, nor is it “the solution to the problem of death. Rather this is the death of the Son of God.” The cross-shattered Christ is a particular event that draws us into the life of the Trinity and determinatively reveals the God we worship as Christians.

It is that same event that disrupts time. Disrupting Time is not about Sept. 11, 2001; rather it is about the “disruption of time by a time named Jesus.” Thus Hauerwas contends that Christians do not believe that 9/11 changed the world because the world was changed in 33 A.D. “We, that is, Christians believe we can only know what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, because God acted decisively on behalf of the world in 33 A.D.”

In this collection of sermons, prayers and “sundries” (interviews, remembrances, confessions and reflections), Hauerwas’ tone is anything but muted. Each piece, occasioned by his friends’ requests that he teach, preach and pray in specific circumstances, is carefully arranged to make the connections in Hauerwas’ own life, and to make the point that it is crucial for all Christians to make these connections in order to live well.

If one has any doubts that Hauerwas pays attention to the specific words of the Scripture, just read the prayers in this volume. Hauerwas emerges as a psalmist, at times angry, fighting with God, at times bewildered, at times thankful, but always consciously in the presence of God. Indeed the very language of the prayers in this volume speaks of a God who is both real and frightening, the God who shatters his Son on a cross and so disrupts our understanding of time to make it holy.

A consciousness of this same God carries over into every topic, into every sermon. The section entitled, “Hauerwas on Hauerwas,” makes that consciousness explicit, so that after reading this section, a reader could go back and read again the Aldersgate sermons and better understand the connections. The sermons occasioned by Christian marriage and ordination likewise embody a consciousness of the God of Christ, and again Hauerwas pays careful attention to the words and movements of Scripture; thus marriage reflects God’s faithfulness to Israel, and ordination is an extraordinary act of hope and sacrifice, “that in a world at war, in a world of such great injustice, in a world dominated by the fear of death, …the church of Jesus Christ designate(s) one to do nothing else than attend to the acts that make the church the church.”

These books display once again Hauerwas’ keen understanding of our deepest temptations; but for the first time perhaps, we also get a glimpse of Hauerwas the “lover,” lover of his friends and family, the church, and God. It is a rare and wonderful treat that he has allowed us to listen in as this passionate man speaks passionately about the connections he has made.

Carole Bailey Stoneking D’85,G’95 is professor of religion at High Point University and a former student of Hauerwas.

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