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Approaching the End: Eschatological reflections on church, Politics & Life

Author: Stanley Hauerwas
Published By: Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, Michigan)
Pages: 272
Price: £15.84
ISBN: 978 0 334 05216 6

Reviewed by Terry Hinks.

Approaching the End is a collection of essays by the American theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, with the underlying conviction of the eschatological character of the Christian faith. Yet the title is sufficiently broad to refer also to the end of the church in some forms, of Christendom, and even to the author’s own retirement. “A more faithful church would...”, he writes, “make being a Christian more difficult, but also more interesting.” What a good sentence to chew over!

These are personal reflections and the frequent use of the personal pronoun in some places can be a little off-putting, but shows the author’s total involvement in what he is writing. The first parts deal with theological matters, with an excellent essay on creation as grace and our existence as astonishing, followed by one entitled ‘The End of Sacrifice: An Apocalyptic Politics.’ Hauerwas holds very strong Christian Pacifist convictions and argues that sacrifice raises the questions: “How can Christians at once say, ‘Jesus is Lord’, the end of all sacrifices and yet continue to participate in the sacrifice of war.” The following essay on witness speaks of martyrdom, not as something to be sought, but perhaps an inevitable consequence of a church being faithful to a crucified and risen Saviour.

The second part focuses on the Church and Politics, and in it, he challenges Christians to resist “the domestication of our faith” either by civil religion or liberalism. Influenced by Barth and others, he wants no return to Christian domination of politics – Constantinianism or Christendom – but the church as an alternative politics, the politics of Jesus as Lord and the church as a diverse but united community. The connection between churches of different traditions, nations and cultures is fundamental and so he comments: “If I have any vision that I would wish for the church of this century it is that we might discover how desperately we need each other.”

The final part looks at life and death, and tackles issues such as cloning, the use of knowledge, and modern medicine, the labelling of disabled people and the environmental crisis. Life is a loan from God and the practice of medicine needs to set in the context of the good life. Medicine, he considers, can fuel our own fantasies of control and this human tendency is part of the environmental crisis – the attempt to perfect the created order at any cost.

These are stimulating reflections that come from a lifetime of study, teaching, preaching and Christian life. There is plenty to disagree and discuss within them. They recognise “the difficulty of reality”, but challenge the voices of despair. “Hope pulls us into life.” For an organisation that is so often driven by its past, Hauerwas’ thoroughly eschatological perspective on church and theology is one of living hope.

Terry Hinks

United Reformed Church Minister and Ministry Today Board Member

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You are reading Issue 64 of Ministry Today, published in July 2015.

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