Radical Preaching

Can preaching again have something to say?
This blog marks the attempt to bring the theological vision of Radical Orthodoxy into the worship and preaching of the local church.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Hauerwas & Yoder Book Suggestions

In a Scott's post below on Veteran's Day, David Jones asked me what I would suggest for a Stanley Hauerwas & John Howard Yoder reading list, urging everybody to chime in. So, I thought I would dedicate a full post in short response to provide better visibility for all.

I asked David if he had yet read Yoder's The Politics of Jesus. This was his response and inquiry:
To directly answer your question - no. It's on my book-list to purchase, but I debating if I should buy Yoder's books before Haerwas' books. What say you?

Both giants have written many books and slowly but surely Yoder's books are becoming available. Which books are mandatory reading for both? For example, Hauerwas says The Politics of Jesus and the Preface to Theology are the two most important of Yoder's books.

Yes, Yoder's Politics of Jesus is required (even though I still haven't read it yet, hah).

Most people usually begin reading Hauerwas with his Resident Aliens. I just finished reading his Unleashing the Scripture, but I don't think a Roman Catholic reader would have much use for it because the thrust of the book is arguing against sola scriptura, which seems to be a distinctly Protestant phenomenon as far as I can tell.

So, with that out of the way, and keeping in mind that I haven't read all that I'm going to recommend, here is a short reading list:
  1. Resident Aliens

  2. Where Resident Aliens Live (a follow-up to the above)

  3. The Peaceable Kingdom

  4. Against the Nations

  5. Cross-shattered Christ: Meditations On The Seven Last Words

  6. etc.

  1. The Politics of Jesus

  2. What Would You Do? - a specific answering of the often-brought-up question that goes something like "What would you do if a bloodthirsty, half-crazed, machine gun weidling terrorist was going to lill your wife and kids, kick your dog, drown your cat and burn your house down if you did not attack and kill him?" (this version of this question comes from Halden Doerge, one amazing reviewer of books on Amazon.com) -- this question is used to pigeon-hole a forced answer to justify mortal violence on the small scale and then a logical leap is made to justify violence on a large scale (war).

  3. For the Nations

  4. The Priestly Kingdom: Social Ethics as Gospel

As you can see, there are plenty of other Hauerwas books, so it really depends upon what topic you want to read about. Some of his books are just collections of essays with a particular bent, but he covers a lot of the same recurring themes: liberalism, capitalism, war, suffering, aging, etc.

Pertaining to Yoder, I actually have only read his small "What Would You Do" essay (contained in the small volume above), so those suggestions above are only guesses.

To answer your question about who should be read first, I don't think it matters a whole lot, but I think it probably would have served me well to read Yoder's seminal work before digging into Hauerwas. Hauerwas doesn't engage Yoder's works directly too often, but what Hauerwas does do often is emphasize that much of the New Testament, and especially the sermon on the mount, is unintelligible unless we Christians are a non-violent community of people, and he attributes this wisdom to Yoder.

In Hauerwas' Unleashing the Scripture, the latter part of the book is a collection of sermons that tie into the thesis in the beginning of the book that "no 'text' can be substituted for the people of God" (28). The following is an excerpt from the sermon titled "A Sermon on the Sermon on the Mount" which I hope will clarify my comment above about needing to be non-violent Christians:
The Sermon [on the Mount]'s ecclesial presuppositions are nowhere more clearly confirmed than in the Beatitudes. There we see that the gospel is the proclamation of a new set of relations made possible by a people being drawn into a new movement. The temptation is to read the Beatitudes as a list of virtues that good people ought to have or as deeds they ought to do. We thus think we ought to try to be meek, or poor, or hungry, or merciful, or peacemakers, or persecuted. Yet we know that it is hard to try to be meek-- either you are meek or you are not. Even more difficult is it to have all the characteristics of the Beatitudes at once!

Yet that is not what it means to be blessed. Rather the Beatitudes assume that there are already people in the community who find themselves in these postures. To be blessed does not mean "if you are this way you will be rewarded," but that "happy are they who find they are so constituted within the community." Moreover, the Beatitudes assume that we are part of a community with diversity of gifts--a diversity that creates not envy but cooperation and love.

It is only against a background like this that we can begin to understand the illegitimacy of questions such as, Does the Sermon on the Mount require me to be a pacifist? The Christians who remembered the Sermon did not know they were pacifists. Rather, they knew as a community they were part of a new way of resolving disputes--through confrontation, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Peacemaking is not an abstract principle but rather the practice of a community made possible by the life, death, and ressurection of Jesus (pp. 70-71).

It is here where I think Hauerwas would say that it was John Howard Yoder that showed him how essential non-violence is to the Gospels. It was Yoder that revealed to him that it is from this perspective of a community already constituted by nonviolence (or meekness, etc.) that the Sermon on the Mount finally makes sense to us.

I'm sure others would be better equipped to offer some Hauerwas and Yoder suggestions, but these are my own from what I know of their work thus far. So if anybody else would like to chime in with revisions or additions to what I have listed above, feel free!

P.S. Stay tuned to my blog in the next couple weeks. I'm going to be making a couple of longer-form posts on Hauerwas in his defense. He's usually very misunderstood. The answers as to why that is are varied, but I will try to do my best to represent his work with what little resources and time I have.


Blogger David said...

Thanks Eric. Any thoughts Scott or others?

November 17, 2005 11:47 PM  
Blogger St.Phransus said...

i started with hauerwas' book, "a community of character" and it's still one of my favorites.

i'd probably do:
1. resident aliens- hauerwas
2. a community of character- hauerwas
3. the politics of jesus- jh yoder
4. the peacable kingdom- hauerwas

November 18, 2005 5:16 AM  
Blogger Chris Burgwald said...

Eric, thanks for pointing to "What Would You Do?" Honestly, the question/attitude it addresses comes to my mind whenever I talk about these matters with pacificists (Christian or otherwise). I'll have to take a look.

November 18, 2005 6:52 AM  
Blogger Eric Lee said...


Yoder's essay in that little volume is one you won't be disappointed with, I think. It's excellent. There are other essays in that book that I haven't read yet that may be good as well. I read the essay as a Word document that floated around the internet when the book was out of print, but now that the book is back in print, they told me to no longer distribute it :) It's relatively inexpensive, anyway. Here is an alternate link for purchasing if you wanted to give your money to somebody besides Amazon.



November 18, 2005 12:41 PM  
Blogger David said...

Thanks Eric for the link to Herald Press. It is the major (not only) publisher of Yoder's works.

November 18, 2005 3:17 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

For me, I think Hauerwas is best in the following order:

1) A Community of Character
2) The Hauerwas Reader
3) Sanctify Them with the Truth
4) The Truth Abouth God (w/Willimon)
5) Resident Aliens (W/ Willimon)
6) Where Resident Aliens Live

For Yoder:
1) The Priestly Kingdom
2) The Politics of Jesus
3) What Would You Do?"


November 18, 2005 9:18 PM  
Blogger John F Rasmussen said...

On Hauerwas, I would definitely read
The Peacable Kingdom
I think it's his most sustained argument
After that, I would jump to
The Hauerwas Reader, which is easily the best bargain in ages.
The only thing is that I would read the essays chronologically, to shake the impression that Hauerwas has a "position", and instead concentrate on ther journey he has taken.

On Yoder, obviously
The Politics of Jesus;
after that I haven't discovered any right way to read him; anything you can get your hands on !

November 19, 2005 2:48 PM  
Blogger Lee said...

The Original Revolution (collection of essays) by Yoder is very good - organized around the theme of the Christian community as God's alternative.

Karl Barth and the Problem of War and When War is Unjust are good examples of Yoder engaging with the just(ifiable) war tradition in Christian ethics.

November 21, 2005 6:37 AM  
Blogger isaac said...

So, I thought I would throw in my two cents. I am not sure what to say about whether to read Hauerwas or Yoder first. My first instinct is to say read Hauerwas' With the Grain of the Universe first. It is a wonderful picture of the 19th-21st century theological landscape. Hauerwas' interaction with Niebuhr and James and Barth highlight the fundamental moves in Hauerwas' project. And, that book might be a good way into Yoder's corpus because at the end Hauerwas points to Yoder. The only trouble is that the tendency these days is to think Hauerwas is Yoder and Yoder is Hauerwas. Hauerwas will give you a picture of Yoder that might not exactly be Yoder. But that's fine, I guess.

As far as Yoder goes, I would say Original Revolution is his best work. I think it's better than Politics of Jesus. Then I would say check out Body Politics. That book is a must read for understanding Yoder's theology and ethics. It's all about the practices of the church, and that's where theology begins and returns for Yoder. John Yoder wrote the book toward the end of his life, but it takes up previous arguments in his early works.

November 22, 2005 3:05 PM  
Blogger Scott said...


Thanks. I had forgotten about Body Politics. That is an outstanding book.

November 23, 2005 4:36 AM  
Blogger matt said...

I don't know any of you, but i know a bit about Yoder & Hauerwas. I would recommend starting with Yoder and reading his Preface to Theology. His ethics is a product of a particular theology and not just his Mennonite heritage. Before you choose to agree/disagree with his ethics, it would be best to get a feel for where he is coming from.

December 01, 2005 8:46 AM  

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