Performing the Faith

Bonhoeffer and the Practice of Nonviolence

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September 11, Afghanistan, Iraq--more than ever, this is a time for the church to be taking up the question of what, as Christians, our response to violence should be.
In Performing the Faith, Stanley Hauerwas revisits the familiar territory of political nonviolence through discussion of the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer-Christian ethicist, theologian, and by some definitions, martyr. This book is an intriguing commentary on Bonhoeffer's bold claim that if our common life rests on lies and injustice, we cannot be a community of peace.
Pastors, seminarians, and those interested in Christian ethics are among the many who will be interested in this new word from an unwavering, faithful voice.


"Who is Dietrich Bonhoeffer for us today? Folksy, eclectic, disarmingly humble, and astonishingly wide-ranging, Stanley Hauerwas offers us a provocative reading of Bonhoeffer that, not surprisingly, assimilates him closely to Yoder. At the same time, Hauerwas replies to recent criticisms of his work by Jeffrey Stout. Not just the Postscript but the entire book is his reply. Contending that truth depends on performance far more than on theory, Hauerwas steps forward as a pacifist gadfly for a more truly faithful church and a more recognizably democratic society."--George Hunsinger, Princeton Theological Seminary

"This book shows how lively and fecund Hauerwas's thought remains. His sermons on the events of September 11 illuminate the meanings of those events in ways not available to more bellicose Christians, and his engagement with Jeff Stout's critique of Hauerwasianism pushes that debate forward in ways that should interest and challenge people at every point on the political spectrum. But the best thing in the book is the argument that John Milbank, like all Augustinians, ought to be a pacifist if he is to be consistent. The book is a dazzling performance, capable of entertaining and instructing professional theologians as much as those who think the world might be a better place without theologians in it."--Paul J. Griffiths, University of Illinois at Chicago

"Never totally predictable. Always a fresh perspective. And yet once again in these essays--on narrative, politics, Bonhoeffer, and the church--we hear the engaging, discerning, and brilliant voice we have come to know as Stanley Hauerwas."--Mark Thiessen Nation, Eastern Mennonite Seminary

"Contending with and learning from the witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose life is often thought to provide a Christian alternative to pacifism, Hauerwas deepens the account of Christian nonviolence he has been articulating for decades. Even those (like me) who must sometimes strongly dissent from Hauerwas's understanding of Christian peacemaking must celebrate the way his theology is strengthened and clarified by his encounter with the exemplary figure of Bonhoeffer."--Alan Jacobs, Wheaton College

"Without loss of the provocative edge that has made him a vital and distinctive Christian voice, Hauerwas's Performing the Faith allows him to cast a retrospective eye on his work. At the same time, in a brilliant essay under the title of the book, he develops a profoundly important description of faithfulness."--Dennis O'Brien, University of Rochester

"Stan Hauerwas has done it again! This is a book that will disturb the complacency of ideologically stuffed politicians and religiously affiliated ethicists alike who support America's seemingly endless wars. Often called a Christian 'contrarian,' Hauerwas remains unabashed here about encouraging pacifists of whatever bent to take a critical stand against the political deceptions that seduce ordinary citizens to embrace war, support their president, and reject Jesus' teachings against violence, all for the dubious honor of being labeled a 'patriot.' Hauerwas is able skillfully to blend into his book the passion for truth and justice of two of his greatest influences, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and John Howard Yoder. He takes these heroic advocates for peace into his own present-day struggle for the soul of the American nation in order to unmask the lies that political leaders use to hide the horrors of modern warfare and to trumpet the glories of military victory and empire building. Hauerwas, an admirable Christian pacifist himself, dares Christians to be the 'Jesus people' they claim to be and to follow Jesus into the gospel path of nonviolence."--Geffrey B. Kelly, author of Liberating Faith: Bonhoeffer's Message for Today

"In Performing the Faith, Stanley Hauerwas offers a riveting and long-awaited account of how the church, with its distinctive speech and practice, generates moral energies for engaging the social order. Hauerwas takes as his guide the great theologian of worldliness Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the results of their journey together are astonishing: Christian orthodoxy is not only subversive of hegemonic structures and idolatrous claims but world-transformative. The book charts a new course in Hauerwas's project as he ponders Bonhoeffer's insight that Christians will not have fully accepted the incarnation in its mystery, truth and cosmic scope until they learn to love this world with a near desperate passion."--Charles Marsh, author of Reclaiming Dietrich Bonhoeffer: The Promise of His Theology

The Author

  1. Stanley Hauerwas

    Stanley Hauerwas

    Stanley Hauerwas (PhD, Yale University) professor emeritus of divinity and law at Duke Divinity School. He is the author of over forty books, including Cross-Shattered Christ, A Cross-Shattered Church, War and the American Difference, and...

    Continue reading about Stanley Hauerwas


"Hauerwas has been the origin and focus of much of the present-day argument about the relation between Christianity and society. In his latest book he states his position in some new ways, placing it in relationship to the thought of others who have influenced and responded to his work."--Christian Century

"Early on in his career, the author made substantive contributions regarding the role of narrative and character in Christian ethics, and here he reflects with both modesty and appreciation on how lasting those contributions may be. Of particular interest is his friendly response to Jeffrey Stout's Tradition and Democracy."--First Things

"Chapter one provides a good introduction to Bonhoeffer's life and the development of his theology, and chapter two a helpful and provocative introduction to his political ethics. Well written, these chapters offer a fresh and challenging perspective on Bonhoeffer. . . . The rest of the book is made up of essays and papers on various topics related to the practice of nonviolence and truth in the political area, each written with the sharp insight and passion characteristic of Hauerwas's writings."--John W. deGruchy, Christian Century

"Stanley Hauerwas writes with distinctive vulnerability, through which he explores the unanticipated 'connection between what we say as Christians and what we do' in wonderfully refreshing ways. . . . There is an openness to Hauerwas's life and work which is at once engaging and enticing, and Performing the Faith is an example of that continued stance. In a theological world whose discourse of inquiry is so often dominated by dogma, Hauerwas rightly identifies that the skills of being a Christian are, in the end, the real matters of life and death; he knows that the real question of theology is not 'why?' but 'how?'"--Anthony Dancer, Stimulus

"[Advances] current Bonhoeffer scholarship by enriching our understanding of the man in his historical context and demonstrating how his life's witness can be used as a model for contemporary Christian activism. . . . Recommended for graduate and theological libraries."--Patrick J. Hayes, Catholic Library World

"From the outset, Hauerwas makes it clear in Performing the Faith that he intends to think through Christian non-violence on its own terms, not on any terms set by the world. As Hauerwas's central claim weaves its way through this diverse collection of essays, the reader is enticed and drawn in to what feels like a wide-ranging, fresh, and generous conversation occurring in the moment. Hauerwas engages an astonishingly broad collection of interlocutors, including students and teachers, ancients, contemporary colleagues, critics and admirers, to demonstrate by way of his own literary performance his ongoing practice of theological ethics, a communally-based, narrative driven invitation into encounter. . . . His writing evocatively describes that vision of the life of faith centered in the community of the church, emboldened and sustained by the power of the Christian narrative. . . . [This vision is] beautifully and powerfully articulated by Hauerwas as a counter-cultural way of life with power to challenge the status quo of distrust and hatred of difference."--Kelly Denton-Borhaug, Journal of Lutheran Ethics

"Hauerwas's reading of Bonhoeffer is close and careful. . . . Hauerwas concentrates on the relationship of truth and politics in Bonhoeffer, a topic attended to surprisingly little in Bonhoeffer studies, yet fundamental for Hauerwas. . . . The visibility of the church refers, for both Bonhoeffer and Hauerwas, to the witness of the church as a public entity in its own right but not for its own end-the church's reason for being is to serve 'the world by being God's truthful witness.' To give Bonhoeffer's ecclesiology such due by locating it vis-à-vis truth and politics is, in this reviewer's judgment, a fine contribution both to Bonhoeffer studies and current ecclesiology-and-ethics debates."--Larry L. Rasmussen, Theology Today

"The range of subjects, books and people served up in Performing the Faith is a stimulating feast: theology, ethics, liturgy, politics, art, aesthetics, taste, narrative, the Reformation, Aquinas, Wittgenstein, Milbank, ManIntyre, Cezanne, Gerard Manley Hopkins--all these and more (not to omit baseball!) come in for the incisive and provocative treatment we expect from Hauerwas. . . . For all the attention Bonhoeffer has received in the sixty years since his death, there have been few readings offering a 'take' on his position as a whole. Hauerwas has done us the service of offering a distinctive synoptic reading of Bonhoeffer. Every student of Bonhoeffer needs to study these essays."--Clifford Green, Modern Theology

"Stanley Hauerwas once again displays in this book the reasons why his friends, and even his critics, continue to find his performances engaging and unmissable. . . . Hauerwas' account of Bonhoeffer is deep and passionate. . . . . [Hauerwas] may be an argumentative Texan, but he also shows himself in these pages to be a peaceable witness, and someone who is capable of deriving from the performances of others inspiration in his own quest to exemplify the truth of God in a culture of greed and violence. At a time when dissent and truthful speech are suppressed . . . America, and the world beyond America, more than ever needs the truthful speech of Stanley Hauerwas."--Michael Northcott, Heythrop Journal

"Provocative and worth reading. . . . [This book] will enrich our discussion of what it means to be American and religious."--Roger J. Gench, Political Theology

"This book notably reckons much more with the reality of the Spirit than [Hauerwas's] earlier accounts of the Church. . . . In the postscript, perhaps the true focal point of the book, Hauerwas defends his work over the last decades against Jeffrey Stout. Here, he provides a refined retrospective view on the development of his own work, which will be welcomed both by readers seeking a first introduction, as well as those better acquainted yet still coming to grips with Hauerwas's voluminous and sometimes puzzling work."--Karsten Smith, Journal of Church and State

"This book is a must read for any serious student of Christian ethics. For those unfamiliar with Hauerwas, Performing the Faith summarizes major themes in many of his previous volumes and provides insight into the significant contribution with which Hauerwas has impacted the discipline. For those who follow Hauerwas, this book emboldens the Christian witness of nonviolence. For those who criticize him, they will encounter an honest and humbled scholar responsive to their concerns. Yet, all who read these essays will discover a gift placed at their fingertips, waiting to be unwrapped in their own witness to the truth revealed to us in Jesus."--Kevan D. Penvose, Trinity Seminary Review

"For those readers who come to this book with an appreciation of Stanley Hauerwas' writings, I suspect that it will be a delight. . . . Hauerwas--United Methodist, ethicist, prolific author and tagged in a 2001 Time article as 'America's best theologian'--challenges the reader to consider the implications of following Jesus. . . . For this reviewer, the book is also an invitation to join an ongoing conversation in which Hauerwas engages Barth, John Howard Yoder, Wittgenstein, John Milbank and others. I ask myself how I, as a Catholic and a Canadian, can join this conversation. As a Canadian and an observer of the decisions made by the American super-power, I am encouraged to observe that there is an American Christian who addresses directly the relation between following Jesus and the decision to go to war. . . . His sympathy for Catholic ethical, ecclesial and sacramental positions has meant that he has attracted Catholic graduate students to attend his courses and seek supervision for theses. Hauerwas both appreciates and critiques the 'just war' theories that have been the staple of the Catholic responses to issues of conflict and peace. I have not considered myself a pacifist. Hauerwas inspires me to reflect on how true I am to the memory of Jesus."--John F. Duggan, Toronto Journal of Theology

"In another collection of timely, insightful and entertaining essays, Stanley Hauerwas engages a wide variety of topics in an attempt to answer critics while also following the trajectory of arguments he has made since his career began. . . . In a time of global conflict and the possibility of a new American imperialism, the arguments presented in Performing the Faith could not be more relevant. Even Christians who disagree with Hauerwas would do well to carefully examine the nature of their political involvement in light of the war on terror."--Matthew D. Porter, Princeton Theological Review

"Hauerwas swims against the stream on many fronts but he is richly evocative, widely and wildly persuasive and full of interest for the reader at every turn. There is a sense in which you can open one of his books at random and you will immediately be in the middle of his main argument. He has long footnotes--which must be read and followed because they contain much meat. Hauerwas is one of the most mercurial of thinkers and writers but you don't mind, often, not being able to discern a final position--although you often do--because the very process is worth it."--Rowan Gill, Zadok Perspectives

"Prolific and provocative, Stanley Hauerwas has long evoked vivid and vigorous response. . . . Many, incisive aspects of Hauerwas' thought [are] expanded (improvised, perhaps?) in Performing the Faith. [The book] involves a wide range of interlocutors. . . . The ensuing conversation is of course a compelling, engaging, thoughtful, courageous, and sincere enterprise. Though unsettling, it is nevertheless pertinent to both the church and the world today. . . . It is [his] fundamental axiological realignment in accord with God's Ways that makes Hauerwas' work incisive and unsettling, prophetically so."--Domani Pothen, Cultural Encounters