(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

With the Grain of the Universe contains the Gifford Lectures presented by Stanley Hauerwas in 2001. The aim of the Gifford Lectures, established by the will of Adam Lord Gifford, is to “promote and diffuse the study of Natural Theology in the widest sense of the term—in other words, the knowledge of God.” The term “natural theology” in the context of the lectures means theology supported by science and not dependent on the miraculous.

Hauerwas begins by pointing to the contradictory circumstances of his being chosen as the presenter of the Gifford Lectures, given that he intends to speak against natural theology and the endeavor to apply scientific logic and reasoning to theology. Hauerwas uses the writings of William James, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Karl Barth (also presenters of Gifford Lectures) to support his arguments against natural theology. He points to what he calls the “meanness,” or insignificance, of the scientific method and the circumstances that it examines and states that the type of God who can be “proved” via the methods of science is “not worthy of worship” and that the theologian must trust in a God that exists beyond such methodology.

Hauerwas positions philosopher James and theologian Niebuhr as reflections of each other, saying that they draw on the same basic framework. In addressing Niebuhr, he criticizes natural theology for paying too much attention to what the world is willing to hear. In doing so, he argues, natural theologians lose their ability to challenge that world with what it does not want to hear. Hauerwas asserts that Niebuhr’s views were developed to be consistent with those of William James, the author of The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902).

Neibuhr claimed that the historical Jesus and his teachings were meaningless to contemporary society except as symbols that remind us of our distance from God. However, in the process of...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Hauerwas, Stanley. Disrupting Time: Sermons, Prayers, and Sundries. New York: Cascade Books, 2004. This collection of short pieces explores Hauerwas’s basic themes, including how to live one’s life in a Christian manner.

Hauerwas, Stanley. The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics. South Bend, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984. Early work by Hauerwas that prefigures a number of the themes he explores in With the Grain of the Universe.

Hauerwas, Stanley, Michael G. Cartwright, and John Berkman. The Hauerwas Reader. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2001. Presents a sampling and overview of Hauerwas’s writings, exploring a range of social issues over a broad span of time.

Katangole, Emmanuel. Beyond Universal Reason: The Relation Between Religion and Ethics in the Work of Stanley Hauerwas. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2000. Latangole examines Hauerwas’s views on ethics and Christianity and provides a background that helps readers understand Hauerwas’s views.

Thomson, John B. The Ecclesiology of Stanley Hauerwas: A Christian Theology of Liberation. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2003. Addresses Hauerwas’s thoughts and ideas, particularly on the character of Christians.