A Bricklayer’s Son

Stanley Hauerwas & the Christian Difference

Stanley Hauerwas is the most immediately likable bombthrower I have ever met. I first encountered him and his essays during that part of the 1970s I spent in the newly hatched field of bioethics. His later books The Peaceable Kingdom (1983) and Against the Nations (1985) had a considerable impact on my thinking, even when, or perhaps especially when, I could not agree with them.

The impact on me was nothing compared to Hauerwas’s impact on Christian ethics and Christian theology generally. In 2000–01, when he delivered the prestigious Gifford Lectures in Scotland, he achieved a kind of celebrity status. The September 2001 issue of Lingua Franca, the now deceased but then “hot” journal of academic trends, ran a lengthy profile on him. Time magazine’s issue of September 10, 2001, dubbed him the “best theologian in America.” By noontime the next day, of course, Hauerwas’s outspoken pacifism made him a somewhat more problematic figure. Celebrity aside, Hauerwas’s influence on younger scholars and many church leaders has been substantial, something that he jocularly shrugs off, perhaps because he knows that his influence is decried as well as welcomed.

The influence is not hard to explain. His working-class Texan persona, complete with twang and legendary...

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About the Author

Peter Steinfels, co-founder of the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture and a former editor of Commonweal, is the author of A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America.