Book Reviews

Book Review: “The Making of Stanley Hauerwas: Bridging Barth and Postliberalism” by David B. Hunsicker

Stanley Hauerwas is one of the most influential theologians of our time. He is well-known for his pacifism, as well as his works on theological ethics more generally. David B. Hunsicker, in The Making of Stanley Hauerwas, sheds valuable insight into the influences on Hauerwas as well as how he has created his own synthesis of thought.

Central to the book are the concepts of postliberalism and Barthianism. Is Hauerwas a Barthian, as he claims? Or is he fully in the postliberal camp, as others have charged? Of course, the definitions of “Barthian” and “postliberal” are highly relevant to this. A Barthian, Hunsicker argues, can fairly be described as someone who has a genuine understanding of and use of Barth. It is possible to be someone who is “indirectly influenced” by Barth by interacting but perhaps not understanding Barth (3-4). Postliberalism is difficult to pin down, with somewhat broad and slippery definitions. Ultimately, Hunsicker notes that there is no single postliberalism (8) but that it can still be a useful way to categorize thinkers among a broad stream of thought. Specifically for Hauerwas, Hunsicker argues that he falls into postliberalism’s pragmatic bent within theology (9). Hauerwas, then, is envisioned in this book as a Barthian postliberal–he’s both/and rather than either/or when it comes to those often opposed categories.

The rest of the book delves into the details of Hauerwas’s ethical theology in order to draw out both the influence of Barth on it and to show his innovations, all set within the context of Hauerwas’s stated claims to be genuinely trying to interpreter Barth and apply his theology to today. He starts with a chapter outlining the influences on Hauerwas from his life. Then, he shows how Hauerwas moves with and beyond Barth.

Next is a brief case study on the question of abortion from a theological, ethical perspective. This chapter is of particular interest because it shows how Hauerwas applies both postliberal and Barthian insights to make a theological case against abortion. It also shows how those united streams of thought create a different case against abortion that rejects a natural law framework and instead grounds the debate theologically. Part of this is a rejection of accepting the premises of non-Christians in debates over the topic (79). It’s a fascinating chapter that shows Hauerwas’s own ethical innovations on Barth’s uncompromising theology.

The following chapters go back and forth on showing influences and usage of Barth and postliberalism by Hauerwas. The last section wraps up the book by giving insights into Hauerwas’s doctrine of the church, itself a major part of Barth’s project.

Hunsicker is unafraid to be critical of the subject of his work. Regarding Hauerwas defense of John Howard Yoder and the way he sexually abused many women, Hunsicker notes somewhat laconically that this “problematizes” Hauerwas’s dependence upon Yoder’s work.

The Making of Stanley Hauerwas is a deep, engaging look at the theological and ethical formation of one of the most important theologians of our time. For those interested in Hauerwas’s work, it is an absolute must-read. For me, as one who hasn’t engaged much with Hauerwas, it was still of great interest, with several points that caused me to think more deeply on theological and ethical topics.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.


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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


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