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I often review books that publishers and book-review Internet books send my way, but it's nice once in a while to take a look at a book that I read because I heard about it and bought it. The nice parallel here is that Stanley Hauerwas's recent book Working with Words came about because of people like me, folks who enjoy reading Hauerwas's essays and sermons and who have learned to "speak Christian" to a large extent because of his influence. (I still maintain that I'm not visible enough to constitute part of this particular "mafia," but I do consider it a compliment when folks assume that I might be.) The result of such a book is a collection that does not seem to have any overarching "point" at the outset beyond celebrating the intellectual influences and persistent questions that have animated Hauerwas's significant writing career. At the outset of my review I'll say that this is some of Hauerwas's best stuff, and that's saying something.
The end section of the book (my own favorite section) features a series of essays (some co-authored) on Charles Taylor, H. Richard Niebuhr, Alasdair Macintyre, Thomas Aquinas, Papal Encyclicals, Methodist theology, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Each one features the sort of careful thought and rhetorical swagger that has made Hauerwas such a fun read over the years: to the extent that I'm familiar with each of these texts and writers, I can say that Hauerwas opens up new ways to engage them while remaining true to what their own projects are after, and to the extent that I'm unfamiliar, I came away from each wanting to read more.Read more ›
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Working with Words is a collection of essays, sermons and speeches designed to be an "explicit reflection and exhibition of what it means for theology to be work and, in particular, work with words" (p. x). Hauerwas divides the collection into three parts: (1) "Learning Christian: To See and to Speak," (2) "The Language of Love: From Death to Life," and (3) "Habits of Speech Exemplified: Some Teachers." With the exception of one essay, all of the material in the first two parts was written solely by Hauerwas, whereas the majority of material in the final part is co-authored. The selection of so many pieces originally written or spoken in the last few years is a testament to the prolific nature of his work with words.
The book brings together spoken words (including sermons delivered in multiple churches and chapels, a commencement address at a seminary, and a lecture to teens at a summer youth academy) with written words (articles and essays written alone and with a co-author for diverse audiences). It also brings together material that is highly academic in nature with that which is easily accessible to readers who lack an in-depth theological education.
Working with Words: Learning to Speak Christian is an invitation to think theologically not for the sake of attaining knowledge or refining understanding, but to deepen the reader's Christian vocabulary and embolden her/his discipleship. Read slowly, ponder prayerfully, and embrace wholeheartedly.
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