Approaching the End: Eschatological Reflections on Church, Politics, and Life by Stanley Hauerwas
(Eerdmans, 2013, 272 pages)
Stanley Hauerwas has written a lot of books, and this one, like most, is made up of essays collected and organized around loose themes. Approaching the End has an apocalyptic theme which Hauerwas acknowledges is made all the more pertinent because of the fact that he is in his seventies and has recently retired. He has “approached the end” of his career as a full-time professor of theological ethics, and common sense would indicate that the end of his life is not far off either. The “end” is marked by many of the same concerns that have characterized the rest of Hauerwas’ career, including a recovery of virtue ethics, a critical look at the rationale of just war theory, the political character of the Church, and an examination of the limits of medical treatment.
Despite the fact that he is revisiting familiar themes, Hauerwas’ work continues to develop in new directions. I was most interested in the essays on ecclesiology and ecumenism. In “The End of Protestantism,” Hauerwas proclaims that “The church seldom wills herself to be faithful. Faithfulness is more likely the result of necessity” (87). It could be said that Hauerwas’ career has been “the result of necessity” as well. Many of his essays are fired off as responses to particular requests made of him or immediate problems that he sees in the life of the Church. The essay “Which Church? What Unity? or, An Attempt to Say What I May Think about the Future of Christian Unity,” is a response to George Lindbeck’s call for Hauerwas to speak more directly to issues of ecumenicity and Church unity. The result is a fresh and practical analysis of what ails the fractured Church, along with some suggestions about what unity might look like in the future. He suggests that unity amongst diverse traditions and denominations might well be a practical outworking of the diminished influence that the Church at large is experiencing in the West. In other words, necessity might breed unity – or faithfulness.
These essays display Hauerwas’ characteristic humor and bluntness. His work is deep, but accessible; what is more, it always carries with it a particular sense of relevance to the immediate needs of Church and the broader culture. Approaching the End is no exception.