Reviewed by Justus Swart
Stanley Hauerwas is without a doubt one of the most influential theologians alive today. His latest book Approaching the End covers a wide range of socio-political issues as presented in the light of his own eschatological convictions. Despite the substantially academic nature of his work, the reader is likely to make a real connection with the author as he engages with both his allies and critics on some of the core issues facing the contemporary church today.
Divided into 3 sections, the book begins by unpacking ‘Theological Matters’ in Part One. Here, Hauerwas details his understanding of the eschatological character of the Christian faith by drawing deeply from the rich wells of Barth and Yoder’s theological work. Part Two, ‘Church and Politics’ attempts to grip the political animal within each of us, forcing it into the ground in order to allow the Church to take its rightful place as the primary formative entity within our lives. In challenging the very fabric of Christendom, Hauerwas unapologetically untangles Christian doctrine from its western political influence, restoring a more determinative language with which to speak of the world and creation. Part Three, ‘Life and Death’, personalizes these eschatological reflections by refocusing slightly and addressing the individual with sobering questions on health, habits, suffering and disability.
This book has significantly contributed to my own theological understanding, and I am truly grateful to Stanley Hauerwas for writing with such honesty and conviction on these relevant topics. While reading this book, I was deeply moved by the compassionate and deeply real account of the Christian faith presented by Hauerwas. With that being said, although I would never want to compartmentalize Hauerwas as purely academic, the reader would do well to keep in mind that these are, in fact, academic essays.
‘Reading Hauerwas is like walking in on a family argument. You don’t always know when and how the fight started, but you can’t take your eyes off it, you’re galvanized by the energy in the room, you suddenly find the fight is about things you’ve always been troubled by – and you sure as hell will stay rooted to the spot until you see how the argument comes out’ – Samuel Wells
All in all, this is a treasure trove of theological and ethical insight which would be beneficial to anyone who would read it. If theology interests you beyond the occasional light reading, then I would highly recommend that you get this book. For anyone who may be unfamiliar with Stanley Hauerwas or the subject of Christian ethics, I would recommend starting with The Peaceable Kingdom (also by Stanley Hauerwas) as an introduction, before going on to Approaching the End.
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