DBH vs. Karl Barth & Stanley Hauerwas

Jason Micheli —  September 9, 2014 — 2 Comments

Untitled31David Bentley Hart (heretofore: DBH) was one of my first professors of theology back when I was a college student at UVA. He was just completing his PhD whilst I had about 24 months of being a Christian under my belt.

Standing in front of a huge wave that knocks you on your ass on the beach, you get up realizing the ocean is a whole hell of a lot bigger than you thought.

That’s how I felt with DBH. He left me feeling for aches, knowing the Christian intellectual tradition is richer, deeper and broader than I could imagine.

Reading DBH’s The Beauty of the Infinite back in 2005- quite literally- changed my (theological) life. My ordination papers that year read today like poorly plagiarized DBH’s frenetic, over-wrought writing style.

Having since devoured all his books and read his most recent twice, I thought it was a good time to blog my sophomore turn through his opus.

For those of you who will feel about DBH as I did back in the day, I offer you these $$$ quotes.


Lingering barely behind these quotes is a critique of the Christianity that liberal Protestantism inherited from Paul Tillich, which seeks to make the faith ‘relevant’ to modernity by translating it into generalized principles of human experience. It’s this sort of Christianity that turns the resurrection into a metaphor for ‘life after death.’

DBH’s other sparring partner here is post liberalism (perhaps best represented by Stanley Hauerwas) which tends to conceive of Christianity as a particular cultural-linguistic expression as a way of avoiding the sort of all-encompassing metaphysical claims ancient Christianity made. In other words, you don’t know what ‘resurrection’ means until you’ve been part of the community of faith and learned the language we call Christian. Such a move, DBH argues, fails to account for the deep, universal claim about all of creation that resurrection makes.  rp_faith4.jpg


Anyway, as always, DBH says it better than me:


“The starkly stated alternative between thoroughgoing demythologization and thoroughgoing [biblical] literalism looks altogether too much like simple critical indolence; one must at least have some feel for the difference between a story as openly fabulous as the narrative of Eden and a story as concrete as that of Christ’s Resurrection, which makes a disorienting (and scandalous) claim to historical actuality, with repercussions that can be described in terms of places and times.”


“The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus tell us nothing in the abstract about human dereliction or human hope- they are not motifs of a tragic wisdom or goads to an existential resolve- but concern first what happened to Jesus of Nazareth, to whose particular truth and radiance all the general ‘truths’ of human experience must defer.”


“I dislike the tendency [postliberals] have of employing ‘narrative’ as such as an antifoundationalist shelter against critique and against the ontological and epistemological questions that theology must address.”


Ontological…epistemological…silly words, I know. But they set up this money quote:

“I believe the Christian story is the true story of being, and so speaks of that end toward which all human thought and every natural human act are actually oriented, and so can and must speak out of its story in a way that is not ‘narrative’ only, in a simple sense, and in a way that can find resonances and correspondences in the language and ‘experience’ of those who are not Christian.


And, I confess, I believe there is indeed the possibility of a consummation of all reason in a vision and a wisdom that cannot be reached without language.”


“Whereas the story of violence [being intrinsic to the universe] simply excludes the Christian story of [ontological] peace, the Christian story can encompass, and indeed heal, the story that rejects it; because that story too belongs to the peace of creation, the beauty of the infinite, and only its narrative and its desires blind it to a glory that everywhere pours in upon it.”

Jason Micheli


2 responses to DBH vs. Karl Barth & Stanley Hauerwas

  1. DBH is apparently not a fan of fideism.

    From my reading of Stan, the point of Hauerwasian antistructuralism is actually at the base of Hauerwas’ understanding of the universality of the faith. But they apply it with different emphases. Hauerwas emphasizes an antistructuralism based upon the creative, prophetic nature of the church’s evangelical mission. Redemptive history is Gospel shaped. DBH seems to want to answer questions of universality in ways that assume a Constantinian character.

    When everyone becomes Christian there is no use in using the term any longer. A Christian is only known in contrast to the world (libido domini) which is hostile to the covenant of grace. the pluralism of the LD lacks the historical concreteness to have a master story and so it longs for a savior of society in general through its princes rather than turning to the perseverance of the covenant of grace that can only contrast an unbelieving world and sustain it ultimately. That is the essentially anarchist character of Hauerwas’ epistemology that discredits DBH from my view; as brilliant as the man is and as much as I like him, I can’t go Constantinian with him.

  2. So basically Jason I’m calling you out on the claim that antistructuralism has no element of universality. The universal claim is that all of creation is built upon the covenant of grace; which is ultimately both a judgement and an affirmation of it because it’s pluralism lacks the historical concreteness to be intelligible. Hauerwas’ claim is that only when ekklesia is understood as the witness to this accomplished fact have we begun disciplining our religious language to speak of any notion of universality.

Leave a Reply

Text formatting is available via select HTML. <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.