Jeff Stout or Hauerwas … Which Way Forward for the Emerging Church?

I have noticed (casually) an attraction towards the recent work of Jeffrey Stout among some of the emergent church crowd (see for example Tony Jones). And so I would like to discuss which strategy promises a more significant engagement with North American culture for the church going forward after modernity. For conversation sake, considering the challenges posed by postmodernity, should we hitch our wagons to Jeffery Stout or Stanley Hauerwas?
Stout’s Democracy and Tradition is a promising attempt to make way for religious voices in liberal democratic politics. His work is an advance over the prototype modern discourses which attempt to police theological substantive discourse out of the public’s political conversation. In the end however, I believe his stratregy fails because I believe Stout’s account of democracy polices the church out of political discourse on her own terms which is all that really matters.The question for me, after reading Stout, is that if he is right, and democracy is a tradition, and Hauerwas and McIntyre are right, that Christianity and the church are equally a tradition, why is it that he asks the one tradition,the church, to subsume its politics in order to enter discourse with the alternative tradition? Why do we not ask democracy to enter our discourse on our terms. Surely those aligned with Stout’s project would suggest that such a posture misses the entire point of a politic which makes possible a pluralist society. But why, if Stout insists democracy is a tradition is this not an important question for Christians to ask?Stout certainly tries hard to make way for the discourse of Christianity and the church to have a voice within the politics of liberal democracy. He does so by arguing for the adequacy of democracy and pragmatism as a tradition itself which need not exclude Christianity, the voices of religion or the church from participation in its political life. The problem here is that inevitably, as nobly as Stout might try, Stout cannot resist limiting the discourse of religious people when push comes to shove. Stout makes nice arguments about “immanent criticism” as the means by which we all may enter dialogue with those with which we have no agreed upon foundations. Here he sounds strangely like MacIntyre (p90ff). He makes many good cases for why Rawls and Rorty went the wrong direction and assumed too much in their arguments against religious language entering public discourse. But when push comes to shove, Stout himself wants all those who have religious convictions to argue for them on terms that other people, who do not believe, can make sense of. This may not seem so bad but we best look closer.According to Stout “Ethical discourse in religiously plural modern democracies is secularized … only in the sense that it does not take for granted a set of agreed-upon assumptions about the nature and existence of God.” (p. 99) Yet later Stout outlines a secular politic for democracy that must indeed take other assumptions even more for granted as foundational for common speech. Stout says ..”when Christians are considering the question of where truths – in the plural – are found, they must be prepared to look both inside the church and outside of it.” (p.110) Stout assumes that the truths Christians hold dear can be found both inside and outside church. But it is exactly Hauerwas’ and Yoder’s point … that we Christians simply cannot make sense out of the world and our lives in it without reference to this person Jesus Christ Son of God. For Christias, this is the true world. There simply is no truth that can make sense for us apart from Jesus Christ.This may make Hauerwas and Yoder sound more like evangelical fundamentalists than the non foundationalists they are. But in the end, isn’t Stout the same fundamentalist who asks us to subvert Christian language to a more basic language, a secular discourse? I know, he does not ask us to give up our convictions but just “give reasons” for them that others can understand. Stout fears, as all good enlightenment political philosophers do, that if we don’t engage in this kind of discourse we will have a war over religion. (126-127) Yet we know we’ve have had more wars …and killing since this whole enlightenment banishment of religion to the private realm occurred (see Cavanaugh, Theo political Imagination). But I digress. The point here is that Stout cannot escape assuming there is a more fundamental mode of reasoning that can happen between any two individuals who do not share the same narrative religious convictions (Although for Stout, it might be different between each set of disagreements)Maybe the issue here in Stout, is that this move (just described) inn essence denies “the linguistic turn” of which so much of the rest of us have already assumed. Language and culture are basic to understanding and forming experience. You ask us to give up our language to another default language and you change the nature of our convictions and the ability to experience the world and moral life in the terms of that language. Post Wittgenstein (Investigations), it is difficult to take Stout as seriously as he seems to ask us to when he asks us to seek a common denominator language in terms of what we all can agree on.What is most worrisome is that Stout is asking Christians to join in and become part of a tradition that is democracy being willing to enter it with “reasons” for why we think the way we do that can be put in terms other than Scripture or the person and work of Jesus Christ. It almost seems that, in doing so, we implicitly are accepting that democracy is obviously the bigger, better and more foundational tradition (way) which offers more hope for future peace than Christianity.Must the church be asked to subsume to democratic liberal discourse because it is smaller than, or maybe less foundational to our present democratic society? For Hauerwas, this is the very reason not to subsume. For if we were to give up on our language we would for sure be diluted out of legitimate existence. Being a minority is just one more reason to maintain our distinctiveness. And in the end, it is the only strategy by which we may hope to engage the world truthfully and for peace. But Stout subtly seems to be diminishing Christianity as the more viable tradition. Why else would he not ask democracy to subvert itself to Christianity? Indeed it seems as if the thought never crossed his mind that that is what he is asking. But even Stout, it appears, realizes democracy might not have the resources to survive its own implosion as late capitalism seeks to devour and destroy all other discourse within it. (p.305). The corporations of late capitalism are swallowing up all discourse. Could it be that the outworking of democracy and liberalism (according to Milbank) has only one end, nihilism? And that its ontology of violence can only be resisted by living an alternative ontology, one born out of the life of God through Jesus Christ?If so, is there not another way which makes sense as the way forward in a fragmented non foundational world where there are multiple traditions and democracy has been revealed as one of them? Why not be content to let the two traditions live alongside one another each one posing new questions and poking holes in one another promoting the progress of truth. Democracy is the one in charge of government but seems to be under duress. There are those of us who follow Hauerwas and see it as flawed by the modern project. Let traditions live alongside each other peaceably and allow the work of truth to go forward under His Sovereign grace. If this is really the more honest proposal, it will demand that the church, and evangelicals and my emergent brethren work for the church being the church, and being more faithful in its own language and justice and ways of life.I have no idea whether democracy and modernity are on its last legs. But I have no reason
to see it as more foundational than Christianity and the church. So until Stout convinces us on that front, I ask emergent people, if you really are trying to grapple with post modernity, why not give up the ship of modernity, that of Western liberal democracy. Let us instead be the church, let us live faithfully and powerfully, peaceably and compellingly, doing humbly the justice that flows from the body and blood of the Lord’s Table. Let us live alongside democracy realizing it also is a tradition that teaches and imbues virtues and ways of life as powerfully (or ashamedly more powerfully) than the church.In the end I believe Stout’s work is excellent in its own right. His defense of democracy and liberalism as a powerful and noble tradition is convincing. I have no problem with him bowing to his own tradition, pragmatic democracy and being a fundamentalist about it. I just do not see, why, Christians cannot act in exactly the same way towards our own history in Christ. WHY NOT ALLOW the two traditions to live alongside each other conducting immanent criticism of the other as Stout calls for and which I see as Hauerwas and McIntyre already doing in relation to the tradition they are calling democratic liberalism. Why can we not both keep going, if we agree to be non violent (something Hauerwas is advocating, will Stout advocate the same for democracy?). Under these conditions why would my emergent friends want to join the tradition of democracy over the one born out of our history in Jesus Christ except that democracy is currently in power.Just some thoughts as we think how to go forward as the church in our postmodern time.

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