Hauerwas Defends His ‘Hermeneutic’

In the new Richard Hays FS (The Word Leaps the Gap; Eerdmans, 2009), the very first essay is by Stanley Hauerwas who defends himself against Hays’ criticism. Hays has argued that Hauerwas has a freewheeling approach to the Bible which does not seem to depend on a close reading of the text especially from a historical standpoint. Hauerwas states quite bluntly that Hays accuses him of not actually doing exegesis (though Hays never says it in this way).

Hauerwas, though somewhat sympathetic to Hays’s concerns, still admits: ‘I hope to make it clear why I do not believe a “Coherent hermeneutical position” is much help for reading the Bible’ (p. 2).

Though Hauerwas is not much of a bandwagon person, he is still representing a burgeoning attitude that is suspicion of the gains of the historical-critical method (which Hauerwas thinks that Hays still operates within).  Hauerwas is particularly suspicious of the usefulness of word studies.  ‘Historians will do what historians will do, and often we may learn something from them that may be of use, but I remain unconvinced that the so-called historical knowledge is a trump or even is necessary for how Scripture is to be read by the church’ (p. 9).  He goes on: ‘I simply do not believe that I will learn from word studies the “meaning” of the word teleios.  I do not believe that I will learn the meaning of the word teleios because I believe it is a philosophical mistake to think that the word has a [= just one] meaning’ (p. 9).

Hauerwas’ modern example is not surprising: ‘For example, if I wrote that Hays was an “asshole,” most would think I was making a very negative judgment about him.  But where I come from, Texas, “asshole” is a term of endearment males use after they have scored a touchdown’ (9 fn. 20).

My criticism of Hauerwas here would be that if an exegete is doing his historical work rightly, he or she will locate the given Hauerwasian statement in its original socio-historical milieu and discover this unique insight about how Texans use the word “asshole.”  So, here I think his analogy fails.