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A Cross Shattered Church

Darton, Longman & Todd, 2010
RRP $25.95

Reviewed by Paul Clark.

At a recent synod visioning meeting those present lamented the fact that ‘Christ Crucified’ did not define our church’s proclamation. So it was with great interest that I read the eminent theologian, Stanley Hauerwas’ latest offering, A Cross Shattered Church over the holidays. The book is a collection of sermons that aims to show ‘what it might mean for us to be a church shaped by the cross of Christ.” [p20].

Hauerwas is a Theologian, not an ordained Minister. So his theological heart is the challenge of his preaching, which he declares all sermons must possess. I did find his sermon’s challenging. The clarity of his vision of Christianity and its challenge to the world is confronting. He is not afraid to use his sharp wit to unmask our modern ‘enlightened’ assumptions, making us uncomfortable for owning them. For example, the passage of the anointing of Jesus where Judas makes the claim that the perfume should have been sold and the money given to the poor [John 12:1-8] Hauerwas proclaims,

Given the world in which we find ourselves [hostile to Christians]. The Christian concern for the poor can win us some respect. … So it is good that we burn with a passion for justice. The only problem with such a passion is it can put us on Judas’s side. [p95]

Or reflecting on the story of Lazarus …

We live in a death-denying world that seems determined to develop technologies that will enable us to get out of life alive. Yet the more we strive to be free of death the more our lives are shaped by the death-determined means we create to try to free ourselves of death. [p87]

Reading the book has been a CEM [continuing education in Ministry] experience. It contains many gems that require much though; ‘It has always been true that suffering creates shalom’ [p153]. ‘No longer sure that what we believe as Christians is true, we at least want to claim that Christianity represents moral practices that are progressive’ [p101]. [Early Christians] prayed to be delivered from a sudden death because they feared God, not death’ [p89]. ‘Love, not explanation, is required when we are faced by the tragedies of life’ [p65]. ‘[the crucifixion is] a beauty so compelling we lose hold on our self-absorption [p64].

This is not a book for those wanting to learn how to preach – many of his sermons were preached for a divinity school audience not a Ramsey St audience – but as a challenge to the regular preacher to lift your proclamation to the vision of the cross, it does it’s job well.