Here is a Stanley Hauerwas story. Hauerwas was debating a medical researcher who was defending experiments on fetal tissue. "What if it were discovered that fetal tissue were a delicacy?" Hauerwas asked with his trademark Texas twang. "Could you eat it?"
Hauerwas is contemporary theology's foremost intellectual provocateur. His depth charges are just as frequently aimed within that world as outside it. That "Hauerwasian" has become a common way in theological circles to characterize an argument is an irony, given that the Duke University Divinity School professor set out to place himself at the margin rather than in the center of the theological mainstream.
Hauerwas has been a thorn in the side of what he takes to be Christian complacency for more than 30 years. For him, the message of Jesus was a radical one to which Christians, for the most part, have never been fully faithful. Christians, he believes, are called to be a pilgrim people who will always find themselves in one political community or another but who are never defined completely by it. Thus, as the body of Christ on Earth, Christians must be a "sign of contradiction," to borrow a term from Pope John Paul II, a moral theologian much admired by the very Anabaptist Methodist Hauerwas. Hauerwas recently argued that in a human future he believes will be bleak, Christians should be known as "those peculiar people who don't kill their babies [through abortion] or their old people [through euthanasia]."
Hauerwas is happy to say that his rise to prominence is not the result of any special intellectual gift. He has always said that he is no smarter than other people but that he will "damn well outwork 'em." Salty in speech, given to joking about the "ontological superiority of being a Texan," he has written 25 books and hundreds of essays and articles on dozens of topics. Avoiding highly technical monographs, Hauerwas insists that the best theology is most often found in sermons, homilies, prayers and popular writing. The theologian who is faithful must engage the pressing issues of the culture rather than hide behind impenetrable jargon.
Before communitarianism became a buzzword, Hauerwas addressed community. Before the Americans with Disabilities Act, he wrote perhaps his most engaging work on persons with disabilities and how, as a community, we react to their presence. He anticipated debates about genetic manipulation. Before talk of "the virtues" became widespread, Hauerwas wrote about the need for an account of our habits as members of communities. Do these communities sustain virtues? One virtue Hauerwas extols is faithfulness. He urges people to be faithful Roman Catholics or Orthodox Jews or Evangelicals or Muslims. It is faithfulness to a complex tradition that forestalls being overtaken by majoritarianism or convention.