Hauerwas On American Protestantism

David Fitch posted today about Mark Driscoll and his (alleged) representation of the entirety of “neo-Reformed” thought. I disagree on a number of levels with his analysis, but I actually wanted to briefly discuss something Fitch mentioned in the comments. Responding to a person who wanted to distinguish neo-Puritans from neo-Calvinists, Fitch replied:

What people like myself are saying is that in Calvin, Kuyper etc. once transferred to American democracy, turns into Neo-Reformed evangelicalism. This point is a good one to wrestle with, why/how did Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide,etc… translate into something totally foreign once removed from the Majesterial Reformation in Europe? But this is not the point of this post.
I forward this piece by Hauerwas for your perusal in the meantime …http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2011/08/08/2947368.htm

Hauerwas’ article was a bit hard to follow, but I’ll chalk that up to my unintelligence. I do want to note one point about his narrative/argument, however. He writes:

America is the great experiment in Protestant social thought, but the society Protestants created now threatens to make Protestantism unintelligible to itself. Put as directly as I can, I believe we may be living at a time when we are watching Protestantism, at least the kind of Protestantism we have in America, come to an end. It is dying of its own success.

Protestantism became identified with the republican presumption in liberty as an end in itself. This presumption was then reinforced by an unassailable belief in the commonsense of the individual. As a result, Protestant churches in America lost the ability to maintain those disciplines that are necessary to sustain a truly free people – people who are capable of being a genuine alternative to the rest of the world. [emphasis mine–AF]

What I think needs to be noted here is that the crux of his narrative is that Protestantism “became identified with the republican presumption in liberty as an end in itself.” Whether this is true or not, I will leave for another time and for other people. However, granting that this statement is true, then Hauerwas is tracing the current state of the American church to a point when Protestant principles were rejected in their entirety. The freedom of conscience that the magisterial Reformation upheld was always meant as a means to an end of serving and glorifying God, and was wholly bound by the Word of God (see the speech recorded here). Thus, even on Hauerwas’ terms, there does not seem to be a reason to blame the magisterial Reformation for what happened to America, for the fall of the American church is being explicitly traced to the point where true Protestantism was abandoned for a functional atheism.


Another major problem with Hauerwas’ argument comes out when he says this:

To know or worship that god does not require that a church exist because that god is known through the providential establishment of a free people.

The only thing that could be construed as evidence, in his post, that Americans said something like this, is the statement of the Massachusetts Constitution (that did not establish a church). However, to say that the state not establishing a church is the same thing as a people saying there is no need for a visible church, is equivocation.

Of course, there is some truth to his post. Protestantism does deny that the visible forms of the church should be absolutely equated with the invisible church. But that, again, does not psychologically or logically require the shift to practical atheism or the non-necessity of a visible church.