Pedagogical Hope and Practical Reasoning: Stanley Hauerwas and the Work of Philosophy

Jacob L. Goodson
Southwestern College

Some years I was advising a first-year [seminary] student in an effort to help him select his courses…. I asked him if he had ever taken any courses in the humanities during his undergraduate years. He said he had a few courses in the humanities, so I asked if he had ever taken any philosophy. He said, “I am not sure.” I thought that was either the smartest or dumbest answer I had ever heard. To find out which it was, I asked him if he had ever read Plato. He responded, “Who?” [While] I [am] the last person to argue that you need to know who Plato is to worship Jesus Christ…, if you are to be a minister trained to lead a congregation through the wilderness of this society called America, I certainly think you not only need to know who Plato was but why Plato was such an important figure for Origen and Augustine…. [I]t is my contention that anyone serving in the ministry today who lacks the resources [Plato, Origen, and] Augustine provide…risks abandoning their congregation to the omnivorous desires of the market.

–Stanley Hauerwas, “Seminaries Are in Trouble,” in The State of the University, 207.


Although several philosophical sources shape the ways that I teach,[1] I find that Stanley Hauerwas’s work has led me to what I call teaching with pedagogical hope—a phrase that will be defined in due time.[2] The word from the previous sentence that I wish to emphasize now, however, is “work”—as in Stanley Hauerwas’s work. I use this word deliberately and purposefully. Other words that could have been chosen are arguments, moral reasoning, thinking, wisdom, or writings. Why do I choose the word “work,” and why am I opening this essay with reflections on my word choice for such a mundane sentence?

In his later writings, Hauerwas consistently yet interestingly uses this word “work.” Even his recent titles signal to readers the importance of the word “work”: Working with Words: On Learning to Speak Christian and The Work of Theology. In addition to the significance of “work” in these two books by Hauerwas, readers also gain a sense of the “work” of philosophy and theology in Hauerwas’s The State of the University: Academic Knowledges and the Knowledge of God. In this essay, my primary goal concerns figuring out and thinking through what Hauerwas regards as the “work” of philosophy in The State of the University (2007) and The Work of Theology (2015).

This investigation results in the following insights. Hauerwas’s reflections on philosophy lead to the conclusion that the work of philosophy in the 21st century involves teaching with pedagogical hope, and both teaching and writing ought to encourage practical reasoning based upon the traditions that form those readers and students. I offer lengthy analyses of Hauerwas’s arguments in order to achieve a full sense of his reflections, as well as the implications of those reflections, on the work of philosophy.

On the State of the University and the Work of Philosophy

In The State of the University, Hauerwas outlines his vision for the role of theology within the modern secular university.[3] In order to consider theology’s role, Hauerwas also accounts for philosophy’s role in the modern secular university because “the primary role of theologians vis-à-vis the universities is to ask that philosophers do the job they were set aside to do.”[4] What is the “job” philosophy is “set aside to do”? What is the “work” of philosophy? I find three answers to these questions in The State of the University.

First, the role of the philosopher within the modern university involves being engaged with the other disciplines within the modern university. Hauerwas writes, “the philosopher’s role is to raise if not to force questions concerning limits, possibilities, and connections between disciplines.”[5] Hauerwas’s use of the verb “force” suggests that these engagements might not always be welcomed by other disciplines, which makes the role of the philosopher difficult work. Because this work is difficult, Hauerwas admits, “few philosophers now understand their task” in this way.[6] Hauerwas makes the interesting inference that running away from this difficulty is the reason that philosophers “have become ‘experts’” in their esoteric specialized areas. Areas invented by analytic philosophers in the last 100 years ought to be understood as places of escape from the difficult work of engaging with other disciplines.

Second, philosophy’s work requires providing undergraduate students a conceptual framework or narrative about how their courses connect and speak to one another. Hauerwas writes, “philosophy is the discipline committed to the inquiry necessary to understand how the disciplines that make up the university contribute to, but cannot themselves supply an understanding of the order of things.”[7] Philosophy’s work—supplying “an understanding of the order of things”—might sound similar to the first point made, but its difference concerns the audience. Whereas the first point is difficult work because it’s directed toward our institutional colleagues, the second point is work directed toward undergraduate students: “students [ought] to study philosophy not only at the beginning of their study but also at the end.”[8] In addition to a difference in audience, Hauerwas thinks that this work seems to be practiced in the modern university but only by Roman Catholic universities. Throughout this recommendation for the work of philosophy, Hauerwas explicates and relies upon the judgment of Alasdair MacIntyre—who defends Roman Catholic institutions of higher education for recognizing “the significance of philosophy for any serious education that has any pretense to inculcate in students the skills necessary for those who would love the truth.”[9] Unlike Hauerwas and MacIntyre, I feel no need to place Roman Catholic institutions of higher education on a pedestal but, rather, wish to suggest that it remains possible and realistic for philosophy to achieve this “work”—the “work” of providing undergraduate students a conceptual framework or narrative about how their courses connect and speak to one another—in the 21st century.

Third, the “work” of philosophy comes with “a political task.” This task relates to the poor, to those who live in poverty. This task is modeled by “the philosophical rhetorician” Gregory of Nazianzus (329–390 C.E.).[10] Hauerwas points us toward Gregory of Nazianzus’s “On Love for the Poor,” and he takes from Gregory of Nazianzus’s argument that scholars—particularly scholars who are confessing Christians—have an obligation “to make the poor seen” through what we teach.[11] This political task, shared by both philosophers and theologians, necessitates the insight that all of us are “subject to fickle fortune”—which means that we help students see “that those who are better off should never be tempted to think that because they are so they are fundamentally different than the poor and the [sick].”[12] Gregory of Nazianzus serves as a model for this work not only through his “On Love for the Poor” but also in his own life. Hauerwas explains:

Gregory…received the best education available, but that education had not alienated him from the poor. Yet that is exactly what happens to most that receive university education in our time. At best, the modern university produces people, even some who may have come to the university from poverty, who after being at the university want to “do something for the poor.” The university is not able to produce people, as Gregory was able, to see and describe the poor as beautiful. He was able to see the beauty of the poor because schooled by Christ he had no reason to deny or wish they did not exist.[13]

Hauerwas’s interweaving of Gregory’s Christian discipleship with the failures of the modern university becomes extremely useful for thinking about the “work” of philosophy in the sense that it invites us to limit our critique of the modern university. We might be tempted to place moral blame on the university as a whole for failing students in how they perceive those who live in poverty, but a better judgment would be that the moral blame falls to philosophy and theology. In the modern university, philosophy and theology departments have bought into the presuppositions of Western capitalism—that overcoming poverty leads to gaining ethical, political, and social agency—over that of philosophical arguments about fortune and luck, as well as Christian and Jewish convictions about “the least of these” as the inheritors of the kingdom of God. Although it may seem odd to enlist the aristocratic Aristotle in this argument, in Poetics he introduces the notion that we come to see different classes through various aesthetic categories. While I disagree with his claim that those without power can be seen only in the aesthetic category of “comedy,” Aristotle’s Poetics offers a philosophical starting point for making sense of Hauerwas’s claim that we ought to teach our students “to see and describe the poor as beautiful.” At the very least, philosophers ought to challenge standard assumptions about and prejudices against the poor and poverty that our students might bring with them to our courses—which also might be reinforced in their other collegiate courses.[14]

In summary, in The State of the University, Hauerwas claims that philosophy’s “work” involves three tasks: “to force questions concerning limits, possibilities, and connections between disciplines”;[15] to help students understand “the order of things”[16] in relation to their undergraduate coursework; and to teach and write in ways that invite our students and readers to “see” the poor as beautiful.

The Work of Philosophy in Relation to the Work of Theology

My claim in this section is that the “work” of philosophy, in relation to the work of theology, involves developing and maintaining tools for pedagogical hope and practical reasoning. To defend this claim, I examine three chapters from Hauerwas’s The Work of Theology: “How I Think I Learned to Think Theologically,” “The ‘How’ of Theology and Ministry,” and “How to ‘Remember the Poor’.” Arguments in each of these chapters relate to insights and themes from the arguments analyzed above, and the chapter “How to ‘Remember the Poor’” ought to be read as a sequel to his chapter on poverty in The State of the University.

From Practical Reasoning to Pedagogical Hope

Hauerwas claims to learn from several thinkers on what he means by practical reasoning: Elizabeth Anscombe, Aristotle, Joseph Dunne, Eugene Garver, Alasdair MacIntyre, John Henry Newman, Oliver O’Donovan, Jeffrey Stout, and Charles Taylor. Instead of concerning myself—and my readers—with his sources,[17] I explain as clearly as possible Hauerwas’s understanding of practical reason.[18] The main take-away from my explanation is that practical reason is necessarily traditioned for Hauerwas—which means that teaching students how to employ their skills of practical reasoning requires philosophers to do the “work” necessary to help students connect arguments and content from their own tradition with seeing themselves as agents in a complex world.

What does it mean to see oneself as an agent in a complex world? Hauerwas says, “[Practical] reason is an ongoing exercise in a narrative that implicates the interrelation of our agency and the world.”[19] There is an interrelation between the world and ourselves as agents in the world. The world, however, is not simple; it is complex, difficult, and sinful. We face this world as agents determined by a narrative (by the story of our lives), not as people with an infinite amount of choices. To say that a narrative “implicates” us is to say that we are not primarily actors who make choices through the use of practical reasoning but, rather, that we are primarily actors who use practical reason to continue on as the type of character we are in the story in which we find ourselves.

How do we learn skills of practical reasoning? According to Hauerwas, the proper use of practical reasoning requires training: “Practical reason is about human concerns that are open to deliberation,” which means that the “person of practical reason must have the capacity for perception of particulars that come from being well-trained.”[20] It becomes helpful to know that training is required, but we also need to know why training is required. Hauerwas tells us, “Training is required because the end and means are constitutive of one another, because for an action to be the kind of action that makes us virtuous we must not separate the end from the means.”[21] This “training” constitutes the “work” of philosophy. Hauerwas wishes to return philosophy to the tradition of virtue theory, over and against both consequentialism and deontology. Deontology separates the ends from the means by claiming that the ends of an action do not matter for the rightness of that action whereas consequentialism brings the means and ends closer together but only to claim that the ends (consequences) justify the means (actions). The “work” of philosophy, according to Haurwas, requires extending the intimate relationship between means and ends found within virtue theory. This means that the training one receives is training in virtue, which naturally leads to practical reasoning.[22]

In addition to training in virtue and practical reasoning, how do philosophers specifically help students connect arguments and content from their own tradition with seeing themselves as agents in a complex world? This question leads us to the concreteness of practical reasoning. Hauerwas says, “Practical reason in the concrete—and there is no other form than in the concrete—requires the acknowledgement of authority, but authority depends on the existence of an ethos that makes argument possible.”[23] The one word that we use for this “ethos that makes argument possible” is “tradition.” Practical reasoning is traditioned in the sense that it requires the continual “acknowledgement of authority.” Hauerwas does not seem concerned with arguing the superiority of one tradition over another tradition but, instead, with pointing us toward the tradition(s) that form each of us as providing the arguments and content necessary for helping us employ practical reasoning in our everyday lives. For instance, we might employ practical reasoning to refuse an offer to have sex with someone other than our spouse because of what being a “husband” or “wife” means within the specific tradition that forms us.[24] If we think of practical reasoning in terms of choices, then we might think that we have to make the choice not to commit adultery. In this paradigm of practical reasoning, however, we do not make a choice to avoid committing adultery (we make a choice concerning what kind of person we are in the story in which we find ourselves); practical reasoning guides us in connecting the arguments and content of a tradition with being an agent in world—a world that presents possibilities such as having sex with someone not our spouse.[25]

This means that the “work” of philosophy involves helping readers and students connect the arguments and content of their tradition with the ways in which they should come to see their agency in the world. Of course, this does not require philosophers to know about the arguments and content of every possible tradition—a burden too unrealistic and unreasonable to bear. It requires, instead, teaching practical reasoning in terms of the skills of seeing oneself as an agent. Not being able to make actual connections to the arguments and content of a tradition is usually what I mean when I remind my students that I am a professor, not confessor.[26] Stanley Hauerwas remains famous for telling his divinity students the opposite: they are there not to think for themselves but to find out what Hauerwas, himself, thinks. Hauerwas presents himself as confessor, not professor. Some of this is Hauerwas trying to live up to “being Stanley Hauerwas,” which he addresses with brutal honesty in his autobiography,[27] but more importantly (for my purposes) it also contains an assumption about a Christian divinity school that cannot be shared in an undergraduate institution: every student is ostensibly formed by the Christian tradition in a divinity school setting. In the context of an undergraduate institution of higher education—even at Christian institutions of higher education—professors should not assume that they know the traditions forming their students. Should this fact make us fall into despair and cease teaching practical reasoning? Absolutely not! Teaching practical reasoning requires teaching skills, and I believe that part of teaching the skills of practical reasoning successfully entails allowing students to think through how their practical reasoning is traditioned. Professors can answer questions raised by students concerning how to better understand the arguments and content of the students’ tradition, but part of excelling at practical reasoning demands that students take ownership of connecting the arguments and content of a tradition with being an agent in world.

I need to re-visit this question: should this fact—that we no longer know the traditions that form our students—make us fall into despair and cease teaching practical reasoning? What would it mean to answer this question in the affirmative? Once professors fall into despair that leads them to think they cannot teach practical reasoning, then—in addition to failing to teach the skills of practical reasoning—they also teach without pedagogical hope.

Pedagogical hope relates to what I elsewhere defend and describe as intellectual hope. In Strength of Mind, I conclude chapter 8 with these words:

I define intellectual hope as the realistic, reasonable, and virtuous way to use one’s imagination…. The word “realistic” prevents hope from becoming mere optimism. The word “reasonable” highlights the necessary role of the intellect for learning to become hopeful. The word “virtuous” emphasizes the logic of the golden mean for thinking about hope and the need to avoid extremes in our hopefulness. Intellectual hope offers a bigger umbrella than imaginative hope. Intellectual hope incorporates imaginative hope because it includes the faculty of the imagination, but imaginative hope does not necessarily involve intellectual hope….The imagination serves us well when and only when we use it realistically, reasonably, and virtuously. If we continually and constantly use the faculty of the imagination in these ways, then we…cultivate…intellectual hope.

Pedagogical hope relates to intellectual hope in the sense that it identifies the process of cultivating “the realistic, reasonable, and virtuous way[s] to use one’s imagination.” The work of philosophy, perhaps the most important work we have in the 21st century, involves teaching with pedagogical hope.

While it remains necessary that we assign texts that relate to the traditions that shape our students, we also need to assign texts not part of the traditions that shape them in order to broaden their moral imaginations. Hauerwas concludes “How I Think I Learned to Think Theologically” with an important insight that relates his understanding of practical reasoning with my understanding of pedagogical hope. He comments, “to the extent the reader is able to recognize an argument or a remark because of what a friend, which may be a book, has taught them” means that reading, itself, “is a form of practical reason.”[28] To say that reading “is a form of practical reason” enables us to broaden the scope of what it means to teach with pedagogical hope. We teach with pedagogical hope by introducing our students to potential friends in the way of the assigned readings that we give them.[29]

Pedagogical Hope, Practical Reasoning, and Vocational Despair

In the chapter “The ‘How’ of Theology and Ministry,” Hauerwas displays a strong logical awareness in his reflections on those who “work” in Christian congregations. Hauerwas argues that the task of the theologian is to serve the church by keeping the subject matter of theology “God” and by keeping the tradition alive for priests and ministers to excavate for their own purposes. Hauerwas blames pastors, priests, and theologians for thinning out the concepts necessary for living the Christian life and understanding Christian theology. There ought to be a more mutual relationship between theologians, on the one hand, and ministers, pastors, and priests, on the other hand, where theologians write more explicitly for and toward congregations while ministers, pastors, and priests develop a boldness and confidence to put theological arguments to work for and within congregations.[30]

Hauerwas also makes a case for what a friend of mine (Brad Elliott Stone) calls a Church Philosopher, and I wish to extend this title to a Church/Synagogue Philosopher. In Hauerwas’s terms, the role looks like this:

[S]omeone in the Church should be charged with the responsibility of reading Plato and Kant. They should read Plato and Kant because Plato and Kant are such serious minds who did not disdain the hard work necessary to discern what is true from what is false.[31]

I agree with Hauerwas that this is exactly what is needed within the life of the church in the 21st century: either professors of philosophy who attend local congregations ought to offer their services of teaching to their local congregations, and/or serious Christian undergraduate students—who work closely with their philosophy professor—should make themselves available to congregations in their particular denomination to teach the arguments, ideas, and positions of philosophers in the Western canon. Either way, the “work” of a philosopher in the 21st century ought to involve doing, mentoring, or both: doing adult education in religious congregations (now, I am broadening Hauerwas’s judgment so that it includes both Christian and Jewish congregations), mentoring undergraduate students to teach adult education in their religious congregations, or doing adult education and mentoring students who wish to serve congregations as a Church/Synagogue Philosopher.

For PHIL 320: Philosophy of Religion, this is what I give to my students as their final exam (most of my students identify as United Methodist):

Dear [Undergraduate Student]:

I am writing to you in order to request your services for teaching Adult Education as a “Church Philosopher” at Baby Jesus First Methodist Church. We desire to learn about the impact of Plato’s philosophy on Christian theology, particularly as it is found in St. Augustine’s theological reasoning. If you could provide us with a handout/outline or a power point presentation (or other computer-based presentation), then we would greatly appreciate your service as a “Church Philosopher” in our congregation.

Our congregation is eager and excited to have you with us and to learn from your presentation concerning Plato’s philosophy!

You come highly recommended by your philosophy professor at Southwestern College, so we expect excellence from you.


[The Name of a Fictional Pastor]

Other options for this final exam concern the following questions: (a) how does Immanuel Kant’s deontology relate to the Sermon the Mount, and does it apply to how Christians make judgments on other Christians and non-Christians; (b) how does St. Anselm’s and St. Thomas Aquinas’s arguments for the existence of God provide two differing directions for “Christian apologetics” in the 21st century; or (c) what are the differences between a dyadic and triadic interpretation of the creation stories found within Genesis 1 & 2, and how does this difference impact how Christians relate to the academic discipline of natural science? I write the final exam in this fashion because I am trying to overcome the “conservative” and “liberal” tendencies, found in my own students, of thinking that both the philosophical and theological traditions do not matter for their own Christian life and their future ministries.

What does this “work” accomplish? Hauerwas’s answer to this question focuses on how it challenges the anti-intellectualism found in Christian congregations:

I fear in recent times many Christians, who often sound quite smart, have assumed what is essentially an anti-intellectual position. Fundamentalists and representatives of various liberation movements often share the presumption that much of the past Christian tradition must be left behind…. I can only say that such a stance is a death wish, particularly given the challenges before Christians in the cultures in which we now find ourselves.[32]

My concern remains broader than Hauerwas’s, as I find this tendency in both of my “conservative” and “liberal” undergraduate students. For instance, most of our Philosophy and Religion majors at Southwestern College assume that their philosophy courses will have neither impact on nor relevance to their Christian lives and their careers in ministry. There are exceptions to this rule, and these students will excel in their ministerial careers. The other students, I worry, will lack the ability and confidence to think on their feet as adults living out their vocation and will fall back on habits that continue to make bad mistakes and repeat unhealthy binaries.

I find myself very sympathetic with Hauerwas’s conclusion, headed as “Trying to Be as Concrete as Possible,” which focuses on a letter he received from a pastor in Texas. This pastor asks Hauerwas to make more concrete judgments on how he (the pastor) ought to apply Hauerwas’s theological reasoning to his own congregation. Hauerwas handles this request with grace, but I did not when I wrote in the margins: “This is a disappointing question. Think on your own, Rev. Hoffman! Take ownership of Stanley Hauerwas’s arguments and experiment with them in your own setting.” What this pastor misses—and what so many of my own students fail to understand—is that the demands of practical reasoning are communal, contextual, and courageous (requires intellectual courage).[33]

Recently, I had a conversation very similar to this pastor’s letter. This conversation took place with a former student who asked me how to apply the tools he learned in PHIL 227: Logic to interpreting Paul’s epistles. When I encouraged him to fulfill this task on his own, he made the faulty inference that the tools of modern logic had no use for reading Paul’s epistles. He forced a false dichotomy between either my application of the tools of logic to biblical interpretation or no application at all of these tools to biblical interpretation. We all use tools to interpret Scripture: which tools will students use if they neglect the ones that they learn in an undergraduate classroom from a professor who cares deeply about both biblical hermeneutics and modern logic? What more can a professor do than teach a semester-long course on Logic? What more can a professor do than actually place passages from the Old and New Testaments on logic exams for the students to analyze with the tools of modern logic? I remain at a loss for what I am doing in the undergraduate classroom if the students, themselves, refuse to exercise practical reasoning for their own interests and purposes—and in their own communities and contexts. Hauerwas’s reflections in “The ‘How’ of Theology and Ministry” speak to my vocational doubts—which, on some days, lead to vocational despair—but turn me toward a hopefulness in relation to the “long run” impact of my own academic teaching vocation. Hauerwas’s reflections in “The ‘How’ of Theology and Ministry” remind me that I need to maintain hopefulness within my own pedagogy.

Why Philosophers Need to Help Theologians Avoid Fallacious Reasoning

The chapter, “How to ‘Remember the Poor’,” serves as a sequel to “To Love God, the Poor, and Learning” from The State of the University. Hauerwas sets up “How to ‘Remember the Poor’” as an extended commentary on the words of the Apostle Paul found in Galatians 2:10: “They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which actually is what I was eager to do.” Hauerwas also makes a negative judgment on his own theological career:

One of the reasons I am intent to address questions surrounding what it means to remember the poor, or…why charity is at the heart of Christian living, is that I do not think I have adequately dealt with the challenge that Christians must be a community of the poor that cares for the poor.[34]

After offering this confession, Hauerwas’s argument in this chapter proceeds in the following way: it begins with an explanation concerning “why charity is an obligation for Christians,”[35] continues with a lengthy account of “Christian responses” to “charity in the world of capitalism,”[36] and concludes with “a plea for charity”—which makes the strongest arguments about the work of theology found in the whole book.[37] My analytic engagement with this chapter seeks to make inferences concerning how the work of theology relates to the work of philosophy.

Hauerwas surprisingly categorizes charity as an obligation, instead of as a virtue, and claims that this obligation extends to all Christians—even those who live in poverty. How can the poor fulfill their obligation to be charitable? Hauerwas recommends charity through friendship: “To be poor does not mean you lack the means to extend charity to another. You may lack money or food but you have the gift of friendship to overwhelm the loneliness that grips the lives of so many.”[38] The poor can fulfill their obligation of charity through friendship with those who are gripped by loneliness. The inference I make from Hauerwas’s argument concerning how the poor might fulfill their obligations of charity leads to the “work” of philosophy is this: teaching with pedagogical hope entails helping undergraduate students understand how friendship can be an act of charity toward those who experience loneliness, shame, and solitude. The “work” of philosophy also includes distinguishing between charity as an “obligation” or “virtue” in such a way that the students’ practical reasoning spurs them to decide whether their particular tradition leads to thinking of charity as an “obligation” or a “virtue.”[39]

What does charity look like in the “world of capitalism”? To answer this question, Hauerwas provides a genealogy of the role of “beggars” and the “poor” within both theories of capitalism and Christian responses to capitalism. His genealogy runs as follows. First, Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations ought to be read alongside his The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which leads to the following observations about the role of “beggars” and the “poor” in the founder of Western capitalism: “Beggars are morally corrupt because they refuse to ‘see’ themselves rightly by entering into the perspective of the impartial spectator,” which is the view demanded by Smith for capitalism to work, and “[i]nstead beggars use their suffering to coerce others to be in sympathy with them.”[40] In Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments, however, “beggars are by definition ignoble, but in The Wealth of Nations begging is but one form of exchange that commercial depends on.”[41] Hauerwas points out that Smith distinguishes between beggars and the poor:

Smith distinguished…between the poor and beggars. The poor could be subject to our sympathy as long as they sought to be like those who were not poor. Yet it was Smith’s hope that capitalism as a system for the production of wealth would provide an alternative that would eliminate poverty. Indeed one way to think of Smith’s vision is to see capitalism itself as a system of charity. No longer will individual acts of charity be required, because the system itself will raise all the boats as the water rises. Capitalism so understood is an extraordinary utopian project.[42]

For Smith, the poor earn the sympathy of others by acting like they are not poor. The promise of capitalism, according to Smith, includes the end of poverty. Because of this promise, capitalism is an institutional and systematic form of charity toward the poor. Capitalism renders unnecessary individual acts of charity toward the poor.[43]

The second step in Hauerwas’s genealogy involves the Christian social gospel movement as a response to capitalism. According to Hauerwas, this movement takes Adam Smith up on his proposal that capitalism institutionalizes and systematizes charity—which no longer makes charity the obligation of individual Christian believers. For the Social Gospel movement, and contra the Apostle Paul’s reasoning found in 1 Corinthians 13, “justice” replaces “charity” as the most important virtue for Christian discipleship.[44]

Hauerwas turns toward Reinhold Niebuhr’s Christian ethics as the third part of his genealogy because Niebuhr continues the substitution of charity with justice. Although Niebuhr was an outspoken critic of the Social Gospel movement, he maintained this particular substitution. “For Niebuhr,” Hauerwas claims, “the only way to do something substantive about poverty was to use the technologies of power available to the dispossessed to challenge the often-hidden power of the established order.”[45] Niebuhr’s justice-centered reasoning shifted the whole enterprise of Christian ethics from thinking in terms of individual acts of charity to resolving that charity ought to be left up to political and social policy. Hauerwas credits Niebuhr with changing “the world in terms of how Christians—particularly in America—understood how the poor were to be served,” but rather “than focusing on individual acts of charity, Christians now tried to imagine social policies that would make the poor no longer poor.”[46] Hauerwas continues with ironic praise of “Niebuhr’s extraordinary ability to imagine and support policies that offered some care for the poor was remarkable.”[47] Adam Smith originated the notion that capitalism would rid the world of the poor; the Social Gospel movement bought into this notion and shifted Christian discipleship from charity to justice; and Niebuhr ran with this notion and re-imagined Christian ethics based upon how the poor are not the responsibility of the church but the responsibility of the power centralized and located in both the free-market and the nation-state.

The fourth and final part of Hauerwas’s genealogy focuses on the American Democratic Party of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Under the influence of Niebuhr’s Christian ethics, American Christians “became more concerned with trying to make the government the agent [that] cares for the poor rather than [follow Paul’s command to] ‘remember the poor.’”[48] This final shift found a home in the Democratic Party of the United States of America in the sense that American “Christians increasingly came to believe that their obligation to care about the poor could be met by voting for the left wing of the Democratic Party—a vain ambition given the fact that there is now no left wing of the Democratic Party left.”[49] Hauerwas’s genealogy ends with the observation that American Christians assume that charity is the work of the Democratic Party, and poverty will come to an end once capitalism is allowed to fulfill its promises to all citizens.

In his reflections on this genealogy, Hauerwas makes an interesting shift from the language of the poor to that of “enemy”:

I am not in any way trying to belittle or leave behind the commitment to justice for the poor that the social gospel and Niebuhr represented. I worry, however, when that way of understanding the Christian obligation to be with the poor overwhelms concrete acts of charity. Interestingly enough, I suspect the social gospel and Niebuhr’s way of trying to create more just societies was a quite appropriate response to capitalism [and a response on the terms of capitalism]. But I fear too often the attempt to defeat an enemy may make us a mirror image of what we oppose.[50]

Hauerwas ends with the language of “enemy,” instead of the poor, because capitalism makes poverty a problem to solve—indeed, another “them” to eliminate through political and social policies—rather than persons to befriend and love.[51]

The problem of the shift from the church to the free-market and the government concerns breaking asunder the necessary relationship between charity and worship.[52] Implementing and utilizing the tools of modern logic, Hauerwas diagnoses one of the deepest and most-engrained fallacies plaguing modern Christianity:

If we do not learn…to be with the poor we will continue to be caught on the unhappy choice of either being a church whose identity is primarily constituted by worship of God or being a church that is fundamentally about ‘social action’….I have tried to provide an account that is an alternative to that unhappy choice. Worship and charity are inseparable.  The challenge is to know what that might look like. What does learning to be ‘with’ look like?[53]

Hauerwas articulates how “either being a church whose identity is primarily constituted by worship of God or being a church that is fundamentally about ‘social action’” commits the fallacy of a false dichotomy, and he repairs this fallacy by asserting that charity and worship remain inseparable within Christianity. If Hauerwas is right about this false dichotomy within modern Christianity (I think that he is correct, and even more so than his argument suggests), philosophy’s work becomes two-fold: (1) to actively challenge this false dichotomy, as a fallacy, in relation to the assumptions and formation that our Christian students bring with them to the collegiate classroom, and (2) to creatively think of ways to further repair this false dichotomy in our teaching and writing.

To continue to build on these points, the “work” of philosophy involves helping Christian ethicists and theologians avoid fallacious reasoning in their own work. The work of philosophy requires identifying logical fallacies created and perpetuated by those who teach religious studies and theology. The problem of fallacious reasoning, as Hauerwas points out, is that it hurts those who the fallacies are about. If the fallacy of false dichotomy makes it impossible for Christians to follow Paul’s command to “remember the poor,” which leads to the further marginalization of the poor from Christians, then what fallacies are hurting and marginalizing other people? To avoid asking this question and to avoid this work relinquishes one of the responsibilities of philosophers in the modern academy. If universities in the 21st century decide that philosophy departments are no longer needed or useful, it will be the fault of philosophers for not fulfilling their/our responsibility due to fear of offending our colleagues in other departments. The question becomes not whether we should do this kind of “work” but, rather, how we do this “work” in a non-paternalistic way.[54]

Returning to Hauerwas’s “How to ‘Remember the Poor’,” readers find a clear case for the work of theology in relation to teaching and thinking about charity and the poor. Hauerwas turns toward Pope Francis’s reflections on the poor found in Evangelii Gaudium. Hauerwas finds it particularly appealing to claim that the church’s “option for the poor…is first and foremost a theological category.”[55] What does it mean to say that the preference for the poor ought to be understood theologically (instead of culturally, morally, philosophically, politically, psychologically, or sociologically)? For Pope Francis, it means that the Holy Spirit directs our “attention” to the poor. In Pope Francis’s words, our “attentiveness is the beginning of a true concern for the person which inspires in me effectively to seek their good.”[56] Pope Francis continues, “This entails appreciating the poor in their goodness, in their [own] experience of life…, and in their way of living the faith.”[57] According to Hauerwas’s interpretation, Pope Francis’s understanding of the poor requires two acts of practical reasoning and one correction in our moral reasoning: first, to allow those who live in poverty to work alongside Christians in the church’s work for and within the world;[58] second, since grammar and practical reasoning are intimately connected for Hauerwas, we should change our grammar from “us and them” in order to reflect the reality that we are “one” because we are all called to “the worship of God” on equal ground;[59] third (and the correction to our moral reasoning), to fix our understanding of charity from being “doing something for the poor” to “being with the poor.”[60] In other words, the charity should not be understood as a top-down giving away of financial and material goods but as a relational obligation—based upon friendship and connected with the virtues of attentiveness and truthfulness[61]—where the giving away of financial and material goods becomes the giving and receiving between friends.[62] The “work of theology” involves helping Christians “see” how the mission of the church is to learn to be with the poor, for the poor, and to become the poor.[63]

What does the “work” of philosophy become in relation to this “work of theology”? I believe that the “work” of philosophy involves hammering home points two and three from Hauerwas’s interpretation of Pope Francis’s Evangelii Gaudium: (a) helping our readers and students come to challenge the grammar of “us and them” and (b) fixing/repairing our beliefs about charity from “doing something for the poor” to “being with the poor.”[64] Whether inspired by Pope Francis or inspired by one’s philosophical convictions grounded either in deontology or virtue theory, I believe these are some of the most important tasks for philosophers to do in the 21st century. To avoid this “work” is to teach with hopelessness toward all citizens in society, and to avoid this “work” is to teach without pedagogical hope toward our students.[65]


[1]For these sources, see my Strength of Mind: Courage, Hope, Freedom, Knowledge, (Eugene, OR: Cascade Press, forthcoming).
[2]This essay started as a way for me to answer the more narrow and simple question, what does America’s most well-known Methodist theologian think the role of philosophy is in the context of a United Methodist institution of higher education? While that question remains significant for me, because of Southwestern College’s important relationship with the United Methodist denomination, I found that Hauerwas actually has much to say about the role of philosophy and the “work” of the philosopher in the 21st century. This “much more” makes this essay broader and more complex.
[3]I explain and evaluate his vision in “The State of the Secular University,” Journal of Scriptural Reasoning, 14.2, (November 2015):
[4]Stanley Hauerwas, The State of the University: Academic Knowledges and the Knowledge of God, (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2007), 29.
[5]Hauerwas, The State of the University, 29.
[6]Hauerwas, The State of the University, 29.
[7]Hauerwas, The State of the University, 49.
[8]Hauerwas, The State of the University, 49.
[9]Hauerwas, The State of the University, 49.
[10]Hauerwas claims that Frederick Norris is the first to identify Gregory of Nazianzus as a “philosophical rhetorician”—a description that Hauerwas seems to fully embrace in his exposition of Gregory of Nazianzus’s arguments concerning the poor.
[11]Hauerwas uses this phrase throughout pages 187-201 in The State of the University.
[12]Hauerwas, The State of the University, 193.
[13]Hauerwas, The State of the University, 198.
[14]Later in this essay, we learn how Hauerwas builds from and re-works his argument about the poor in The Work of Theology.
[15]Hauerwas, The State of the University, 29.
[16]Hauerwas, The State of the University, 49.
[17]On the role of Aristotle in Hauerwas’s “work,” see Daniel Reffner’s “Tracking Perfectionism in Stanley Hauerwas’s Theology,” Journal of Scriptural Reasoning, 16.2, (November 2017).
[18]For readers new to the phrase “practical reasoning,” this is the clearest introduction that I have read: “Practical reason is the general human capacity for resolving, through reflection, the question of what one is to do. Deliberation of this kind is practical in at least two senses. First, it is practical in its subject matter, insofar as it is concerned with action. But it is also practical in its consequences or its issue, insofar as reflection about action itself directly moves people to act. Our capacity for deliberative self-determination raises two sets of philosophical problems. First, there are questions about how deliberation can succeed in being practical in its issue. What do we need to assume—both about agents and about the processes of reasoning they engage in—to make sense of the fact that deliberative reflection can directly give rise to action? Can we do justice to this dimension of practical reason while preserving the idea that practical deliberation is genuinely a form of reasoning? Second, there are large issues concerning the content of the standards that are brought to bear in practical reasoning. Which norms for the assessment of action are binding on us as agents? Do these norms provide resources for critical reflection about our ends, or are they exclusively instrumental?” (R. Jay Wallace, “Practical Reason,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta, (Summer 2014 Edition): <>.
[19]Hauerwas, The Work of Theology, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2015), 14.
[20]Hauerwas, The Work of Theology, 15.
[21]Hauerwas, The Work of Theology, 15-16.
[22]“To be an agent of practical reason requires that we must be a person of virtue” (Hauerwas, The Work of Theology, 16).
[23]Hauerwas, The Work of Theology, 18.
[24]“Practical reason deals with matters that can be other, that is, with the contingent. To reason well about matters that can be other means that how one reasons cannot be abstracted from who is doing the reasoning” (Hauerwas, The Work of Theology, 19).
[25]Mark Ryan offers more substantive reflections on the question of adultery and practical reasoning; see Ryan, The Politics of Practical Reason: Why Theological Ethic Must Change Your Life, (Eugene, OR: Cascade Press, 2011), 140.
[26]I assert this sentence as a way to transition from the designator of “philosopher” to the designator of “professor.”
[27]See Hannah’s Child, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2010), ix-xii.
[28]Hauerwas, The Work of Theology, 31.
[29]As I write this section, for instance, a student whose honor’s thesis I am directing posts on Twitter a picture of a paragraph written by C. S. Lewis. She has the following sentence underlined: “Do not let your happiness depend on something you may lose.” It would be foolhardy of me to claim that I introduced her to C. S. Lewis, but I remember telling her that she might be disappointed by Lewis’s reflections on charity and love after journeying through Kierkegaard’s Works of Love. Despite my downplaying of Lewis’s arguments to her, she exercised a form of practical reasoning by displaying to the world of Twitter that this sentence now impacts how she reasons about happiness.
[30]Significantly, Hauerwas writes with more hopefulness about the theological task—within the academy—in The Work of Theology than he does in The State of the University—which I point out (Hauerwas’s seeming hopelessness found in The State of the University) in my “The State of the Secular University,” Journal of Scriptural Reasoning, 14.2, (December 2015).
[31]Hauerwas, The Work of Theology, 116.
[32]Hauerwas, The Work of Theology, 117.
[33]For more on what I mean by intellectual courage, see my Strength of Mind, chapters 5-7.
[34]Hauerwas, The Work of Theology, 209.
[35]See Hauerwas, The Work of Theology, 214-219.
[36]See Hauerwas, The Work of Theology, 219-225.
[37]See Hauerwas, The Work of Theology, 225-228.
[38]Hauerwas, The Work of Theology, 214.
[39]For my reflections on charity as an obligation, see Strength of Mind, “Introduction” and chapter 9.
[40]Hauerwas, The Work of Theology, 221.
[41]Hauerwas, The Work of Theology, 221.
[42]Hauerwas, The Work of Theology, 221.
[43]For a fascinating and wonderful account of “beggars,” see Kelly S. Johnson’s The Fear of Beggars: Stewardship and Poverty in Christian Ethics, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007). Johnson is a former PhD student of Hauerwas’s, and Hauerwas started writing on “beggars” and poverty after the publication of Johnson’s book. Hauerwas often says that he “learns” from his students (for instance, see The Work of Theology, xi), and I believe that his chapters on charity and poverty present a clear case of him learning from one of his former students.
[44]See Hauerwas, The Work of Theology, 222.
[45]Hauerwas, The Work of Theology, 223.
[46]Hauerwas, The Work of Theology, 223.
[47]Hauerwas, The Work of Theology, 223.
[48]Hauerwas, The Work of Theology, 224.
[49]Hauerwas, The Work of Theology, 224. Hauerwas wrote these words before the rise of Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party, but his claim still holds if we simply add the word coherent: “there is now no [coherent] left wing of the Democratic Party left.”
[50]Hauerwas, The Work of Theology, 225.
[51]Hauerwas also adds the judgment that this genealogy for thinking about the poor makes us forget about Jesus Christ and the promises he makes about the poor and for the poor.
[52]On the intimate and necessary relationship between ethics and worship in Hauerwas’s work, see Claire Partlowe’s “Bonhoeffer and Hauerwas: The Church-World Intersection and the Transforming Power of Ritual,” Journal of Scriptural Reasoning 16, vol. 2, (November 2017).
[53]Hauerwas, The Work of Theology, 226.
[54]Through personal correspondence, Daniel Reffner rightly claims that the argument of this paragraph provides a specific instance of the kind of difficult questions philosophy has to ask of other disciplines—which relates to a general point made earlier in this essay (Daniel Reffner, personal correspondence with the author, [October 27, 2017]).
[55]Hauerwas, The Work of Theology, 227.
[56]Quoted in Hauerwas, The Work of Theology, 227; Pope Francis’s document can be found here: Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, (, 199.
[57]Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 199; quoted in Hauerwas, The Work of Theology, 227.
[58]See Hauerwas, The Work of Theology, 227-228.
[59]See Hauerwas, The Work of Theology, 228.
[60]Hauerwas, The Work of Theology, 228.
[61]Hauerwas writes: “I think as Christians we need to know how to be with the poor in such a manner that the gifts the poor receive do not make impossible friendship between the giver and the recipient. For friendship is the heart of the matter if we remember that charity first and foremost names God’s befriending of us….I do not mean to suggest that friendship is some kind of magical relation that will make the dependencies associated with aid less likely.  Friendships, at least superficial friendships, are just as likely to produce dependency as direct aid.” He concludes, “genuine friendship depends on people being truthful with one another” because “[t]here is no substitute for people being honest” (Hauerwas, The Work of Theology, 226).
[62]Hauerwas writes: “I fear we often want to help the poor without getting to know who the poor may be” (Hauerwas, The Work of Theology, 226).
[63]The initial intention of Hauerwas’s argument was simply commentary on Galatians 2:11, but the end result of his argument is so much more than biblical commentary or even theological interpretation of Scripture. In “How to ‘Remember the Poor’,” Hauerwas accomplishes more than most single chapters are able to achieve: (a) defends the notion that charity is an obligation of all Christians, both wealthy and poor Christians; (b) gives a genealogy on begging, charity, and poverty explaining how modern Christianity moved so far from the Pauline understanding of “remembering the poor” and the Pauline use of charity as the primary virtue within the Church; (c) helps his readers recover the significance of Jesus Christ and his promises about the poor and for the poor; (d) questions the false dichotomy between “either being a church whose identity is primarily constituted by worship of God or being a church that is fundamentally about ‘social action’” and repairs this fallacy by asserting that charity and worship remain inseparable; (e) points us toward two ways in which Pope Francis’s theology of the poor impacts our practical reasoning, within the Christian life, as we act and work with the poor; and (f) shows his readers how charity ought to be based upon friendship, ought to be connected with the virtues of attentiveness and truthfulness, and ought to be understood as giving and receiving in a relational mode instead of giving in a top-down mode.
[64]Fixing-as-repairing stems from Charles Sanders Peirce’s argument in “The Fixation of Belief,” in The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings, Volume 1 (1867 – 1893), (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1992), 109-123.
[65]I could not publish without the help of insightful colleagues, current students, and former students: Michael Beardslee, Quinlan Stein, and Daniel Reffner provided comments, criticisms, and suggestions that immensely improved this essay. Ashley Tate makes my writing so much better and more accessible, and she made very helpful suggestions on this particular essay.

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