Response to Magid and Hauerwas

Robert Gibbs, University of Toronto

Here we have a question of emphasis, and most importantly, a chance to juxtapose distinct but overlapping alternatives. Let me take then as my theme “Society” – the way that differences enhance and challenge each other. Let me say that Magid’s essay is about “Reasoning” and then Hauerwas’ is about “Scripture”. At first glance, especially through Hauerwas’ glance, Magid’s essay is philosophical and medieval. The commentators and philosophers were worried about a philosophical problem – free will. And Hauerwas claims that the Fathers were unwilling to let that problem get in the way of the story.


But the interest in philosophy is not quite so one-sided. For Magid is able to transform the question from a philosophical fly in a bottle into an ethical problem. An ethical problem of ethics for us and you all. Can God muck about with us and with you all the same way? Can God instrumentalize relations with y’all? And, of course, the key question then, is can we instrumentalize our relations with y’all, say, for God’s greater glory? But that kind of question seems to pull us out of the narrative, if we mean a narrative that sets up our group and fashions its identity – even in relation to God and even in relation to others. Its neutrality is a vocabulary in which to engage other thinkers, other narratives, and not to presuppose only one narrative perspective. (And I could make a parallel argument, about how Hauerwas’ theological recount of Origen and Augustine is not completely closed within a Christian framework.)

But, my theme, “Society.” What Magid manages to do is to show that the turn to philosophy arises in a scriptural context. The need for a vocabulary in which to examine the questions of ethics (within and without) is not foreign to Scripture, but is solicited by Scripture. I don’t want to reduce this to a face-off between philosophical rationality and Scriptural rationality, but rather form a society where Scriptural reasoning conceives of philosophical reasoning as intrinsic to its task – and where philosophy can reason with the narratives and the communal locations afforded us by scripture: a society of Scriptural reasoning.

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