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Providence professor Dr. Robert Dean illumines work of “theological Spider-Man” Dr. Stanley Hauerwas in new book

Monday, December 3, 2018

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“Why not ask someone who knows me better than I know myself to put a book together in a way that I had not imagined?”

In considering a volume of his own sermons and essays, Dr. Stanley Hauerwas reached out to another theologian to compile the material on his behalf—someone, he wrote in the Preface to the resulting book, “who had read more of my writing than is good for anyone.”

The theologian he tapped for the project was Dr. Robert Dean, who joined the faculty of Providence Theological Seminary as Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics in August. Hauerwas had become familiar with Dean after the latter’s maiden book, For the Life of the World: Jesus Christ and the Church in the Theologies of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Stanley Hauerwas (Pickwick Publications), was published in 2016.

“I am extremely grateful for how Rob sees the connections between my sermons and the essays,” writes Hauerwas, adding that the Providence professor is “just distant enough from me for that distance to be fruitful.”

The fruit of their cooperation, Minding the Web: Making Theological Connections (Wipf & Stock), was published in early November.

Dean, who is also the author of Leaps of Faith: Sermons from the Edge (Resource Publications), says it was a “great privilege to work with one of the leading theologians of a generation,” someone, he says, whose work impacted his own theological formation. “It’s perhaps something like a young hockey player who gets called up to the NHL and finds himself skating on a line with Wayne Gretzky or Sidney Crosby,” he says.

The editing and writing process—several of his own sermons are included in the compilation—also provided Dean with a more intimate glimpse of Hauerwas, the man. “Behind the sometimes fiery and confrontational public persona,” he explains, “there is an exceedingly gracious and unfailingly kind and gentle man.”

Minding the Web is divided into four sections: Matters Theological, University Matters, Lives Matter and the Matter of preaching.

“The first three parts,” says Dean, “include essays and addresses by Hauerwas that seek to understand the work of theology, the life of the university and the lives that we are called to lead, all in the light of Jesus Christ. The fourth part of the book features sermons that Hauerwas preached throughout North America, alongside a couple of my own sermons.”

Hauerwas, who turned 78 in July, underlines the importance of having a younger scholar such as Dean dig into his material.

“I should think this book’s importance, and I do not want to oversell it, hopefully involves how it spans generations,” he says. “Dean’s contributions are central because he can make me more coherent for his readers than I am able to do.”

Dean, for his part, points to what he calls the “prophetic character” of Hauerwas’s work that has been spoken into the life of the church for forty years.

“Hauerwas’s work emerges not from aspirations to be prophetic, but from an unrelenting desire to probe the depths of the common Christian confession, ‘Jesus is Lord!’” he says. “This book demonstrates that the confession ‘Jesus is Lord!’ is as timely and relevant as ever.”

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