Original Research

Becoming good in Africa: A critical appraisal of Stanley Hauerwas’ ecclesial ethic in the sub-Saharan context

Charles K. Bafinamene
Verbum et Ecclesia | Vol 38, No 1 | a1716 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ve.v38i1.1716 | © 2017 Charles K. Bafinamene | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 17 December 2016 | Published: 05 October 2017

About the author(s)

Charles K. Bafinamene, Department of Dogmatics & Christian Ethics, University of Pretoria, South Africa


The present article examines the appropriateness of Stanley Hauerwas’ ecclesial ethic for the sub-Saharan African churches. Thus, it consists in a Christian ethical assessment of the metaethical foundational categories of his ecclesial ethic. In brief, his proposal is eclectic and pluri-disciplinarily applicable to the churches of various denominations. It reflects the marks of the Aristotelian ethical tradition endorsed by Thomas Aquinas and recovered by several communitarian philosophers. It also includes some discernible ecclesio-centric and postliberal theological accents. The promising insights of this proposal include: (1) the necessity to ordain the church’s worship, polity and its entire way of life to the spiritual and moral formation of church members; (2) the stress on Christian virtuous life, identity formation, witness and non-conformism in social ethics. However, essentially designed against the background of a Western, liberal, autonomous and individualist self, Hauerwas’ ecclesial ethic is not a definitive answer for the holistic, normative and communalist moral self, characteristic of the traditional African ethos and influencing a large majority in Africa. Moreover, it stresses the purity of the church in a way that restricts cooperation between Christians and nonChristians for socio-economic justice and the common good.

Intradisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary implications: Therefore, Hauerwas’ virtue, narrative, community and social ethics provide some valuable insights for moral formation in African churches as it explores the interplay between ecclesiology, Christian ethics, practical theology and philosophical ethics. For sure, other relevant resources should come from African spirituality, developmental psychology and sociology of religion.


church; ethics; Hauerwas; Africa; virtue; character; narrative; community; social ethics


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