In the published version of his Gifford Lectures delivered at the University of St Andrews in 2001, With the Grain of the Universe, Stanley Hauerwas considers William James (Chapters 2–3), Reinhold Niebuhr (Chapters 4–5) and Karl Barth (Chapters 6–7) in an effort to make the argument “that natural theology divorced from a full doctrine of God cannot but help distort the character of God and, accordingly, of the world in which we find ourselves.”[p. 15] It is not surprising, even if a bit strange, for Hauerwas to suggest “that Karl Barth is the great natural theologian of the Gifford Lectures.”[p.20] At work here is a revised understanding of nature, one that is, according to Hauerwas, different than Lord Gifford’s, which is “anything but natural.”[p. 31] In seeking to purge the Gifford Lectures of the natural theology of Enlightenment rationalism Hauerwas is not alone. In addition to Barth one might think of Rowan Williams' recent lectures at Edinburgh, the first of which began with Williams speaking of “a tradition for Gifford Lecturers periodically to kick over the traces and protest at this framework. From Karl Barth to Stanley Hauerwas, we have heard a succession of formidable assaults on a scheme that assumes the inadmissibility of revelation and the irrelevance of sacred narrative and community practice in exploring the roots of our talk about God.” Williams goes on to discuss Hauerwas in particular, admitting “to sharing this unease.”
If Barth is here the protagonist, and he most certainly is, then James and Niebuhr are the foils against which Barth is contrasted. Barth then emerges not only as the witness, but also a challenger to Lord Gifford’s notion of natural theology as a faithful answer to the world.[p. 216] With Barth, Hauerwas thinks Gifford’s project an accommodation. Not surprisingly, John Howard Yoder then enters the discussion as exemplary in his efforts “to reclaim the truthfulness of Christian convictions in the world in which we find ourselves.”[p. 218]
A fascinating complex of ideas, this volume represents a significant stream in the history of the Gifford Lectures, what might be called “the uneasy stream,” i.e. those lecturers seeking to subvert, rather than reformulate, that form of natural theology endorsed by Lord Gifford through the delivery of Lord Gifford’s lectures.