Stanley Hauerwas Can't Get Saved
In this passage from Stanley Hauerwas' memoir, the famous theologian tells how a life of ministry began with his mother's prayer.
I became a theologian because I could not be saved.
I was baptized at Pleasant Mound Methodist Church in — you will not be surprised — Pleasant Mound, Texas. Pleasant Mound Methodist was Methodist, but like most folks in that area, we were really Baptist, which meant that even though you had been baptized and become a member of the church, you still had to be "saved." Baptism and membership were Sunday morning events. Saving was for Sunday nights. Sunday night was an hour hymn sing, a time for "personal prayer" at the altar rail, a forty-five minute to an hour sermon, and then a call to the altar for those convicted of their sin.
If you came to the altar, it was assumed that you had struck up a new relationship with God that was somehow equivalent to being saved. I wanted to be saved, but I did not think you should fake it.
I am not sure how old I was when I began to worry about being saved, but it was sometime in my early teens. I had begun to date a young woman who also went to Pleasant Mound, which meant I was beginning to sin. I was pretty sure I needed saving, but I just did not think I should try to force God's hand. All this was complicated for me because the church was at the center of my family's life.
Our minister was Brother Zimmerman. Brother Zimmerman had actually gone to college and maybe seminary, but he preferred to be called "Brother" to show, I suspect, that even though he was educated he was not all that different from the rest of us. He was thin as a rail because he gave everything he had to being a minister. I remember him as a lovely, kind man, but he believed we did need to be saved.
It was never clear to me why we needed to be revived, but you could always count on some members of the church, and they were often the same people year after year, being saved. I sometimes think they wanted to be saved in order to save the preacher, because it was assumed that the Word had not been rightly preached if no one was saved.
So there I sat Sunday night after Sunday night, thinking I should be saved, but it did not happen. Meanwhile, some of the youth were "dedicating themselves to the Lord," which usually meant they were going to become a minister or a missionary. I am not sure how this development among the youth of Pleasant Mound began, but it was not long before several kids, a bit older than I was, had so dedicated their lives. So finally one Sunday night, after singing "I Surrender All" for God knows how many times, I went to the altar rail and told Brother Zimmerman that I wanted to dedicate my life to the Lord. I thought that if God was not going to save me, I could at least put God in a bind by being one of his servants in the ministry.