Beliefnet
Jesus Creed

Library.jpg

Stanley Hauerwas, Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir


Reviewed
by Wesley Vander Lugt

wsvanderlugt.wordpress.com

It was hard to know what to expect from Stanley Hauerwas’s memoir, but I think I received more than I expected. If you are expecting Hauerwas’s own take on his work, you will not be disappointed. He identifies Naming the Silences as his best work (114), The Peaceable Kingdom as his core work (136), and Christian Existence Today as the book he wonders why more people don’t read. In weaving together his own personal journey with the influence of friends and circumstances, Hauerwas helps us understood why he wrote what he did and how it fits into his own journey of becoming a Christian and beginning to understand what that means.


If you
are expecting a full does of Hauerwas’s forthrightness and honesty, you will
not be disappointed. Hauerwas tells his story frankly and in a straightforward
manner, explaining how he often does not live like a Christian, how becoming a
Christian at Notre Dame was slow and agonizing, how he coped (or failed to
cope) with his wife’s ongoing mental illness, and how he often does not know
what he believes until he forces himself to say it. Hauerwas does not sugar
coat his relationships with fellow faculty members, his struggle with academia,
or his struggle with sanctification. Even the very prose with which Hauerwas
writes exudes honesty and the “no bullshit” approach he so admired about Barth
(59).

If you
are expecting a full gamut of ‘Hauerwasisms’ and various nuggets of theological
gold, you will not be disappointed. Situated within the context of his memoir,
it makes more sense why Hauerwas believes that theology should never be
separated from ethics (115), that realism shuts off the imagination (137), that
metaphysics is not an end in itself (157), that people and friendships make all
the difference for what we know (196), and that the church that claims an
“answer” to suffering is an accommodated church (207). His conclusion that
theologians need to come to terms with their material like a bricklayer (37)
makes more sense in light of the fact that Hauerwas considers himself “a
working class kid in the world of the university” (136). But all of this work
has spiritual significance, because the work of theology is the work of prayer.

If you
are expecting to learn that the life of a famous theologian is glamorous and
glorious, you will be disappointed.
Hauerwas makes us realize that despite being named “the best theologian in
America” by Time Magazine in 2001, this has not meant smooth sailing, whether
personally or academically. Most of all, we learn that no matter how many books
we write, conference papers we deliver, or sabbaticals we secure, what matters
most is being in good company. Hauerwas reiterates again and again that it is
people that make us who we are; friends make our journey of life bearable or
unbearable. For the aspiring and aging academic alike, the most relevant advice
we can glean from Hauerwas’s memoir is to make and keep good friends, because
these friends will still be with us whether our books go out of print or we
never get a book in print.

We
need more memoirs like Hauerwas’s to realize how theology and the work of
theologians are always situated in particular times and places. Hauerwas would
not be who he is if it were not for bricks, baseball, and everyday battles.
Memoirs like these help us reflect on what has shaped us and how we want to be
shaped in the future. We need more memoirs like Hauerwas’s to help us realize
that theology is not just an academic discipline; it is a way of life. It was
sobering to read this memoir, because we should have no illusion that being a
Christian or a theologian is easy. But it was also encouraging to read this
memoir, because–and I think Hauerwas would agree with this statement–if Stanley
Hauerwas can be a theologian, anyone can be a theologian. This task is possible
because God is all about giving gifts, leaving Hauerwas to conclude: “…the work
I have been given is pure gift. That it is so means that I must take all the
more care to live up to the vocation of teaching “the truth that is in Jesus
Christ” (283). Let that be a challenge to us all.

Previous Posts
Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus