Sunday, May 1, 2011

Preliminary Notes on Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir, by Stanley Hauerwas

The first book I read by Stanley Hauerwas was a refreshingly honest book about Christian identity in a world that is alien to the created order God intended.  It was called The Peaceable Kingdom, written sometime during the early 80's, if I'm not mistaken.  I do remember how I was taken in to Hauerwas' style, but most of all, his to-the-core honesty about the deepest matters of faith, or rather, faithfulness to God.  

For many years, he served as a professor of theology at Notre Dame, and then went to Duke Divinity School for about 25 years.  At the turn of the milennium Hauerwas was named "best theologian in America" by Time magazine, a designation that casts serious doubts on his personal piety among some religious groups, certainly, but nevertheless a distinct honor given the vast numbers of "household-name" preachers who get most of the press.  For me, personally, it was a mark of Hauerwas' progress since my earliest reading of him during seminary in the early 80's.

So, browsing through Amazon this week, a recommended book for me was this memoir.  I downloaded the sample from the book and decided it was well worth the 10 bucks it cost to read the whole thing (ebook price).

After reading the intro and the first two chapters, now I know why the resonance was there so strongly for me years ago.  Hauerwas grew up in Pleasant Grove, Texas, the son a bricklayer, a serious doubter of anything and everything the church spoon-fed to him growing up, but still with a strong inner confirmation and conviction that not only does God exist, but that he is utterly sovereign and that our belief, or nonbelief, in him is irrelevant to his greatness.

In the first page of Hauerwas' intro, the reader gets a good idea about his personal faith.  Here's a quote:

I did not intend to be "Stanley Hauerwas."  I am aware, however, that there is someone out there who bears that name.  Stanley Hauerwas is allegedly famous.  How can a theologian, particularly in our secular age, be famous?  If theologians become famous in times like ours, surely they must have betrayed their calling.  After all, theology is a discipline whose subject should always put in doubt the very idea that those who practice it know what they are doing.  How can anyone who works in such a discipline become famous?

Then, a few paragraphs later, an honest warning about what is to come in the book:

I believe what I write, or rather, by writing I learn to believe.  But then I do not put much stock in "believing in God."  The grammar of "belief" invites a far too rationalistic account of what it means to be a Christian.  "Belief" implies propositions about which you get to make up your mind before you know the work they are meant to do.  Does that mean I do not believe in God?  Of course not, but I am far more interested in what a declaration of belief entails for how I live my life.

Ditto, from me.

I have a great deal more to read in the book, but the first few chapters are very promising.  Don't look for the piety with which pop religious culture is most familiar.  Stanley is, after all, a son of a bricklayer, and he employs the colorful language of that early culture in his writing.