The Taser's Edge

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

This book so makes me want to be a theologian.  It so makes me want to trust God, because at its heart, it is a book about how God faithfully forms us into saints and witnesses to the person and work of Christ.  Really admirable.

I came to Duke Divinity in 2006 having not read a word of Hauerwas, having barely heard his name.  While at Duke, I took a class with him, read one of his books and a handful of articles.  Other faculty also made clear their opinions on his work.  But reading Hannah’s Child reminded me once again how much Hauerwas has shaped Duke Divinity and every student who goes through it.

It’s certainly interesting to think of myself as part of his legacy even though I am by no means a disciple.  On his most famous stance for instance, Christian pacifism, I can only say I ‘lean toward’ pacifism and don’t feel capable of making a ‘decision.’  Furthermore, I don’t think it any accident that Hauerwas came of age as a theologian and came to embrace pacifism during the Vietnam War while Reinhold Niebuhr came of age as a theologian and came to reject pacifism during World War II.  Those are wholly different circumstances in which to understand what Christianity means for those who live in this world.

On another core piece of his work, a return to the virtue tradition, I love many of his ideas and find myself often repeating his emphases and language as I describe my own conception of how Christians become Christian, but I find that he lacks an overt pneumatology which I believe any account of the Christian life needs.

When I have been inside Hauerwas’ work for any length of time (2 books and 1 course), I have always had a vague sense that I can’t quite get on board wholeheartedly.  In the case of Hauerwas’ book with Charles Pinches on the virtues and Hauerwas’ class on the virtues, I came to the conclusion already mentioned: he leaves out the needed piece of a description of the work of the Holy Spirit.

In the case of Hannah’s Child, the part that leaves me unsettled is that I am a naturally introspective person reading a memoir by a man who at least claims to eschew introspection, and who provides an account of his life in which he says he is too busy for introspection even while doing it.  Furthermore, although the book is subtitled, A Theologian’s Memoir, it would just as aptly be named A Theological Memoir.  Duke graduates, whether they love or hate Hauerwas’ work, are ‘supposed to’ reflect on the world around them through a theological lens, and this is exactly what Hauerwas does here.  I personally wonder, however, whether one of the largest self-deceptions possible in self-reflection is exactly that assigning of theological meaning to our life experiences.  (Conversely, theological reflection can also be one of the best practices in our lives.)

My current mental review of the book compares it to Augustine’s Confessions.  Both it and Hannah’s Child could bear the subtitle, A Theological Memoir.  Both speak of the work of God as at times despite us and at times entirely indistinguishable from our own work in the world.  Both invite me to loosen my grip on trying to control the long-term or the day-to-day of my life, even toward the admirable goal of seeking God.

I would highly recommend this book, but with the caveat that if you know some contemporary theology you will get much more out of it (something which could also be said of knowing some theology when approaching Augustine’s own ‘theologian’s memoir’).


Update: Theophiliacs tells me this–“originally Hauerwas had wanted the subtitle to be ‘A Theological Memoir’ rather than ‘A Theologians Memoir’ but Eerdmans didn’t think it would sell well.”