“Theologians seldom write memoirs.” This Stanley Hauerwas concedes in a follow-up to his latest book, Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir. It is precisely this sentiment that makes the entire project intriguing. Hauerwas, named “America’s best theologian” by Time magazine in 2001, “has made himself a very fine career as an iconoclastic ethicist, condemning assimilationist Christianity, academic ‘respectability,’ the military, ill treatment of the differently-abled, and any number of other contemporary issues where Christian mediocrity is laid bare,” writes Jack Downey, a doctoral candidate in Theology at Fordham University, who reviews Hannah’s Child and tries to figure out why, not just a theologian, but this theologian in particular has written a memoir:
Hannah’s Child chronicles Hauerwas’ attempt to render himself intelligible, to fight his own natural impulse to reconstruct his narrative in the search for unity. It is not a classic apologia, and Hauerwas commendably resists the tectonic impulse to employ Augustine’s template for the Christian memoir as a kind of autobiographical Mad Libs. His story is a chronicle of his professional development, his Christian formation, and perhaps most of all, an hommage to friends and family who have mentored and nourished him throughout the course. It is also a story of abuse and survival. Hauerwas’ struggle to reconcile himself to himself skates just below the surface of these chapters. Whether “Stanley Hauerwas” really qualifies as famous depends on what circles you travel in, but his inability to avoid the fact that he is somebody in the theological world forces him to address his intellectual luggage, one way or the other. Whether he can, in fact, see himself clearly, free from self-deception, determines his success as a Christian witness. While Hauerwas is not able to fully dismantle his own theological celebrity, his portrait becomes increasingly lucid throughout Hannah’s Child, and hints that the very process of memoir composition has, for him, adopted the character of spiritual exercise.
Hauerwas himself, in the Huffington Post piece, discusses the peculiarity of his position and his beliefs:
The response I find most surprising is the surprise many express about my surprise that I am a Christian.
That a theologian should be surprised about being a Christian may seem strange, particularly among folk who have little sympathy with Christianity. They often assume that theologians by definition must believe in what they think about. That, of course, is a deep mistake made, particularly in recent times. Many who become theologians in our time think their task is to try to determine how much of what has passed for Christianity they still need to believe and yet still be able to think of themselves as Christians. I discovered, however, that I did not know enough about Christianity to know what I was disbelieving.