I don’t know that I could rightly identify as a Hauerwasian. I am a Calvinist, and I am quite happy to be in that camp. However, I knew he was the real deal when I read a quote that’s often attributed to him – “Jesus is Lord, everything else is bullsh*t.” When I first read that I knew I had to, at the very least, discover his background. After all, what is it that would cause him to such a conclusion and state it in the way that he did?
Hauerwas is a Texan by birth and the son of a bricklayer by trade. Through the course of certain life events (I’ll let you read the book to find out what those events are) he would end up in Divinity School not even knowing whether or not he was a Christian.
Maybe I’m wrong in what I’m about to say or maybe I’m just reading myself too much into his story, but it seems to me that in this book, Hauerwas not only takes us on his journey of faith but also provides an often critical commentary on Christendom in America from his raising at Pleasant Mound Methodist Church in rural Texas to his current home at the Church of the Holy Family in North Carolina, and everywhere in between.
For example, here’s an excerpt from Chapter 1.
“Pleasant Mound Methodist was Methodist, but like most folks in that area we were really Baptist,
(As the pastor of a Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Arkansas, I feel that deeply. 😏)
which meant that even though you had been baptized and become a member of the church, you still had the 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 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.”
With this simple paragraph, Hauerwas puts into perspective and reveals that how we view corporate church gatherings in the South is just plain weird. (After all, the early church didn’t have hour long hymn singings from their Heavenly Highway Hymnal in the first few centuries. 😏)
As we follow Hauerwas up into the north (or as we might call it “Yankee territory”) he seems more at home in the churches in the north where ideas like church membership and the sacraments are treated with more gravity. Although Pleasant Mound (later named Pleasant Grove) would always be a special place, sometimes the place you call ‘home’ changes.
I can relate to that. My grandfather was the pastor at an independent Full Gospel church in a small town called Blackwell. Blackwell was known for it’s bar and two liquor stores. Hardly anyone knew that there were churches there, and honestly, I think that the churches were to blame for their own obscurity. God knows there was no shortage of people there to love and share Jesus with.
However, that little church was my home. The church disbanded and we left, but to this day, I still take drives to see the building and reflect on that wonderful place that I called home.
One of the most remarkable things that I was able to take from this book is how Hauerwas dealt with his first wife, Anne. His wife had some severe mental sicknesses that caused her to be irrational and often caused her to go into fits where she believed that she was in love with other men. Eventually, this led to their divorce, but for the time that they were married it was amazing to read about how gracefully and patiently he dealt with her. I think the reason that he put up with her behavior as long as he did was because they had a son together, and he was trying to keep the family together for his sake.
As someone who has been close to someone with severe mental disorders, his experience has informed my own, and has been a helpful guide for me in dealing with people who have mental illnesses but refuse help or treatment. Although, I don’t think Hauerwas would believe his work to be instructional, it truly has been instructional for me.
One other thing I would like to note about this work before I close out this review is his treatment of the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001.
“I knew we were in deep theological trouble as soon as politicians and commentators made the claim that September 11th had forever changed the world. Most Americans, Christian and non-Christian, quickly concluded that September 11th was a decisive event. That was exactly the problem. For Christians, the decisive change in the world, the apocalyptic event that transformed how all other events are to be understood, occurred in A.D. 33. Having spent decades reading Yoder and four years writing the Gifford Lectures, it was clear to me that September 11th had to be considered in the light of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.”
Time magazine would ask Hauerwas to write an article about the war on terror for their February 23, 2003 issue. For context: Stanley Hauerwas is an advocate of Christian non-violence. This means all war, from his perspective, is evil and can in no way be considered just so his perspective would be an altogether different one from many of the Falwell’s, Graham’s, and Jeffress’s of the nation who proudly made sure their voice was heard.
Here’s an excerpt from his article.
“G. K. Chesterton once observed that America is a nation with the soul of a church. Bush’s use of religious rhetoric seems to confirm this view. None of this is good news for Christians, however, because it tempts us to confuse Christianity with America. As a result, Christians fail to be what God has called us to be: agents of truthful speech in a world of mendacity. The identification of cross and flag after September 11th needs to be called what it is: idolatry. We are often told that America is a great country and that Americans are a good people. I am willing to believe that Americans are a good people. I am willing to believe that Americans wants to be good, but goodness requires that we refuse to lie to ourselves and our neighbors about the assumed righteousness of our cause. That the world is dangerous should not be surprising news to Christians who are told at the beginning of Lent that we are dust. If Christians could remember that we have not been created to live forever, we might be able to help ourselves and our non-Christian brothers and sisters to speak more modestly and, thus, more truthfully and save ourselves from the alleged necessity of a war against “evil.”
Although I’m not certain if I would call myself a pacifist or an advocate of Christian non-violence, I can definitely sympathize with his arguments, and when I read this paragraph I gave it a loud and hearty “AMEN!”
Hauerwas concludes his book by saying that his life was made possible by people who prayed for him. I find that statement to be true in my own life. Like Hauerwas, my life is a result of the prayers of my family. I don’t think I would be who I am had not my grandparents prayed for God work in and through my life.
So, would I recommend this book? If you don’t have the patience to wade through talk about the academic politics, then run far, far away, but you would like to read a compelling story about a theologian finding himself in the world of theology and academia, then by all means, read. I thoroughly enjoyed this work, but I also know that not everyone enjoys the same things that I do.
But if you decide to try it out and can’t wade through the politics and academic language, then just read the first two chapters, and then jump to the back of the book and read the last three chapters. I promise, you’ll get something positive out of it.