In his theological memoir, Hannah’s Child, theologian Stanley Hauerwas writes about his decision in the early-’80s to leave Notre Dame and accept a position at Duke Divinity School. Hauerwas had grown weary of the political infighting at Notre Dame and was intrigued by an impending offer from Duke. One factor that made his decision more difficult, however, was the prospect of leaving the small United Methodist church in South Bend to which he and his son belonged, Broadway United Methodist. He writes:
I think I was finally able to accept the position because of the church. After I had come back from the interview at Duke, I told the folks at Broadway about my situation at Notre Dame and that I might receive an offer from Duke. I asked them to pray for us. I then told them that I would do what they told me to do. God knows whether I was serious or not. After I received the call and letter officially offering me the position, I told the church that I now had to make up my mind, and my mind was in their hands. We prayed for guidance. They told me that after much discussion they thought it a good thing for me to go to Duke because there I would be in more direct service to the Methodist Church. They would let me go, however, only if I taught students at Duke what I had learned by being at Broadway. I have tried to keep that promise.†
This astonishes me. Forget for a moment that Hauerwas works in a church-related field. (After all, isn’t it safe to say that being holy is hardly a prerequisite for teaching at a theology school?) Here is someone at the top of his field—who, in the rarefied world of theology, is a rock star—trusting the collective faith and wisdom of his local church to decide whether or not to make a high-profile, high-status career move.
In the past, I’ve criticized Hauerwas’s exalted view of the church as hopelessly unrealistic. (If you don’t know anything about Hauerwas, let’s just say that he wants the church to look a lot more like the church in Acts chapter 2 than it currently does.) How are we supposed to be the church in the way the Hauerwas advocates without becoming Anabaptist separatists and turning our backs on the world? Is it possible for the church—I mean, the shabby little local church that argues about the type of flowers to put in the sanctuary—to play such a guiding role in the lives of its members?
But here’s Hauerwas, practicing what he preaches.
I’m not just saying this because my career is in the church, but I want church—my church, your church—to look more like Hauerwas’s church.
What do you think?
† Stanley Hauerwas, Hannah’s Child (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), 176.