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20 February 2008

The Rt Revd Dr Peter Selby writes

In dialogue: Professor Hardy

In dialogue: Professor Hardy

:TWO challenges, at least, face those undertaking theology about the world and God’s ways with it. In itself, the task is demanding in its depth and range, if it is to be done adequately. Moreover, in church circles, the serious theologian may encounter a failure of recognition when he or she tries to replace church talk — where familiarity is often more acceptable than deep engagement — with language that struggles to maintain contact with the disciplines of science, economics, and politics, as well as with faith.

Practitioners of this kind of theology are bent on providing us with the intellectual tools for “worldly holiness”, as Bonhoeffer called it. This concept is both puzzling and essential for those who believe in the incarnation.

Professor Dan Hardy, who died on 15 November, aged 77, has left a story of deep and memorable conversation, rejecting all superficial and easy solutions, demanding, and yet full of friendship.

The initial impression might be of earnestness; but at the heart of that community of theological friendship was a joy before God, and an outcome in the praise of God, that took people and their circumstances, humankind and its challenges, and the Church and its opportunities seriously.

Born in New York, Dan Hardy acquired his lifelong commitment to the Anglican tradition of worship at school. It was given depth and meaning in his student days at Haverford, a Quaker college.

Central to his theological training at the General Theological Seminary was a rhythm of worship that invited its participants deeper into what he often spoke of as God’s “intensity”. He was delighted recently to be awarded an honorary DD by that institution.

He served his first spell in ordained ministry as an associate priest in Greenwich, Connecticut. He had a vigorous ministry to a youth group, and helped to design a new church. This was also where he met Perrin, his wife.

After teaching for a while at the General Seminary, where the first of their four children was born, he came to Oxford in 1960 for postgraduate study, a context he found frustratingly limited, until he obtained a post in the Department of Theology in Birmingham.

There for more than two decades, he made a remarkable contribution to the development in that department of ways of being theologians which maintained that twofold contact with the life of the world and the language and content of theology.

At the same time, Dan Hardy served church life locally and nationally. He was the chief architect of probably the most radical reconstruction of theological education in recent times. He presided over the deliberations that in 1987 produced a famous paper, Education for the Church’s Ministry, generally known modestly by its reference number as ACCM 22, whose acceptance freed the Church of England’s institutions of theological learning from central control.

He also took a keen part in the establishment of the Simon of Cyrene Theological Institute, which was committed to taking the Black Christian experience in Britain seriously.

These initiatives can be seen as deeply connected with the depth and intensity of his theological researches.

In 1986, he became Van Mildert Professor at Durham University, and a Canon of Durham Cathedral. There, he was able to integrate the opportunities of teaching on Church and ministry with those of the worshipping life of the Cathedral. In 1990, however, as the result of an approach from the Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton, he returned to his native land to direct the Center for most of the 1990s, before retiring to Cambridge. There he continued to teach in the faculty, and in particular supported the challenging task of engaging with other faiths.

Fittingly, at Dan’s request, two people in the early part of their research career presided at his funeral, and the Jewish theologian Peter Ochs gave the address.

Dan Hardy was a passionate believer in, and shrewd observer of, the Anglican Communion. On all issues, he was his own man. He was a very special enabler of theological conversation, and two images stand out as a reminder of that.

The Society for the Study of Theology was a place where Dan was to be found each year. He would ask difficult questions, deepen the enquiry, and support initiatives that made that society an inter-generational gathering of a community of intellectual interest, moving back and forth between the Church and the academy.

He served the society as its President, but, more than that, attended with the faithfulness and commitment of a person convinced that theology was a profound necessity for the Church.

The second image is the Festschrift produced by friends in his honour: Essentials of Christian Community. Unusually, he was invited to include in the volume his own response to the 20 essays it contained. His article, “A Magnificent Complexity: Letting God be God in Church, society and creation”, is a wonderful memorial to a person marvelling in the extensiveness of God’s action, the intensity of God’s relation with humankind, and the role of the Church in its witness to that.

More than that: the article shows Dan where he truly belongs, at the centre of theological conversation with his friends.

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