Book Review: Resident Aliens (Hauerwas & Willimon)

Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian ColonyResident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony by Stanley M. Hauerwas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“The church is a colony, an island of one culture in the middle of another.  In baptism our citizenship is transferred from one dominion to another, and we become, in whatever culture we find ourselves, resident aliens.”  This is an accurate summary of Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon’s book titled, “Resident Aliens.”

In Resident Aliens, Hauerwas and Willimon draw out the idea that as Christians each and every one of us operate from a distinctively different set of values and a totally different ideology that stems from the community of faith and ultimately from the ministry of the Word.  From this place of alienation we then ask different questions, approach politics in a different fashion and hold to ethics and truth from a distinctively alien presuppositional framework.  

This is most significant due to the fact that the ideology of the world is constantly pressing in upon the church’s theological framework.  This example is fleshed out in the church’s failure and the ideologies of modernism triumphing in Germany through the Nazi Regime.  In Nazi Germany it is stated that “we experienced the ‘modern world,’ which we had so labored to understand and to become credible to…”  According to Haerwas and Willimon, the famous German Theologian Karl Barth, “was horrified that his church lacked the theological resources to stand against Hitler.”  This is inevitably the result of the church leaning heavily upon residency and not its alienation.

On another note of significance, Harerwas and Willimon also spend time helping the reader understand that with the advent of postmodernism (i.e. post-constantinian), that the church will continue to find itself in a more alien status.  Surprisingly Willimon and Haerwas seem to applaud the demise of the Constantinian worldview.  They state,
“The demise of the Constantinian worldview, the gradual decline of the notion that the church needs some sort of surrounding “Christian” culture to prop it up and mold its young, is not a death to lament.  It is an opportunity to celebrate.   The decline of the old Constantinian synthesis between the church and the world means that we American Christians are at last free to be faithful in a way that makes being a Christian today an exciting adventure...  Now our churches are free to embrace our roots, to resemble more closely the synagogue—a faith community that does not ask the world to do what it can only do for itself.”
Why this all matters is that the epistemology of the church matters.  The epistemology of the church is crucial for the average Christian.  Furthermore, the world needs the epistemology of the church.  In other words, the church does not need the world, but the world needs the church “because without the church the world does not know who it is.  The only way for the world to know that it is being redeemed is for the church to point to the Redeemer by being a redeemed people.  The way for the world to know that it needs redeeming, that it is broken and fallen, is for the church to enable the world to strike hard against something which is an alternative to what the world offers.”

One final note of caution, the emphasis of Harerwas and Willimon on the believing community may cause one to view doctrine as the personified social practices of the believing community rather than the expressions and teaching of the Word.  The community does not shape the Word rather it is the Word that shapes the community.

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