I recently finished the book Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon (see: Amazon link). It was the 25th anniversary of the book, so I was unsure how it would stand up over the years. I was then surprised how encouraged and inspired I was as I read about the radical nature of what the church is to be in a culture. In case the title confuses you, here is where it comes from: “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 important book for the American church today, as I believe our sense of nationalism is the greatest threat to our ability to live as the church. While many people express sadness at the way things are developing regarding the church and our culture, I (and the authors) see it differently. “The demise of the Constantinian world view, 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.”
With that in mind, here are a few of my favorite passages in the book:
The theologian’s job is not to make the gospel credible to the modern world, but to make the world credible to the gospel.
Christianity is an invitation to be part of an alien people who make a difference because they see something that cannot otherwise be seen without Christ. Right living is more the challenge than right thinking. The challenge is not the intellectual one but the political one—the creation of a new people who have aligned themselves with the seismic shift that has occurred in the world since Christ.
That which makes the church “radical” and forever “new” is not that the church tends to lean toward the left on most social issues, but rather that the church knows Jesus whereas the world does not.
We argue that the political task of Christians is to be the church rather than to transform the world. One reason why it is not enough to say that our first task is to make the world better is that we Christians have no other means of accurately understanding the world and rightly interpreting the world except by way of the church.
The church is the one political entity in our culture that is global, transnational, transcultural.
The confessing church seeks the visible church, a place, clearly visible to the world, in which people are faithful to their promises, love their enemies, tell the truth, honor the poor, suffer for righteousness, and thereby testify to the amazing community-creating power of God. The confessing church has no interest in withdrawing from the world, but it is not surprised when its witness evokes hostility from the world.
We would like a church that again asserts that God, not nations, rules the world, that the boundaries of God’s kingdom transcend those of Caesar, and that the main political task of the church is the formation of people who see clearly the cost of discipleship and are willing to pay the price.
The most interesting, creative, political solutions we Christians have to offer our troubled society are not new laws, advice to Congress, or increased funding for social programs—although we may find ourselves supporting such national efforts. The most creative social strategy we have to offer is the church. Here we show the world a manner of life the world can never achieve through social coercion or governmental action. We serve the world by showing it something that it is not, namely, a place where God is forming a family out of strangers.
The basis for the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount is not what works but rather the way God is. Cheek-turning is not advocated as what works (it usually does not), but advocated because this is the way God is—God is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. This is not a strategem for getting what we want but the only manner of life available, now that, in Jesus, we have seen what God wants. We seek reconciliation with the neighbor, not because we will feel so much better afterward, but because reconciliation is what God is doing in the world in the Christ.
From a Christian point of view, the world needs the church, not to help the world run more smoothly or to make the world a better and safer place for Christians to live. Rather, 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.
The gospel is so demanding that it not only expects us to be willing to suffer for its truth but also supposes those we love will have to suffer.
The gospel gives us something worth dying for and sacrificing our loved ones for as opposed to the nation’s attempt to give us something for which it is worthy killing.