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Resident Aliens: A Provocative Christian Assessment of Culture and Ministry for People Who Know that Something is Wrong Paperback – September 1, 1989
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About the Author
Stanley Hauerwas is the Gilbert Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics in the Divinity School at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina. He has written a voluminous number of articles, authored and edited many books, and has been the subject of other theologians' writing and interest. He has been a board member of the Society of Christian Ethics, Associate Editor of a number of Christian journals and periodicals, and frequent lecturer at campuses across the country.
Feeling most at home behind a pulpit, Bishop William H. Willimon’s deepest calling is to be a preacher and truth-teller of Jesus Christ. Willimon is Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry at Duke University Divinity School and retired Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of The United Methodist Church, after serving for 20 years as faculty member and Dean of the Chapel at Duke University. He continues to give lectures and teach at universities around the world. Willimon earned a doctoral degree from Emory University and has been honored with 13 additional doctorates.
Top Customer Reviews
This is a disconcerting challenge to those of us who try to be Christians. Even if one doesn't completely agree with Hauerwas and Willimon--in fact, even if one outright disagrees with them--their message deserves serious consideration. In grappling with the thorny question of how to live in the world without being of the world--that is, how to be "resident aliens"--they force us to reconsider our commitment to the good news.
One of the more interesting aspects of the book is a theme that Hauerwas has discussed in several of his other books: ethics is primarily a way of seeing the world rather than an objective, rational enterprise. All ethical systems presuppose a view of reality (even the ones that claim to be rational), and this means that in order to get to the heart of a particular ethics, one must examine the tradition from which it comes. Hauerwas and Willimon use this model to argue that Christian ethics, which is based on the eschatological tradition outlined in the Sermon on the Mount, simply can't accommodate ethical principles generated in nongospel traditions. Attempts to do so are misguided.
Read this book. It will upset you, as it has upset me. But it's a good upset.
I was startled to find that he had a whole new way of looking at things that I never really quite thought of as lucidly as he and Willimon have. Not only does he highly criticize the church for continually buying in to a Constantinian view of the church, he even critiques such great Theologians as Neibuhr! When someone does that, they either are supremely misinformed or have something very thoughtful to say, and, indeed this book does the latter.
Resident Aliens will make you see the church in a whole new light. Members of congregations and pastors alike must read this book as I think it would impact you ministry for God more than any other "seeker friendly" or "purpose-driven" book could possibly do. It particularly is a book that both uplifts and criticized the role of a pastor in a church.
While often bleak, Hauerwas and Willimon are brutally honest in the church impotence in BEING the church and instead has often simply become little different than a club where people come to get their "needs" met. The colony image, while not perfect, is challenging as it highlights our need to care for one another, to be, as Rodney Clapp says, "A Peculiar People", and to have our ethics driven by a biblical community, not a national idea of "rights" and "liberties".
If I could suggest a book to read for Christians this year, this would be it! Unfortunately, this book has been out for years and I do not see that it has had the impact that it should have. When the full weight of the reality of the post-Christian society we live in in the West hits us, books like this will be our saving grace. Either that, or we compromise until we become indistinguishable from the people around us.
They suggest that it is insufficient for the church to merely be an institution that tries to make the world a better place. And they find it to be equally unsatisfying for the church to simply try to minimize the discomfort that church-goers and would-be Christians experience in this individualistically-driven and materialistically-obsessed culture. They propose that the way for the church to be a Christian colony in a world that does not know God is to simply "be the church."
It is in this solution phase that Hauerwas and Willimon left me seriously wanting more. They are quite adept at picking apart a host of operating systems and philosophical constructs that many of us use to envision the church, ultimately to the detriment of the work of the church. But when they move into their proposed alternative (which they seemed to attempt at multiple points throughout the book), I was left in a world of abstraction. They kept returning to the idea that the church needs to be the church (without expecting the non-church world to function like the church). And as much as I embrace this general concept, they did very little to help me understand or picture what that means from their vantage point. The most concrete idea that appeared in several places was the suggestion that the church out to be a place of complete (and sometimes brutal) honesty. And as much as I agree, I do not think that being mere truth-speakers is a sufficiently holistic expression of following Christ upon which to base the church. I don't know what they think the church should be.
As a prospective pastor (and therefore, targeted audience for this book), I wanted to know how they recommend that pastors lead a church as a Christian colony? They seem to value preaching, but they are very critical of all of the ways that we have been taught to communicate from the pulpit (careful biblical exegesis, relevance, etc.) other than story-telling. They do not seem to think that pastors should have a vision and try to lead the congregation towards that vision, at least not coming out of seminary ripe with bad ideas of ecclesiology. They do not seem to think that pastors should respond to the needs of their congregants, as these people are saturated with individualistic and consumeristic dogma. They do not seem to think that pastors should care about ministering to a world in need, as social justice is just another reflection of the world's solution system.
To their credit, Hauerwas and Willimon actually manage to come across as relatively even-handed critics, in the sense that they seem to utterly disdain everything and everyone not named Karl Barth. (They are especially critical of anyone named Neibuhr.) But I found their sweeping negativity to be increasingly unhelpful as the book progressed. As accurate as their critiques may be, I found their work to be seriously lacking on the solution side of their thesis and much less poignant than it might have otherwise been had they more intentionally and specifically described what life in the Christian colony should actually look like. Maybe the picture of their hope for the church was painted in the midst of their abstract language, but I struggled to see that painting with any clarity.