We’re working our way through Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony by Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Williamson, published in 1989.
You know, it occurred to me the other day that most of the really good books weren’t published yesterday. Rather than serving the interests on the publishing industry and talking about the newest books, it might be more helpful to work through some great books. And most of the new books aren’t great. Some will be, God willing, but most of the great books aren’t brand new. Some aren’t even still in print.
Chapter 1, Part 2
Christianity is more than a matter of a new understanding. 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.
These are carefully wrought sentences. Notice the elements:
* Christian are “part of an alien people.” “Alien” meaning citizens of heaven, not the USA or Nigeria or Australia. We are strangers in a strange land. If we are citizens of both, then we’d not be aliens. Therefore, there is something about heavenly citizenship that is radically different from earthly citizenship, so much so that we become aliens in the country that issues our passport.
* Christian make a difference. Christians don’t hide in a monastery chanting prayers. They affect the world around them. Like leaven.
* Christians see things that can only be seen in Christ. Christ gives us the ability to perceive the world in ways that the world does not perceive.
* Christianity is more about right living than right thinking.
* Right living is political because Christians are aligned with Jesus and the changes he brought.
The authors will add much more depth to these ideas, but they are obviously important ideas at the outset. Being an alien people is obviously a politically significant fact. Ask any alien living in the US if his alien status has political implications! The implications for Christians aren’t yet made clear by the authors, but surely there are implications!
Each age must come, fresh and new, to the realization that God, not nations, rules the world. This we can know, not through accommodation, but through conversion. As Barth noted, sanctification and justification go hand in hand. We cannot understand the world until we are transformed into persons who can use the language of faith to describe the world right. Everyone does not already know what we mean when we speak of prayer. Everyone does not already believe that he or she is a sinner. We must be taught that we sin. That is, we must be transformed by the vision of a God who is righteous and just, who judges us on the basis of something more significant than merely what feels right for us. ..
If the world is basically Christian, then one need not worry about the church. Conversion, detoxification, and transformation are not needed. All that is needed is a slight change of mind, an inner change of heart, a few new insights.
Sounds like church, doesn’t it? When was the last time you sat in a church meeting or class and discussed how to “detoxify” the membership from their worldliness? Compare that to the number of classes and sermons you’ve heard that pressed for a “slight change of mind, an inner change of the heart.” The authors think the church isn’t radical enough, isn’t far enough removed from the world that surounds it, because it picked up habits of thought years ago when the church and the world tried to be best friends.
No more nostalgia for the 1950s, when the government supported the church. It was in the 1950s that many pulpits were filled with the argument that black people don’t have souls. It was in the 1930s and 40s that the German church acquiesced in the persecution of Jews. Indeed, in the US, many country clubs banned Jews until at least the 1970s — and these clubs were filled with church-going Christians.
A church that would rather support the status quo than Jesus isn’t much of a church. It’s really a country club with a cross on top for decoration.
That evening, when the Fox Theater opened for business on Sunday, the world of Constantine in Greenville ended. The question about the relationship between the church and the world was rephrased. A world, constructed and kept secure since Constantine, collapsed. Everything needed to be reexamined, and the failure of the old answers, seen now more clearly by the glow of the furnaces at Dachau and the fires of Hiroshima, demanded new questions. The world had shifted. Mainline American Protestantism, as is often the case, plodded wearily along as if nothing had changed. Like an aging dowager, living in a decaying mansion on the edge of town, bankrupt and penniless, house decaying around her but acting as if her family still controlled the city, our theologians and church leaders continued to think and act as if we were in charge, as if the old arrangements were still valid.
Our aim is to challenge those assumptions and to show what a marvelous opportunity awaits those pastors and laity who sense what an adventure it is to be the church, people who reside here and now, but who live here as aliens, people who know that, while we live here, “our commonwealth is in heaven.”