Resident Aliens: Chapter 3, Part 1 (An Adventurous Colony)

We’re working our way through Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony by Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Williamson, published in 1989.

The church exists today as resident aliens, an adventurous colony in a society of unbelief. As a society of unbelief, Western culture is devoid of a sense of journey, of adventure, because it lacks belief in much more than the cultivation of an ever-shrinking horizon of self-preservation and self-expression.  (p. 49).

The authors introduce the theme that Christians are “resident aliens,” that is, we aren’t citizens of the USA or even this world but of heaven, living in this world in order to pursue an adventure laid before us by God himself. And this, they say, is both better and more exciting than the Western notion of how to live.

The American Experiment accomplished many great things, but the results are now not so great.

What we got was not self-freedom but self-centeredness, loneliness, superficiality, and harried consumerism. Free is not how many of our citizens feel—with our overstocked medicine cabinets, burglar alarms, vast ghettos, and drug culture. (p. 50).

Rather than finding salvation in Western culture or even democracy, we should see ourselves as a colony of heaven. But we must be more than a colony —

To be a colony implies that God’s people settle in, stake out a claim, build fences, and guard their turf. Of course, in a hostile world, a world simplistic enough not to believe but sophisticated enough to make its attacks on belief in the most subtle of ways, there is reason for the colony to be en guarde. Yet when the church stakes out a claim, this implies that we are somehow satisfied with our little comer of the world, our little cultivated garden of spirituality or introspection, or whatever crumbs are left after the wider society has used reason, science, politics, or whatever other dominant means it has of making sense of itself.

Our biblical story demands an offensive rather than defensive posture of the church. … Jesus Christ is the supreme act of divine intrusion into the world’s settled arrangements. … The message that sustains the colony is not for itself but for the whole world—the colony having significance only as God’s means for saving the whole world. The colony is God’s means of a major offensive against the world, for the world.  (p. 51).

The church and the Christians that make up the church form a colony, a beachhead, an outpost of heaven in a very unheavenly place — all for the purpose of changing the world.

When we are baptized, we (like the first disciples) jump on a moving train. … We become part of a journey that began long before we got here and shall continue long after we are gone. Too often, we have conceived of salvation—what God does to us in Jesus—as a purely personal decision, or a matter of finally getting our heads straight on basic beliefs, or of having some inner feelings of righteousness about ourselves and God, or of having our social attitudes readjusted. In this chapter we argue that salvation is not so much a new beginning but rather a beginning in the middle, so to speak. Faith begins, not in discovery, but in remembrance. The story began without us, as a story of the peculiar way God is redeeming the world, a story that invites us to come forth and be saved by sharing in the work of a new people whom God has created in Israel and Jesus. Such movement saves us by (1) placing us within an adventure that is nothing less than God’s purpose for the whole world, and (2) communally training us to fashion our lives in accordance with what is true rather than what is false. (p. 52; emphasis added).

The highlighted sentence impacted me when I first read it — and I’m still struggling to find a way communicate just what that means to me.  We are not starting from scratch. God has been working through his church for nearly 2,000 years — and there have been great leaders and servants throughout the ages, many long forgotten to all but God. And we are invited to join this adventure, to participate not only with the apostles, but with the martyrs killed by the Romans, with the great missionaries who converted Great Britain and northern Europe and much of Asia, with the Christians who ended the slave trade, who established humane mental institutions and most of the hospitals in this world. We get to be part of that! We get to be part of their community!

We not only rub shoulders with these heroes, but we get to participate in the adventure ourselves. We can all somehow or other participate in the Spirit’s work through the church to redeem the world. Like many of those I mention, your name may be forgotten to all but God, but fame is not the goal. Pleasing God is. And loving a lost and suffering world is. And we get to be a part of God’s plan to transform not only a few Christians but the entire Creation.

Early Christians, interestingly, began not with creedal speculation about the metaphysics of the Incarnation—that is, Christology abstracted from the Gospel accounts. They began with stories about Jesus, about those whose lives got caught up in his life. (p. 55; emphasis added).

This is big. The Gospel writers don’t begin by teaching the Trinity; they begin with story. They situate Jesus in God’s true story, going back to Creation, and they tell Jesus’ story. There are moral instruction and parables and history, but the goal is not a certain level of abstract knowledge but enough of an introduction to Jesus’ story so that we can enter his story, begin to follow him, and so learn about him.

We cannot know Jesus without following Jesus. Engagement with Jesus, as the misconceptions of his first disciples show, is necessary to understand Jesus. In a sense, we follow Jesus before we know Jesus. Furthermore, we know Jesus before we know ourselves. For how can we know the truth of ourselves as sinful and misunderstanding, but redeemed and empowered without our first being shown, as it was shown to his first disciples? (p. 55).

Again, this is big. We best learn about Jesus through following him, not reading about him. Yes, the reading is important — nearly essential — but the reading only helps us interpret what it means to follow Jesus. That is, we don’t really understand the meaning of forgiveness until we’ve needed to forgive someone, struggled to do so, and finally managed it. Then we know not only forgiveness but also what it must have been like for God and Jesus to redeem us by first forgiving us! Before the struggle, we might have been able to pass a three-page test on the doctrine of forgiveness, but despite our knowledge of the doctrine, we’d not truly know the meaning of forgiveness until we learn to forgive.

The authors then get personal —

Christians have children, in great part, in order to be able to tell our children the story. Fortunately for us, children love stories. It is our baptismal responsibility to tell this story to our young, to live it before them, to take time to be parents in a world that (though intent on blowing itself to bits) is God’s creation (a fact we would not know without this story). We have children as a witness that the future is not left up to us and that life, even in a threatening world, is worth living—and not because “Children are the hope of the future,” but because God is the hope of the future. If we lack good reasons for having children, we also lack good reasons for deciding not to have them.

Christians are free not to have children not because of most contemporary rationales (“I don’t want to be tied down.” “I would not bring children into this messed up world.”), but because we believe in the power of God to create a people through witness and conversion rather than through natural generation. (p. 60).

Our decisions — even our most personal, intimate decisions — are to be made in light of God’s story and our purposes in it. It’s not about loss of control; it’s about knowing why we are here and why we’ve been saved. It’s submission to God’s story — finding our place in the great adventure.




Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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5 Responses to Resident Aliens: Chapter 3, Part 1 (An Adventurous Colony)

  1. aBasnar says:

    Well – welcome to the Anabaptist worldview 😉

    About colonies:

    That’s the term used to describe Anabaptist settlements; there are about 400 Hutterite colonies in the USA and Canada, home of about 50000 souls (as they count). About 200.000 Pld Order Amish are there as well; I don’t know how many of the larger group of Mennonites are still distinct enough to be recognized as colonies.

    What some may (rightfully) critcize is their persistent use of our German language, which makes for some very nice conversations when I visit them, but is quite a hindrance for evangelism.

    On the other hand, they live a life-style that really stands out and is a testimony. THey reflect their heavely citicenship remarkably.

    But they are not here to change the world – for the Anabaptist understanding of world is too realistic (due to cenuries of persecution). I doubt that it is our caling to make this world a better place, but our “colonies” shall demonstrate how life under heavenly government does look (and feel). Therefore separation from the world and its ways is essential. This includes Non-Resistance and Non-Participation in war and politics, and even down to the way we dress and keep our families in heavenly order.

    Churches of Christ used to be this way, too, at least to a large degree. From the 1800s up to the beginning of WWII. What got lost? How did it get lost? Why?

    One of the let-downs after I joined the churches of Christ was that in this respect they are not different from amy other mainline church …


  2. Enterprise says:

    This is personal. It really is. Words get co-opted by one group or another down through the years and it sometimes confuses what we say and mean. In reading this post, I am more convinced that we as Christians need to be about the job that Christ called us for.
    To show forth his excellencies! To be a light! To be a holy people of God and I love the KJV use of the word “peculiar people”
    I have taken a principle from 1 Cor 7 where Paul says to remain in whatever state you are in…and later encourages slaves to become free if it is possible (but to to fret if it is not) and have made this point:

    We are first and foremost to serve God and if our calling to His kingdom takes place at age 15 or 95, we are to use whatever state we are in to serve him. Married or unmarried, hi school student or PHD, employee or employer.
    Yet, this does not mean that we cannot improve ourselves since we don’t DO church all the time, but we are to do Christ all the time. If we can make improvements in our lifes (being free, satisfying those cravings we can’t while single by marrying, getting an education) then we should do so.

    However, we should count the cost. To become a medical doctor with a specialty takes a long time. 4 years for a B.A., 4 in medical school, 2 years for an internship and 2 years for a specilaty. (I hope I have those numbers correct) That is 12 years of your life.

    The problem is NOT the 12 years. The problem is the intensity of those 12 years. The first 4 are normal, the next 4 may be normal in time constraints too but those last 4 are going to be a lot of time spent in that pursuit.

    Question: What is your spiritual relationship with God doing during that time? Of course, who am I to judge another person’s decision to become a Doctor or a Military general or a Football star. the answer is “I am not the person to judge’

    However, we have to decide with clear vision (As clear as possible)…If I am going to work 60 or 80 hours every week for 4 to 6 years, will it have an impact on my Christian faith? What is the WHY of why I am doing it? To serve God, Good money? or some other reason?

    I think most of the times when we say that we are going to pray for God’s help in something, we pray and then do what ever we were planning on doing in the first place. As long as I said one or two prayers (totaling 30 seconds) then God will just shut the door if he doesn’ t want me going that way. Ha!

    We need to teach/train our children to consider carefully what course they pursue if they have already given their life to Christ. God is not the co pilot, he is the pilot. In that way, He charts the course, not us. If he can make a shepherd boy king, he can certainly do great things in our lifes.

    Have you ever noticed that the Bible says ‘with food and clothing’ we will be content. Not with shelter, nice car and a PHD. I am sure that I am rambling a bit but these and other thoughts occurred to me while reading this post or were brought to my rememberence.

    Seek first the Kingdom of God and HIs righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.

  3. abasnar says:

    Well said, Enterprise. It reminds me on the following text:

    Rom 12:16 (also KJV) Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.

    Does not sound like: “Go for perishable fame and gold!”


  4. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    You are quite perceptive. Hauerwas and Willimon are Methodists who teach a Neo-Anabaptist theology, heavily influenced by Mennonite John Howard Yoder. The Churches of Christ proudly claim the Anabaptists of the Reformation as spiritual ancestors, because they practiced believer baptism and were free churches, that is, not state churches. Well, the Anabaptists are back and making a lot of sense.

  5. abasnar says:

    Do you know “The Anabaptist Vision” by Harold S. Bender (written in 1944)?

    In this he writes (which fits to the topic of your post):

    The Anabaptist vision may be further clarified by comparison of the social ethics of the four main Christian groups of the Reformation period, Catholic, Calvinist, Lutheran, and Anabaptist. Catholic and Calvinist alike were optimistic about the world, agreeing that the world can be redeemed; they held that the entire social order can be brought under the sovereignty of God and Christianized, although they used different means to attain this goal. Lutheran and Anabaptist were pessimistic about the world, denying the possibility of Christianizing the entire social order; but the consequent attitudes of these two groups toward the social order were diametrically opposed. Lutheranism said that since the Christian must live in a world order that remains sinful, he must make a compromise with it. As a citizen he cannot avoid participation in the evil of the world, for instance in making war, and for this his only recourse is to seek forgiveness by the grace of God; only within his personal private
    experience can the Christian truly Christianize his life. The Anabaptist rejected this view completely. Since for him no compromise dare be made with evil, the Christian may in no circumstance participate in any conduct in the existing social order which is contrary to the spirit and teaching of Christ and the apostolic practice. He must consequently withdraw from the worldly system and create a Christian social order within the fellowship of the church brotherhood. Extension of this Christian order by the conversion of individuals and their transfer out of the world into the church is the only way by which progress can be made in Christianizing the social order.


    (in his essay you’ll find a number of significant quotations from the early Anabatists of the 1500s)

    P.S. at the end the significance of Bender’s work is sumemd up as follows (bold letters are mine):

    Among the most powerful ideas are those which link a meaningful past to a purposeful future. Bender’s influential 1944 essay, “The Anabaptist Vision,” did just that. It forged Mennonites into a community of memory rooted in the 16th century, a community with strong religious impulses embodied in nonviolent service, devout discipleship, and a primary identity with the people of God, the church. (From the biography by Albert N. Keim.)

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