Resident Aliens: Chapter 3, Part 2 (Revolution)

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

Christian ethics, as a cultivation of those virtues needed to keep us on the journey, are the ethics of revolution. Revolutionaries, whose goal is nothing less than the transformation of society through revolution, have little patience with those among them who are self-indulgent, and they have no difficulty disciplining such people. The discipline they demand of themselves is a means of directing the others to what is true and good.  (p. 62).

When was the last time you heard a sermon preached along these lines? But do they sound like Jesus? Was Jesus hard on the self-indulgent? Did he expect such people to be disciplined? Did he set an example of non-self-indulgence?

Indeed, the scriptures tell us that the essence of being Christlike is service, submission, and sacrifice — the very opposite of self-indulgent.

Having no use for such bourgeois virtues as tolerance, open-mindedness, and inclusiveness (which the revolutionary knows are usually cover-ups that allow the powerful to maintain social equilibrium rather than to be confronted and then to change), revolutionaries value honesty and confrontation—painful though they may be. (p. 63).

Ponder this one for a while. In modern America, we are taught tolerance, open-mindedness, and inclusiveness, but the authors declare these cover-ups for preservation of the social equilibrium. True?

Tolerance can be an excuse for not calling sin “sin.” It can be an excuse for not calling self-indulgence and even self-destructive behavior wrong. Indeed, such ideals can cause us to become enablers, helping those in need by feeding and clothing them while never bothering to call them to a better life — or even eternal life. And this kind of “Christianity,” this kind of “social justice,” only serves to make the giver feel better about himself.

Enabling sin and self-destructive behavior is to be a party to sin and self-destructive behavior. But it sure feels good to give money away to a poor person — even when you’re funding the next hit of crack. Just be careful to leave quickly enough not to see how the money is used. Comfort yourself with the notion that we aren’t called to judge how someone uses what we give them, only to give away the Lord’s money.

Christian ethics makes no sense apart from the recognition that we are also on an adventuresome journey which requires a peculiar set of virtues. For example, when Christians discuss sex, it often sounds as if we are somehow “against sex. ” What we fail to make clear is that sexual passion (the good gifts of God’s creation) is now subservient to the demanding business of maintaining a revolutionary community in a world that often uses sex as a means of momentarily anesthetizing or distracting people from the basic vacuity of their lives. When the only contemporary means of self-transcendence is orgasm, we Christians are going to have a tough time convincing people that it would be nicer if they would not be promiscuous. (p. 63).

You see, Christian ethics don’t make sense to non-Christians. Why deny yourself sex if you aren’t a Christian? Why be sober? Why not escape misery through drugs? We’re so used to the Constantinian assumption that all are Christians that we’ve forgotten why we have morals! It’s not just that our morals are commanded by God and that all are subject to God — as true as that is. It’s that our morals make sense for those engaged in God’s mission.

We don’t want to escape through drugs, alcohol, and sex because escape doesn’t accomplish God’s purposes. Indeed, escape frustrates God’s purposes by removing the motivation to actually get involved and help people. It’s too trite to say the Christianity provides “a better high,” but it does — for those who are actually engaged in the adventure of the story. The assembly, you see, isn’t about gaining an experience — a high — that allows us to escape. No, the assembly is to encourage us to engage and transform, to be involved, to see the world as God sees it. It’s not a moment of respite but a time of preparation for adventure.

A journey requires not only an end, a goal, but also the ability to keep at it—constancy. Travelers, in the midst of the vicissitudes of the journey, learn to trust one another when the going is rough. …

The modern world represents a particular kind of threat to the integrity of the personality, namely, that our propensity to change direction, to break our commitments, is made into a virtue. We call our pathological inconstancy “Passages,” “Adult Development.”  (p. 64).

Our children are marrying later and later for fear of making a commitment, of being tied down. Our members refuse to sign church covenants or even to place membership. They want to keep their options open. Commitment is perceived as a loss of freedom.

We see this in the difficulty small groups have in getting members to keep their commitments to bring the three-bean casserole. It’s hard to count on volunteers to show as nursery workers. Ministry leaders are constantly frustrated by how unreliable Christians can be.

You see, we are consumers not owners. We attend church for what we can get out of it. We volunteer out of guilt and obligation. We don’t see service as opportunity and joy. We don’t see staffing the nursery as a ministry that can bring the damned to Jesus. We don’t see small groups as a way to change people and so change the world. We can’t see past ourselves because we are selfish, narcissistic, and uncommitted.

And so we have to preach the Great Adventure, the Story. We have to give our members a vision — not just a 15-words-or-less slogan but a picture of what things could be like and how each one of us fits in it. Vision is not vision unless it can be seen.

I can’t abide vision statements. They all sound alike, and they’re all pretty trite. Most are copied from Saddleback based on where the church was 30 years ago. That’s not what we need today. Today, we need to see how it all fits together, and how bringing the three-bean casserole just because I said I would helps change the world from hell to a colony of heaven. (And it really does. You just have to think about it.) We need to see how it is that each one of us matters in the Grand Scheme of Things, that is, in God’s Story.


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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6 Responses to Resident Aliens: Chapter 3, Part 2 (Revolution)

  1. JMF says:

    Wow, Jay! You didn’t hesitate to bring the pain today!! 🙂

    Convicting. As one who is generally responsible and reliable, I occasionally find myself not bringing the proverbial three-bean casserole because I want to prove that I’m not THAT reliable, so don’t put too many expectations upon me! Crazy, huh?

    It’s mostly subconscious, but the fact remains that I want to flee commitment. This post was a good wake-up call for me.

  2. Revolutionaries, whose goal is nothing less than the transformation of society through revolution, have little patience with those among them who are self-indulgent, and they have no difficulty disciplining such people. The discipline they demand of themselves is a means of directing the others to what is true and good.

    I believe it was the revolutionary Communist Leon Trotsky who was once asked, “What is a Communist?”

    He replied, “A Communist is a walking dead man.”

    Isn’t this what Jesus meant when he charged His disciples (including us),

    If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.

    Jay, this is another homerun! I ditto all that JMF said above.

  3. Charles McLean says:

    I like what Jay said about vision statements. I’ll trade a hundred of those for one real person with one real vision.

    Jay points out the harvest we have reaped for a generation of preaching “Jesus, The Answer To All Your Problems”. We have, sadly, created a generation of “consumers of religious thought”, in our haste to put posteriors in the pews. A marketing plan which focused on “find a need and meet it” has, in a perverse twist, produced a church full of folks waiting for their needs to be met.

    But enough diagnosis. Here is our chance to actually “make disciples”, brothers. Our chance to take some of these brothers who bought the introductory version of Gospel-Lite and upgrade them to the full-feature version! By taking with us as we shine our own light in our cities. We have an enormous group to draw from, one person at a time, elbow-to-elbow, whether we are meeting that simple commitment to making the casserole or street-preaching in unwelcoming places, or whatever God has us doing in the real world. Here, we get to put our ministry where our mouth is. In each group, it is almost certain that there is a person there for you or I to come along side, and say, “Hey, come with me!”

  4. Alan S. says:

    Jay, I would say the authors (and to some extent your review) have missed by a mile the religious realities of their statements. They wrote (and you seemed to support): “tolerance, open-mindedness, and inclusiveness, but the authors declare these cover-ups for preservation of the social equilibrium. True?”

    Definitely false when you include our religious realities. Isn’t intolerance what has contributed tothe division and persecution we find in not only the churches of Christ but in all Christian history? Isn’t a fair degree of open-mindedness what Jesus requires of us when fellowshipping with another Christian, and what Paul commends in uniting, despite ingrained religious traditions, with Christians of different backgrounds? Isn’t inclusiveness what Paul commanded in Romans 15? I think the authors have used too sweeping of an argument here and thus invalidated the entire position. It moves them more to a separate from the world mindset that Paul said was impossible.

  5. “In modern America, we are taught tolerance, open-mindedness, and inclusiveness, but the authors declare these cover-ups for preservation of the social equilibrium. True?”


    Since the 1970s, tolerance, open-mindedness, and inclusiveness have been taught by university liberals. These people had reached a status that they wanted to preserve. They used illegal drugs in the 1960s, abused prescription drugs to this day (see use of such as “study drugs” like adderall and ) and teach that we should all include everyone (except those who disagree with inclusiveness).

  6. Jay Guin says:

    Alan S,

    Both inclusiveness and exclusiveness are wrong. We don’t have to pick one or the other since the words both suggest the extremes. In fact, some people should be included in the Kingdom whom the Churches of Christ have traditionally excluded, but not everyone should be included. Therefore, the inclusive/exclusive argument is a false dichotomy.

    The truth is that we are neither exclusive nor inclusive. We are faithful to the scriptures and must not let our faithfulness be shaped by the worldview of Western culture or the worldview of the 20th Century Churches of Christ. We accept Jesus’ worldview, which will sometimes be the same and sometimes be different from both of those.

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