Another book from my school days, Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon is a book I remember reading in seminary. I remember not enjoying the book very much during those days, so I must admit that I wasn’t looking forward to revisiting it. However, once I re-read the book I was able to appreciate it much more than I remember appreciating it during seminary. It doesn’t mean that this is my favorite book by any means, but well we’ll get to that.
In some ways, I have a hard time encapsulating what the message of Resident Aliens is. It is a book that is about the church, primarily about how the church is called to be a unique colony within the culture and not simply another group lobbying for the support of the culture, be it government or popular opinion. Many of the examples are dated, this book was written in 1989, but the message of the book is still relevant today.
For example, it talks about abortion. The authors then talk about how for many Christians the first thoughts are trying to figure out what laws need to be enacted by the government about abortion and how to go about convincing the government to take this Christian position. The problem with this, according to the authors, is that we’re ultimately relying on the government to define what is moral and ethical instead of the church. To Hauerwas and Willimon this seems to present that we believe the nations rule the world much more than we believe God rules the world.
Now while I think that what the book talks about is still relevant today and that they do have insightful things to say, something about this book bothered me throughout. Part of it was that it isn’t the most well organized book. Maybe this is the result of dual authorship, but it just seems that they are a bit all over the place. They talk about the problems of democracy, individualism, the idea of Christians trying to transform culture, not having good reasons for having or not having children, seminary education and while these things are not bad, they tend to lack anything cohesive other than the idea of the Christian church as a colony.
This idea of Christian colony is something that I felt they talked about, but didn’t develop the most. The best presentation of it was in the giving of what one of their churches does for confirmation. Even then I felt that they deconstructed popular ideas like transforming culture or being involved with government, and talked about how Christianity and Christian ethics are not common sense and are rather peculiar, but didn’t really show how that would work on the ground. They usually just relied on saying that the church needs to be the church, which just didn’t seem enough for me.
I guess overall, I felt that Resident Aliens had some good points, but the message was just so all over the place that I had a hard time thinking about what this would actually look like. Does the fact that we are to be the church mean we shouldn’t be involved in government? They didn’t seem to say this, but then how does the church engage in politics in way that holds God as the ultimate lord? If Christian ethics are so very peculiar then how do we account for the areas of overlap within our own culture? These and other questions popped up throughout the book, it is good for a book to make you ask questions, but I felt that many of the questions were about what they were presenting, because it wasn’t always clear.
The message being all over the place also made certain chapters go smoother than others. Honestly, I felt that as the book came to a close the chapters took a dive. This was primarily when they stopped focused a lot on the church and switched to focusing primarily on the pastor. The next to last chapter was by far the worst in my mind. Too much focus on a lady named Gladys, too narrow of a focus on the story of Ananias and Sapphira in regards to how to act as a pastor, and a good amount of critique on seminary education just would up looking like a jumbled mess to me.
As I’ve said the book is all over the place, they have some good insights peppered throughout, but I’m not sure I’d re-read this book again. They have quotes that I’d use or ideas that I agree with, but I have a hard time knowing whether to recommend it or not. I somewhat enjoyed it, and read through it rather fast, but at the same time felt there were many shortcoming of the book too. Resident Aliens does challenge you on how you live your faith, it deconstructs a lot of how we may approach our Christian life, but I feel it puts little down as a foundation beyond the vague notion of a Christian colony.