Will Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas argue in Resident Aliens that world changed sometime in the late 1960s. The old Christian hegemony over American culture collapsed. The book is largely an effort to describe why this collapse is a good thing and situate the church as “a colony” within a culture that does not understand or value the church.
I’ve spent many years since reading Resident Aliens trying to understand the argument and decide whether I was persuaded by it. I run hot and cold with it.
Today, I came across a blog by a UMC pastor at Day 1 – the self-described voice of mainline Protestantism. In the post, the pastor lays out the primary mainline alternative to the vision in Resident Aliens.
Well, the earth did move, and the sky did tumble down, and the world into which I was born came to an end. We do live in a post-white, post-segregated, post-male, post-Christian, post-modern, post-Enlightenment, even post-American world, as Fareed Zakaria has noted in his recently-published book. And yet, the world that has come to an end is the world in which orthodox Christianity flourished. What’s a Christian to do?
Some seek to vociferously defend Christianity’s traditional claims–that women cannot be ordained, that Jesus offers the only way to practice authentic human spirituality, that homosexuality represents some sort of perversion, that human beings are somehow inherently stained by what has classically been referred to as “original sin.” Frankly, i don’t subscribe to any of those convictions. And, neither does most of the world. What many in the Church fail to recognize is that the world is leaving the Church behind, and the sad estrangement that characterizes the Church’s relationship with the world grows each day. Most of Christianity in the world today retains this pre-modern, pre-scientific, pre-Enlightenment feel. But, what about those of us who see ourselves as Christians and wish at the same time to embrace the realities of a changed world? That’s the challenge that faces us here at Day1. Many do not recognize the fact that the progressive, kind, intelligent message that we at Day1 call “the message of the mainstream Church” has actually become the message of the minority. But, it is this minority voice that has the opportunity to meaningfully re-connect with the world and bring the smart and kind message of Jesus to bear upon the experiences of our human family, even as we Christians embrace and celebrate the truths that other faiths bring to our mutual human experiences.
You have this sharp contrast in tone, then, between these two camps. The one argues against chasing after the world and only writes of the Enlightenment with a barely hidden snarl. The other sees history leaving the sorry old church in the dust and seeks to devise ways to catch up.
Is either view correct? Are both? How should we in the church relate to the world around us?
Seems like all the big questions are also very old ones.