Resident Aliens redux

God has put North American Christians in this world under an allegedly democratic polity in a capitalist economy and with state-run education, a military budget, and gun violence in the streets — as well as rates of incarceration higher than any country in the world. How then should we live now in light of the shock that God has raised crucified Jesus from the dead? That’s the political question before us.

The words come from foreword of the “expanded” version of Will Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas’ Resident Aliens. They get to the heart of the central issue of the book: How should the church be the church in post-Christendom?

It was about ten years ago that I first picked up a copy of this book. I used the new edition coming out as an excuse to buy a copy without my comments and underlining in it to read the book afresh, which I hope to do soon.

The new forward is mostly interesting for Willimon’s reflections on his regrets about the book — not enough Christology or pneumatology, too much ecclesiastical romanticism, and some irrelevant arguments with dead theologians — and few glimpses at how being a bishop sharpened Willimon’s sense that the book is still needed.

Here is Willimon’s summary of UMC in the 25 years since Resident Aliens was published.

My church (Stanley’s ex-church) lost three million more members without noticing. United Methodist bishops, clueless about how to challenge the lies told by American ideologues of the left or the right, take the easy way out and vow to end malaria in Africa. The Protestant mainline becomes even more fissiparous in fights over, of all things, sex. When pietism substitutes love by God for obedience to God it degenerates into safely personal, instrumentalist, suffocating sentimentality.

If you have an old copy of the book, you don’t need to buy a new one. The only new material is Willimon’s foreword. But if you’ve never read the book, I commend it to your attention. I know I am looking forward to reading it again.


6 thoughts on “Resident Aliens redux

  1. We must be thinking on roughly the same wavelength right now, John. I find the sentimentality Willimon references all the time in our missions focus. The problem isn’t the missions, but the assumptions we bring to missions. Are we assuming that God needs to meet people in a salvific as we send mosquito nets, or are we assuming that the receivers are spiritually neutral vessels who just need the nets? It makes us feel really good to do such things, but the Rotary could take the place of the church in such scenarios. On the whole I am very frustrated by our missions culture because it seems divorced from reality, and from any sense of discipling. Not to shill, but I wrote about it a bit here:

    Well…OK…I guess I’m shilling a little. 🙂

  2. I’m looking forward to hearing more about this–I bought the book (it’s in my to-read stack) to read before the Convocation and Pastor’s School at Duke Divinity in October, since both Dr. Hauerwas and Bishop Willimon (who was one of my profs) will be the featured speakers. Neither one of them are shrinking violets, as I’m sure you know!

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