Hauerwas, Resident Aliens

Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, Resident Aliens, READING NOTES


  • Author(s): Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon
  • Title and subtitle: Resident Aliens: A provocative Christian assessment of culture and ministry for people who know that something is wrong
  • Edition: Expanded 25th Anniversary Edition
  • Publisher: Abingdon Press
  • Place: Nashville
  • Date: 2014 (originally published in 1989)


Kind of Book (Practical or theoretical?): Practical

Subject Matter: Christian Theology — Ecclesiology

Problems Attempted to Solve:

  • “…squeamish, sentimental Docetism is a greater peril for North American Christianity than arrogant ecclesiastical triumphalism. Our line was drawn not between righteousness and sin, or belief and atheism, or liberalism and conservatism, but between the church and the world. We called upon the church to be more deeply, aggressively ‘political,’ as we redefined politics. What Barth had thundered, we polemicized—’Let the church be the church'” (3).

Summary (What is the book about as a whole?):

  • “The church is a colony, an island of one culture in the middle of another. In baptism our citizenship is transferred from one dominion to another, and we become, in whatever culture we find ourselves, resident aliens” (12).

Outline of Source:

  • Foreword
  • Preface
  • Chapter One: The Modern World: On Learning to Ask the Right Questions
    • A Changed World
    • The Right Theological Questions
    • New Understanding or New Living?
  • Chapter Two: Christian Politics in the New World
    • Mixing Religion and Politics
    • The Politics of Unbelief
    • The Church as a Social Strategy
  • Chapter Three: Salvation as Adventure
    • On the Road Again
    • The Virtues of Adventure
    • People with a Cause
  • Chapter Four: Life in the Colony: The Church as Basis for Christian Ethics
    • You Have Heard it Said…But I Say
    • All Christian Ethics Is a Social Ethic
    • We Are What We See
    • The End of the World
  • Chapter Five: Ordinary People: Christian Ethics
    • People Who Follow a God Who Is Odd
    • Saints as Significant Examples
    • Faith Confirmed Through Example
  • Chapter Six: Parish Ministry as Adventure: Learning to Enjoy Truth Telling
    • Training in Ministry
    • Successful Ministry
    • The Service of God
  • Chapter Seven: Power and Truth: Virtues that Make Ministry Possible
    • Put On the Whole Armor of God
    • Boldly to Proclaim the Ministry of the Gospel
    • Empowerment for Ministry
    • By the Working of God’s Power
  • Afterword
  • Index

Key Terms:

  • Christendom
  • Church
  • colony
  • Constantinian
  • ethics
  • ministry
  • pastor
  • politics, political
  • resident alien(s)
  • saints
  • sentimentality
  • Sermon on the Mount
  • story

Key Propositions/Arguments (What is being said in detail, and how?):

Chapter One: Christendom has collapsed. This is both a challenge and an opportunity for the church to recover her true identity as a pilgrim people. Christianity isn’t a set of beliefs. It’s a way of life!

  • Constantinian Christendom has collapsed. How will the church respond?
  • One possible response: try to make the gospel intelligible/credible to our (post)modern world.

“We have come to see that this project, though well intentioned, is misguided. The theology of translation assumes that there is some kernel of real Christianity, some abstract essence that can be preserved even while changing some of the old Near Eastern labels. Yet such a view distorts the nature of Christianity. In Jesus we meet not a presentation of basic ideas about God, world, and humanity, but an invitation to join up, to become part of a movement, a people. By the very act of our modern theological attempts at translation, we have unconsciously distorted the gospel and transformed it into something it never claimed to be—ideas abstracted from Jesus, rather than Jesus with his people” (21).

  • “The theologian’s job is not to make the gospel credible to the modern world, but to make the world credible to the gospel” (24).

Chapter Two: The church is political—its own polis! Instead of trying to transform the world through activism (or conversionism), the church needs to be the church!

  • “The political task of Christians is to be the church rather than to transform the world” (38).
  • We don’t know what “peace,” “justice,” etc. are, apart from Jesus Christ! (38).
  • “The church doesn’t have a social strategy, it is a social strategy” (43).
  • Claim: Yoder’s “activist / conversionist / confessing” church paradigm is more helpful than Niebuhr’s “Christ and Culture” paradigm (39–48).
  • “The overriding political task of the church is to be the community of the cross” (47).

Chapter Three: Recovering “salvation as adventure” can help re-narrate the church AND the world. Christian ethics depend upon the church to tell the Christian story.

  • “The Good News … is that the success of godlessness and the failure of political liberalism have made possible a recovery of Christianity as an adventurous journey. Life in the colony is not a settled affair” (50–51).
  • As the church recovers its story, it can help the world recover its story.

Chapter Four: Christian ethics are PECULIAR—church- and tradition-dependent. The church, not the “everyman,” is the most significant ethical unit. Christian ethics are social and eschatological. The Christian story and the Sermon on the Mount put us at odds with the world.

  • “Whether they think of themselves as liberal or conservative, as ethically and politically left or right, American Christians have fallen into the bad habit of acting as if the church really does not matter as we go about trying to live like Christians” (69).
  • “Christian ethics are church-dependent” (71). “Christian ethics only make sense from the point of view of what we believe has happened in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth” (71).
  • “Jesus was not crucified for saying or doing what made sense to everyone” (74).
  • “For Christians, the church is the most significant ethical unit. . . . All Christian ethics are social ethics because all our ethics presuppose a social, communal, political starting point—the church” (81).
  • “What if all this [The Sermon on the Mount] is not new and more stringent rules for us to observe but rather a picture of the way God is?” (85).
  • “There is no way to remove the eschatology of Christian ethics” (87). “The removal of eschatology from ethics may account for the suffocating moralism in our church” (90). “Without eschatology, we are left with only a baffling residue of strange commands, which seem utterly impractical and ominous” (90).

Chapter Five: We don’t know who we are or what “being moral” entails, apart from the church! The church must expose us to saints—examples of ethical living. We learn ethics in a very particular tradition.

  • “We want to claim the church’s ‘oddness’ as essential to its faithfulness” (93).
  • The church tells us who we are, what being moral entails, and who/what the world is (94).
  • “So much modern theology continues to presuppose the deistic assumption that the first step in theology is to convince modern people that God exists. . . . Christian theology should be preoccupied with the more biblical question, What kind of God exists? Even if contemporary theology could prove that God exists, such a god would probably not be the God we are called to worship—the God of Abraham, Isaac, Sarah, Mary, and Jesus. Idolatry is probably a much more interesting dilemma to biblical people than atheism” (95).
  • “ethics is first a way of seeing before it is a matter of doing” (95).
  • “Learning to be moral is much like learning to speak a language” (97).
  • Given the communal nature of ethics, “the church can do nothing more ‘ethical’ than to expose us to significant examples of Christian living” (97).

Chapter Six: In order to avoid cynicism and burnout, the pastor must help the church recover its role as a truth-telling colony of heaven.

  • Problem: There’s so much burnout, loneliness, depression, and cynicism among pastors. What’s gone wrong?
  • “…one cannot discuss pastors and what they do until one has first discussed the church, which needs these creatures called pastors” (112). “Leaders like pastors have significance only to the degree that their leadership is appropriate to the needs and goals of the group they lead” (113). “Although clergy do need special traits and abilities, what clergy need most is a function of what the church needs” (113).
  • All Christians are called and “ordained” to ministry. Yet, the church has long called and ordained leaders. What are they supposed to do?
  • “…we must always begin debates over the purpose of pastoral ministry by first talking about the church and telling a story that reveals the purpose of the church” (114).
  • “What does it mean for the pastor to have as his or her job description, not the sustenance of a service club within a generally Christian culture, but the survival of a colony within an alien society? (115).
  • At least when Resident Aliens was written, (mainline) seminaries were producing pastors who “can help the church ‘serve the world’ by putting a vaguely Christian tint upon the world’s ways of salvation” (115) — “agents of modernity, experts in the art of congregational adaptation to the cultural status quo, enlightened facilitators whose years of education have trained them to enable believers to detach themselves from the insights, habits, stories, and structures that make the church the church” (116).
  • “Pastors discover their particular ministerial vocation only as pastors discover the ministry of all Christians” (118).
  • “The young pastor [in an anecdote on pp. 118–19] had been conditioned to assume that real ministry was about ‘helping people.’ Of course, Jesus helped people and commissioned us to do the same. The trouble begins when we assume that we already know what ‘helping people’ looks like, that helping people is a simple matter of motivating the church to go out and do what everyone already knows ought to be done.” [New paragraph] “Yet we have argued, earlier, that Christians define ‘what ought to be done’ on the basis of our peculiar account of what God has done and is doing in the world. That account teaches us to be suspicious of all proposed solutions until they are placed under the scrutiny of God’s story” (120).
  • “Being a minister (like a pastor), is not a vocation merely to help people. We are called to help people ‘in the name of Jesus.’ And that’s the rub. In fact, we are not called to help people. We are called to follow Jesus, in whose service we learn who we are and how we are to help and be helped” (121).
  • Pastors can’t just try to do everything and be everything in order to meet every need. That’s a fast road to burnout and bitterness (124).
  • “The church is the bridge where scripture and people meet” (129).
  • “Nothing the gospel asks of us—compassion, promise-keeping, childbearing, healing—is expected of us as loners. We exist as a family, as a colony who enabled ordinary people like Tom [from anecdote]to be saints” (136).
  • “The pastor should be the one who insists that we linger long enough with the story to throw us in the dilemma for which the church is necessary” (136).
  • “What sort of church would we need to be to be half as truthful as Acts 5?” (Ananias and Saphira, 136).
  • “Pastors orient the church toward God” (136).
  • The church is often nothing more than a “conspiracy of cordiality,” a superficial gathering of people who each mind their own business (138).
  • “All ministry can be evaluated by essentially liturgical criteria: How well does the act of ministry enable people to be with God?” (139).
  • “Pastors would do well to examine their schedules and ruthlessly delete any activity unable to be an opportunity to help us do that which we do in worship” (139).
  • “How can I, as pastor, be lonely because I have been faithful, rather than lonely because I was promiscuous with my love?” (143).

Chapter Seven: The church and its ministers have power when they speak the truth about God, the world, and themselves.

  • “Our goal has been to empower people in the church by exciting their imaginations to see what wonderful opportunities lie at the heart of Christian ministry—once the integrity of the church is reclaimed” (144).
  • “What pastors, as well as the laity they serve, need is a theological rationale for ministry which is so cosmic, so eschatological and therefore countercultural, that they are enabled to keep at Christian ministry in a world determined to live as if God were dead. Anything less misreads both the scandal of the gospel and the corruption of our culture” (145).
  • “…the world has ended and a new world is being born. The church is the colony that gives us resident aliens the interpretive skills whereby we know honestly how to name what is happening and what to do about it” (146).
  • “…there was time when the church believed that though there was nothing in Jesus we needed to kill for, there was something here worth fighting for, dying for” (148).
  • “No ethic is worthy that does not require potentially the suffering of those we love” (148).
  • “The church has no quarrel with the sacrifice of children—except when such sacrifice is made to a false god” (149).
  • “The gospel gives us something worth dying for and sacrificing our loved ones for as opposed to the nation’s attempt to give us something for which it is worthy killing” (150).
  • “Although there may be no particular virtue in the church being small and insignificant (as the world measures size and significance), the church ought to have the honesty to admit that we don’t seem to do too well when we are the dominant majority or when we are invited to have lunch with the President at the White House. We Christians have never handled success very well” (151).
  • It’s not sectarian tribalism to insist that the Church needs to make sure that it’s defining “justice” theologically before/as it engages politically (155).
  • “We want to assert, for the church, politics that is both truthful and hopeful. Our politics is hopeful because we really believe that, as Christians, we are given the resources to speak the truth to one another” (156) … “Our politics is truthful because it refuses to base itself on the false gods that make us so prone to violence” (157).
  • “The times are too challenging to be wasting time pressing one another into boxes called liberal or conservative. The choice is between truth and lies” (160).
  • Biblical and theological studies are, properly speaking, for the purpose of building up the church (160ff.).
  • “The biggest problem facing Christian theology is not translation but enactment” (171).


Is the book true, in whole or part?:

Problems Solved:

Problems Not Solved:

Author is uninformed:

Author is misinformed:

Author is illogical:

Author is incomplete:

What of it? (Why) is it important to know these things?: