“The church exists today as resident aliens, an adventurous colony in a society of unbelief. As a society of unbelief, Western culture is devoid of a sense of journey, of adventure, because it lacks belief in much more than the cultivation of an ever-shrinking horizon of self-preservation and self-expression . . . . When we are baptized, we (like the first disciples) jump on a moving train. As disciples, we do not so much accept a creed, or come to a clear sense of self-understanding by which we know this or that with utter certitude. We become a part of a journey that began long before we got here and shall continue long after we are gone” (Will Willimon & Stanley Hauerwas in Resident Aliens, 49-52).
He came closer to the city,
and when he saw it, he wept over it, saying,
“If you only knew today what is needed for peace!
But now you cannot see it!
There is no place worldwide where Habakkuk’s cry is not heard; and Jesus’ tears still wet our cities’ streets today. The world’s pain and suffering cries out for justice and peace. Yet what does it look like when they finally prevail? And, more importantly, when and by what means will it actually come to pass?
So we ask, “What is needed for peace?” These perennial questions have had many proposed solutions. Yet, in a world where injustice still reigns supreme, it appears all human attempts to establish a global kingdom of peace and foster universal prosperity have so far ultimately failed.
Christians have taken different sides on this issue. Some quarters of “Christendom” have allied themselves with the political powers and socio-economic systems of the day, attempting to Christianize the worldly systems and use them as God’s instrument for peace and justice. Other Christians have separated themselves from society altogether, placing upon it the stamp of divine condemnation, and simply awaiting the rapture from this hopeless world.
Political and social activism is advocated by the former, while the latter focus solely on ‘soul-winning,’ shrugging off social involvement saying ‘it makes little sense rearranging the deck furniture on a sinking Titanic.’ Both of these approaches fail on biblical grounds. What then is the church’s appropriate response to the world’s injustice and suffering? And what ecclesial action (if any) is expected of us by God while we await the new creation — the kingdom “wherein justice dwells”?
Drawing significantly from the works of John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas and Jurgen Moltmann, the forthcoming series of posts will argue that the popular definitions of justice used in mainstream political and theological debate need to become more Jesus-shaped and our values more cruciform if the church is going to be faithful in its task of following the way of Jesus, i.e., the way of the cross, in the world today. (Note: This is the unique call of the church, not the world, secular governments, etc.)
Join me on my search for a more Jesus-shaped, cruciform understanding of justice. Read full series HERE.
*This series is excerpts from a term paper I wrote back in 2004 at Bethel Seminary. -JB
Stanley Hauerwas has written about the mass suicide at “Jonestown” when hundreds of followers of Jim Jones and his “People’s Temple” took their lives and the lives of their children (p. 106). He notes that in contemporary media accounts of the event two dominant theories were put forth to explain Jonestown: (1) The followers of Jim Jones were under the hypnotic spell of a maniac. They were insane victims of an insane leader who led them to suicide. (2) The followers of Jim Jones were mostly poor, ignorant, oppressed people whose suffering made them easy prey for the alluring promises of a crazed messiah like Jones. In other words both theories assumed that in the modern world only insane people would die for what they believed.
In the United States we have “freedom of religion,” which means that we are free to exercise our faith — as long as we do so within certain limits, as long as I do not become a fanatic — like the poor, deranged folk at Jonestown who committed suicides rather than forsake their belief in Jim Jones. Although we have freedom to be religious, that does not seem to involve freedom to die for what we believe, because only a crazed fanatic would do that.
Yet the story of Stephen reminds us practitioners of polite, civil, mentally balanced religion that once there were Christians who quite joyfully parted with possessions, family, friends, even life itself in order to remain faithful. Luke does not demean the sacrifice of Stephen by reducing his death to psychological or sociological factors, the way our media explained Jonestown. Rather, Luke sees Stephen as a hero of the faith, a quite rational person who died for the same faith b which he lived. Indeed not to die for what you hold most dear would seem, to the church of Acts, to be the essence of irrationality, even insanity. Continue reading A Faith Worth Living & Dying For?
We are largely the product of the many influences — both good and bad — that shape the people we have become. We’re like lumps of clay that over time have been shaped and molded by a hundred different influential hands — and experiences and words and ideas and moments and conversations and books and dreams and successes and failures — but mostly people.
I am no exception. My journey as a Christian believer, thinker, writer and pastor has been and continues to be most powerfully and positively impacted by…
Timothy Keller for his sharp, sophisticated communication of Christian truth with a kind and gentle spirit.
Greg Boyd on keeping Jesus’ radical, Calvary-shaped Kingdom distinct from various Americanized versions of Christianity, and his teachings on free will and spiritual warfare.
N.T. Wright on understanding Jesus, Paul and the New Testament accurately in its historical context, and so much more.
Pastor David Johnson for his applicable, expository preaching that awakened new faith in me in college and continues to nurture me today.
Stanley Hauerwas on narrative theology and an Anabaptist Jesus-shaped ethics.
Erwin McManus for demonstrating and inspiring me to take risks and live life “on the divine edge of God’s activity.”
Scot McKnight on balancing rigorous New Testament scholarship with a down-to-earth concern for laypeople and pastors.
Will Willimon on preaching the strange and peculiar God we serve and follow.
John Howard Yoder for illuminating the sharp, subversive political edges of Jesus’ Kingdom teachings.
John Piper on “doxological exposition” of scripture, and for sharpening my theological views as I wrestle with our significant differences.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the cost of discipleship, radical obedience and the danger of cheap grace.
Eugene Peterson for being “a pastor’s pastor” and keeping me anchored in deep truths of scripture.
Dallas Willard for “The Divine Conspiracy” that nearly encapsulates the totality of Christian discipleship in one book.
C.S. Lewis for sharing his brilliant Christian mind and “baptized imagination” with the world.
Pastor David Brown for his revolutionary spirit and insistence that following Jesus means washing others’ feet in humble service.
Peter Herzog for our lifelong friendship rooted in Christian truth, love and transparency.
Dad & Mom for raising me in church and demonstrating that simple, child-like faith is enough (Mark 10:15).
My wife Keri who is my loving, supportive, faithful, prayerful partner and friend on this lifelong journey with God.
“The basis for the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount is not what works but rather the way God is. Cheek-turning is not advocated as what works (it usually does not), but advocated because this is the way God is — God is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. This is not a stratagem for getting what we want but the only manner of life available, now that, in Jesus, we have seen what God wants. We seek reconciliation with the neighbor, not because we feel so much better afterward, but because reconciliation is what God is doing in the world through Christ.”
-Will Willimon & Stan Hauerwas, Resident Aliens
Chapter 2 of “Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony” by Hauerwas & Willimon engages the issue of the church’s engagement with the powers-that-be. In typical Hauerwasian fashion, they suggest the church focus it’s energy on being the church — a distinct, alien tribe that remains faithful to it’s own life shaped by in the story of Jesus.
“Christianity is mostly a matter of politics — politics as defined by the gospel. The call to be part of the gospel is a joyful call to be adopted by an alien people, to join a countercultural phenomenon, a new polis called church. The challenge of the gospel is not the intellectual dilemma of how to make an archaic system of belief compatible with modern belief systems. The challenge of Jesus is the political dilemma of how to be faithful to a strange community, which is shaped by a story of how God is with us” (30).
“[Our American society] is formed to supply our needs, no matter the content of those needs. Rather than helping us to judge our needs, to have the right needs which we exercise in right ways, our society becomes a vast supermarket of desire under the assumption that if we are free enough to assert and to choose whatever we want we can defer eternally the question of what needs are worthy having and on what basis right choices are made. What we call “freedom” becomes the tyranny of our own desires. We are kept detached, strangers to one another as we go about fulfilling our needs and asserting our rights. The individual is given a status that makes incomprehensible the Christian notion of salvation as a political, social phenomenon in the family of God. Our economics correlates to our politics. Capitalism thrives in a climate where “rights” are the main political agenda. The church becomes one more consumer-oriented organization, existing to encourage individual fulfillment rather than being a crucible to engender individual conversion into the Body” (32-33). Continue reading Resident Aliens 2
Already 21 years old, “Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony” is a little book by the Duke duo Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon that purports to offer “a provocative Christian assessment of culture and ministry for people who know that something is wrong.” Two decades later, something is still wrong. This book speaks powerfully and prophetically to the challenge facing the 21st century church and deserves a place beside all the other newer books being written on what has come to be known as the “missional church” movement.
Let me share some highlights from each chapter in the following series of posts.
“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” (21).
“In the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, all human history must be reviewed. The coming of Christ has cosmic implications. He has changed the course of things. So the theological task is not merely the interpretive matter of translating Jesus into modern categories but rather to translate the world to him. 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).
“Christianity is more than a matter of a new understanding. Christianity is an invitation to be part of an alien people who make a difference because they see something that cannot otherwise be seen without Christ. Right living is more the challenge than right thinking. The challenge is not the intellectual one but the political one — the creation of a new people who have aligned themselves with the seismic shift that has occurred in the world since Christ” (24).
“That which makes the church “radical” and forever “new” is not the church tends to lean toward the left on most social issues, but rather that the church knows Jesus whereas the world does not. In the church’s view, the political left is not noticeably more interesting than the political right; both sides tend toward solutions that act as if the world has not ended and begun in Jesus. These “solutions” are only mirror images of the status quo” (28).