Resident Aliens - challenge for Christians

A friend lent me the book Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon and I think it is important and compelling reading for all who identify themselves as Christians.

What I found interesting about this book is that it had harsh words for the religious left as well as for the religious right. The authors DO NOT advocate withdrawal from the world, but argue that Christians have adapted the Gospel to world rather than the world to the Gospel. This error they label Constantinian:

The belief, on which much apologetics tends to be based, is that everyone must believe in something. This is the Constantian assertion that religious belief is unavoidable. Constantine knew that if people were no longer classically pagan, they would have to be made imperially Christian. You cannot run a world without people believing in something. Our best minds were enlisted in the Constantian enterprise of making the faith credible to the powers-that-be so that Christians might now have a share in those powers. After all, we would never be culturally significant if we Christians talked a language unintelligible to the Empire. Apologetics is based on the political assumption that Christians somehow have a stake in transforming our ecclesial claims into intellectual assumptions that will enable us to be faithful to Christ while still participating in the political structures of a world that does not yet know Christ. Transform the Gospel rather than ourselves.

In the eyes of the authors, this Constantian error has cost us dearly:

The project, begun at the time of Constantine, to enable Christians to share power without being a problem for the powerful, had reached its most impressive fruition. If Caesar can get Christians there to swallow the "Ultimate Solution," and Christians here embrace the bomb, there is no limit to what we will not do for the modern world. Alas, in leaning over to speak to the modern world, we had fallen in. We had lost the theological resources to resist, lost the resources even to see there was something worth resisting.

Another appealing aspect of this book for me is that it does not contain what I've called a "moral singularity" in the past -- the idea that while individual Christians are held to the standards of the Gospel, a "Christian Nation" may morally employ deception, violence and self-centeredness in the pursuit of national gain. I'll leave it to you to examine their response to Niebuhr and others who do believe in such a singularity.

While I try to highlight materials that all faith traditions would find helpful, this book will likely be pointless if you're not in the Christian faith tradition. Some useful history though.

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