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Review of "Resident Aliens"

Posted by Gary Labels:

Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, both professors of Duke University, wrote an excellent, short work on ecclesiology called Resident Aliens. I've been soaking this up for the past two weeks now, taking rather copious notes.

Of all the books I've read on how to approach the problem of ministerial outlook (which isn't many), this is the most innovative. The first five chapters concern the proper view of the church, and only at the climax do they directly address the problems of pastors today within the church. One must first understand what the church is before one can understand what pastors do, since pastors' roles are defined by the church's needs. There's good discussion on true needs versus felt needs. For instance, the church needs constant reorientation towards God, but does not need preachers to be soft and cushy comforters. Much attention is given to the act of sugar-coating and catering to selfish needs of individuals.

Perhaps what is most shocking to me is that this book is relevant at all! RA addresses the difficulties of the American churches as of 1989, but over 90% is still applicable in describing the church in 2010.

There's plenty of anecdotes from genuine ministry experience as well as wrestling with some of the parts of history Americans generally gloss over, such as the Vietnam War. Part of the book's thrust is that we need to be the confessing church, a church that centers on constantly reaffirming God's truth and learning to live by it. Christian life is war with the world. Principalities, world-rulers, powers... these things are out to get us. Discipleship is a journey, an adventure, and we take part in the ongoing story of God and his people.

The Gospel is countercultural and counterintuitive. You can't understand it apart from the story of scripture. This is why the world doesn't understand us: because the world doesn't know him.

In short: this book is an excellent take on Christian ministry that resonates well with the Sermon on the Mount, I John, Philippians, and Ephesians especially. Go get it.