Reclaiming the Christian Identity: What Does it Mean to be a “Resident Alien?” – Part 3

Resident Aliens World Map (light blue)“Too often, we have conceived of salvation – what God does to us in Jesus – as a purely personal decision, or a matter of finally getting our heads straight on basic beliefs, or of having some inner feelings of righteousness about ourselves and God, or of having our social attitudes readjusted.  In this chapter, we argue that salvation is not so much a new beginning, but rather a beginning in the middle, so to speak.”  [1]

– Hauerwas and Willimon in Resident Aliens

Over the past week and a half, we here at Blood Stained Ink, have been exploring the theology of Stanley Hauerwas, primarily as it is found in his most influential book to date, Resident Aliens (The first two parts can be found here and here)Today, as we move forward in the discussion, we turn our attention to what “life in the colony” truly looks like.

To be a colony implies that God’s people settle in, stake out a claim, build fences, and guard their turf …  [But that is not what we are suggesting.]  The biblical story demands an offensive rather than defensive posture of the church.  The world and all its resources, anguish, gifts and groaning is God’s world, and God demands what God has created.  Jesus Christ is the supreme act of divine intrusion into the world’s settled arrangements.  In the Christ, God refuses to “stay in his place.”  The message that sustains the colony is not for itself but for the whole world – the colony having significance only as God’s means for saving the whole world.  The colony is God’s means of a major offensive against the world, for the world.  An army succeeds, not through trench warfare, but through movement, penetration, tactics.  Therefore, to speak of the church as a colony is to speak of the colony not as a place, a fortified position, be it theological or geographical.  The colony is a people on the move.  [2]

From time to time, it has been fashionable in some circles to charge Hauerwas with accusations of “sectarianism” and “separationism.”  But as you can see from the passage above, nothing could be further from the truth.  Hauerwas and Willimon are not “isolationists”; and they’re not remotely interested in putting forth an ecclesial vision whereby Christians disengage from the culture around them.  Rather, these two men see the church as a “colony” of sorts, deeply embedded behind enemy lines; and charged with the dangerous mission of advancing God’s Kingdom in a world that often wants no part of its Creator.

So at this point in the book, the central question becomes fairly obvious: how exactly would Hauerwas have us advance the Kingdom and how would he see as as “political” if he doesn’t want us to engage in the political and economic power plays of this world?

Well for starters, he wants us to move beyond the Modern idea that salvation is purely individualistic in its orientation.  What’s more, he wants us to move beyond the Evangelical idea that salvation can be reduced to a bare bones, intellectual submission to certain ideas and doctrines.  For Hauerwas and others like him (e.g. N.T. Wright, et al), salvation is the act of folding ourselves into the larger story of what God has done and what God is going to do and it is the act of learning to live within that story.

“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 part of a journey that began long before we got here and shall continue long after we are gone.  [3]

What makes this claim rather interesting, particularly for Evangelicals who tend to subsume “salvation” under the category of “justification” as opposed to properly subsuming “justification” under the category of “salvation,” is that Hauerwas makes this point by appealing to the story of the disciples themselves.

The Gospels make wonderfully clear that the disciples had not the foggiest idea of what they had gotten into when they followed Jesus.  With a simple “Follow me,” Jesus invited ordinary people to come out and be part of an adventure, a journey that kept surprising them at every turn in the road.  [4]

What he’s saying is that an essential element of the disciples’ “personal salvation stories” came about not as a result of a “decision” to believe in their own personal sinfulness and in the Christ’s ability to take that away from them, but as a result of living and walking in community with Jesus.

Don’t miss what he just said.

While it is true that “salvation,” for some, comes about in a brief conversation (e.g. the woman at the well, etc…), for many others, “salvation” is a process whereby people come to learn to live in a community with others – a community that is shaped by the story of what God has done and is doing in this world.

To be saved is to be on the road again.  Too often, we depict salvation as that which provides us with a meaningful existence when we achieve a new self-understanding.  Here, with our emphasis on the narrative nature of Christian life, we are saying that salvation is baptism into a community that has so truthful a story that we forget ourselves and our anxieties long enough to become part of that story, a story God has told in Scripture and continues to tell in Israel and the church.   [5]

So there you have it.  What do you think of Hauerwas’s account of “salvation” as a process of learning to live within a community that is shaped by the story of what God is doing in this world?   Can you begin to see how his vision of ecclesiology (how we do church) is so vital in our present times? 


[1]  Hauerwas and Willimon, Resident Aliens, 52.

[2]  Ibid., 51.

[3]  Ibid., 52.

[4]  Ibid., 49.

[5]  Ibid., 59.

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4 Responses to Reclaiming the Christian Identity: What Does it Mean to be a “Resident Alien?” – Part 3

  1. I might put it slightly different from him. I might say something more like this. Salvation is the act of God that brings the individual into a community, grounding their identity in that community, and the act that gives the individual purpose because they are now part of the larger story God is working through this community.

  2. Generally speaking, while I appreciate much of what he is saying, I’m not sure what to think about his theology of baptism. He keeps using it in a way that makes me cringe a little. Baptism is never separated from repentance in Scripture. So it can’t simply be a way of announcing entrance into the community if one is simply exploring life in the colony, and hasn’t yet folded his/her story into the story of God.

  3. Agreed, but I’m not willing to cook him on the bonfire for what he has not denied outright. Just sayin’.

  4. Pingback: The Seed Whence Blossoms Human Morality | The Inspired Verse

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