Hauerwas and Willimon: Christians as Colonists, Part 1

Hauerwas and Willimon, Resident AliensStanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon.[1]2014. Resident Aliens: A Provocative Christian Assessment of Culture and Ministry for People Who Know that Something is Wrong. Nashville: Abingdon Press. (Goto Part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

My kids have a hard time understanding first that today’s culture differs dramatically from the postwar culture that I knew growing up and that people actually enjoyed life back then. Life mostly revolved around family and church. Almost no one had psychological problems, although we all knew about battle fatigue, alcoholism, and suicide. Virtually everyone wanted the American dream and expected to participate in it. What we did not know what how fragile the economic assumptions were that allowed the American Dream to be a reality.


In their book, Resident Aliens, Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon (H&W) date the end of Christendom to 1963 when the blue laws in Greenville, South Carolina changed to allow the Fox Theater to open on Sunday (15). H&W have no interest in bemoaning or explaining the passing of Christendom and the American Dream, but rather focus on articulating what it means for the Christian church to delink itself from the cultural assimilation that began with Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Milan in AD 313 (17).

The Task of the Church

In other words, while I might bemoan the task of supporting and raising kids in a period of downward mobility when neither the church nor the schools have my back, H&W focus on the how the church can articulate more fully its biblical mandate in a postmodern context. Unlike the modern church, which strived to explain the Bible to modern people in modern terms, they write:

“In Jesus we meet not a presentation of basic ideas about God, world, and humanity [in support of Christendom], but an invitation to join up, to become part of a movement, a people.”(21)

Our task in the church is not to transform the Gospel for the world, but first to transform ourselves by being faithful to the Gospel (22). It is the world, not the Gospel, that is being transformed.

The Challenge

The need to abandon Christendom could not be greater, as H&W write:

“If Caesar can get Christians there to swallow the ‘Ultimate Solution’ [a la Adolf Hitler] and Christians here [in America] to embrace the [use of the atomic] bomb, there is no limit to what we will not do for the modern world [and compromise our basic Christian values].”(27)

Buying into Christendom may mean Sabbath rest on Sundays while businesses are closed, but at what cost?

The Church

H&W see the church as fundamentally a political organization that allows the Christian to interpret the world for what it is. (38). They write:

“Witness without compromise leads to worldly hostility. The cross is not a sign of the church’s quiet, suffering submission to the powers-that-be, but rather the church’s revolutionary participation in the victory of Christ over those powers.”(47)

Not being willing to remain silent in the face of evil is in every generation a political decision. To do so as a group project is inherently political.


H&W are on the faculty of Duke Divinity School in Durham, NC. Hauerwas is the Gilbert T. Rowe Professor Emeritus of Divinity and Lawand

Willimon is a Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry. They write in seven chapters:

  1. “The Modern World: On Learning to Ask the Right Questions
  2. Christian Politics in the New World
  3. Salvation as Adventure
  4. Life in the Colony: The Church as Basis for Christian Ethics
  5. Ordinary People: Christian Ethics
  6. Parish Ministry as Adventure: Learning to Enjoy Truth Telling
  7. Power and Truth: Virtues that Make Ministry Possible”(ix-x)

These chapters are proceeded by a foreword and Preface, and followed by an Afterword and index.


In part one of this review, I have outlined a few key points and summarized the book. In part two, I will endeavor to engage their arguments in more depth.

In Resident AliensStanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon outline an approach to a post-Constantine church from perspective of the church and Christian ethics. The text is engaging and is often cited as a follow up to John Howard Joder’s The Politics of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), which they frequently cite.


[1]https://divinity.duke.edu/faculty/directory. @Stanleymemelord

Hauerwas and Willimon: Christians as Colonists, Part 1

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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