Accidental impact: Resident Aliens at 25

In 1989, Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon sparked a lively debate about church, ministry, and Christian identity with their book Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony. Twenty-five years later, we asked several pastors and theologians to offer their perspective on the book and its impact. (Read all responses.)

In his preface to the 25th anniversary edition of Resident Aliens, William Willimon describes its origin as almost “happenstance.” We might say something similar about its reception. Important books get used in unexpected ways, and an important book written for the church quickly escapes its authors’ purposes. Hauerwas and Willimon wrote Resident Aliens for a culture that had ceased to be Christian, in which the church needed a primer on how to live in a world where its message was unwelcome when it was not just incomprehensible.

I’ve always thought that this was intended as an affirmation of the primacy of theology over sociology. The Word will always be alien. The church will be more or less familiar, though of course to different degrees in different places.