Church against state? Resident Aliens at 25

A funny thing happened on the way to the church-as-polis: I can now imagine being a resident alien and invested in the state, in all of its glorious failing.

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.)

Reading Resident Aliens is a kind of Rorschach test: the way a mainline Methodist reads it will be different from the way someone like me—an evangelical (of sorts) in the Reformed tradition—does. An heir of Abraham Kuyper encouraged to “transform culture,” I learned from Hauerwas and Willimon how often, under the banner of cultural transformation, we march ahead into cultural assimilation.

It wasn’t until I read Resident Aliens that I realized I lacked a functional ecclesiology. Hauerwas and Willimon woke me up to a sense that the church has its own cultural center of gravity. We didn’t have to figure out how to hook up “Christ” with “culture” because the body of Christ is a culture, and specifically a formative culture.