Kenosis and Christendom: Resident Aliens at 25

Like Willimon and Hauerwas, Donald MacKinnon began with Philippians 2.

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.)

Resident Aliens begins by quoting the well-known Christ hymn in Philippians 2, and it draws on the Philippians 3 notion of our commonwealth being in heaven. The authors develop the idea of the church as made up of resident aliens in this world, because our true home is not in the world. They say this assertion is needed because we now live in a post-Constantinian moment, with the church no longer supported by the official powers of society. At the center of the Christ hymn is a claim about the core of God’s work in the life, death, and resurrection of the rabbi of Nazareth: Jesus’ self-emptying, or kenosis, in and for the sake of the world.

But ironically, the rhetoric and substance of Resident Aliens continually turns on an embattled consolidation of identity and action over against the world. For instance, Hauerwas and Willimon write, “In fact, we are not called to help people. We’re called to follow Jesus.”