Beckett: Review – Resident Aliens

Author: Stanley Hauerwas
Publisher: Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2014
Rating: 4/5 stars

Review

In essence, Hauerwas’ Resident Aliens is a carefully considered approach to 1 Peter 2:9-12, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honourable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

Here, by describing God’s people as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation for God’s own possession (cf. Psalm 4:3), St. Peter intimates that God’s people—the church—are entirely different and strange people in the land in which they live, that is, the earth. As Christians, we are “sojourners and exiles” in the earth because we are called to “abstain from the passions of the flesh.” People who live in such a way look fundamentally weird to the world.

Christians are entirely alien to the way the world lives—not only alien as in strange but also alien in the sense that we might as well be from another planet. In a way, this is somewhat true: we are citizens of God’s kingdom, which is literally out of this world (Philippians 3:20; Hebrews 13:14; 1 Peter 1:3-5).

This is where Hauerwas’ term “resident aliens” comes from, saying, “The church exists today as resident aliens, an adventurous colony in a society of unbelief” (49). The church is entirely alien to the world because she lives according to the adventure of God’s Story rather than the misadventure of the world’s autonomous individualism. In other words, the Christian ethic is entirely alien to the world’s ethics. One practical way in which this autonomous, individualistic mindset can be overcome with the pastor’s guidance, I believe, is catechesis, by which Christians learn how to live as resident aliens—or ethical Christians—in the world.

The Difficulty of Living as Different (= Holy) People

One way in which this challenge to live as resident aliens in the world is politics. Christians on each far end of the political spectrum (Republican vs. Democrat, conservative vs. liberal) are pulling God back and forth in a perpetual cosmic tug-of-war battle. (Not that they have control over God, but that they are constantly fighting with their false perceptions of God.) Concerning certain issues (especially abortion and immigration), both sides will say God is on their side. The struggle that both Christians on each side are wrestling with is how to live as ethical Christians in the world.

This dichotomy of living “in but not of the world” (John 17:16; cf. 1 John 2:15-17) has created the unfortunate result of Christians who are politically active and mindful identifying their religion with their politics. Thus, one side says, “You can’t be Christian and Democrat” while the other shouts back, “You can’t be Christian and Republican.” As a result, Christ is entirely deposed and replaced with either an elephant or a jackass. Therefore, both Christians get it entirely wrong.

As Hauerwas helps the reader to see, Christian ethics “is not whether we shall be conservative or liberal, left or right, but whether we shall be faithful to the church’s peculiar vision of what it means to live and act as disciples” (68). When Christianity is being done right, the church will not fall neatly into any political party. The question is, of course, “What does this mean?”

Hauerwas argues, “Christian ethics, like any ethics, are ‘tradition dependent.'” What παράδοσις (paradosis) shapes and forms a Christian ethic? Hauerwas’ suggestion is a cruciform one, “Christian ethics only makes sense from the point of view of what we believe has happened in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth” (71). Not the paradosis, or tradition, of Democrat or Republican policies and not the paradosis of conservative or liberal values, but the paradosis of the story of Christ born, crucified, risen, and I would add ascended for you.

Hauerwas’ suggestion is helpful, especially for pastors who raise their flock, because it gets us away from the American habitus of autonomous, individualistic living—a parasite that has infected the church and needs to be routed.

The church is not a group of autonomous individuals who ironically gather together to listen to some dude give a speech on how to live better individual lives while stroking their egos. To be the church is not simply to be a communal gathering of people on a weekly basis, but especially to be a communal living from Sabbath to Sabbath. This communal living of the church in the world is what we call Christian ethics.

Every person’s ethic comes from a tradition. The question is if it’s the right tradition. The traditional ethic of the church, lived through the regula fidei (rule of faith), is “a complex, lively argument about what happened in Jesus that has been carried on, across the generations [paradosis], by a concrete body of people called the church” (71), which begins in Baptism.

In Baptism, a person becomes a resident alien by the grace of God. After Baptism, the person is raised to live according to the Christian ethic in Christ not as an autonomous individual, but as a family member in the communal Body of Christ called the church. Baptism crucifies us with Christ and raises us with Christ (Romans 6:3-8). Thus, as crucified people, we live an ethic “that runs counter to the prevailing direction of the culture” (73).

Baptism, therefore, alters our anthropology. That is, Baptism redefines what it means to be human, not only in relation to God (coram Deo), but also in relation to one another (coram mundo), the latter of which is my direct concern here, and which is also Hauerwas’ helpful focus.

Living in a world that exalts the autonomy of the individual, Baptism exalts something entirely antithetical: the family. Hauerwas aided my understanding of this, saying, “[O]ur response to an issue like abortion is something communal, social, and political, but utterly ecclesial—something like baptism. Whenever a person is baptized, be that person a child or an adult, the church adopts that person. The new Christian is engrafted into a family. Therefore, we cannot say to the pregnant fifteen-year-old, ‘Abortion is a sin. It is your problem.’ Rather, it is our problem” (81).

In other words, while the world strives to live as autonomous individuals who live according to a rapidly changing kaleidoscope of ethics, the individual (= member) within the church lives as a family member who lives according to the ethic of Christ born, died, risen, and ascended for you. To put it another way, the church is not a group of autonomous individuals who do whatever they want, for that is licentiousness. Rather, the church exists as a particular family set apart for God (coram Deo) to live in the world according to the ethic of Christ crucified (coram mundo). Therefore, any problem a person faces becomes a problem for the church as a family to walk alongside them with the Gospel of Christ crucified.

As a family, therefore, how do I as a pastor raise the family to which I am called? It first begins in catechesis, which is that traditional adiaphoron that takes place some years after the child’s adoption in the church via Baptism.

In Christ’s Great Command, the church is called to baptise and teach (Matthew 28:18-20). Baptism and teaching (literally doctrine) are not mutually exclusive. Baptism brings that child into God’s family. Then, as any parent would do, we must teach that child how to live in the world as God’s chosen people (or “resident alien”), whether child or adult convert. This is the goal of Confirmation, that is, catechesis. Hauerwas’ vision for Confirmation is quite helpful, which is recompiled here through a Lutheran lens:

  1. The goal of Confirmation (= catechesis) is discipleship, which is “the production of people who more closely resemble, in their life-style, beliefs, and values, disciples of Jesus” in the continuous adventure of God’s Story, or paradosis (103).
  2. It is not enough to teach catechumens what they ought to know about God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They also must be taught how to think as Christians as they follow Christ in the world. The goal is more than head knowledge; the goal is walking with our catechetical children (whether true child or adult convert) as a family of God in the world with the faith and ethics we confess to be “most certainly true.”
  3. “Confirmation does not end our growth as Christians” (104). Catechesis is an ongoing adventure in the story/paradosis of God as we live as God’s family of disciples in the world. Therefore, there must be something in place within the church for the child and adult catechumen to continue their Christian formation as a sibling in Christ (e.g. a youth group, small group, Bible study group, etc.). Without something in place, after the catechumen’s rite of Confirmation, we simply throw them to the dogs of the world to eat them alive. Just as a musician does not graduate from major and minor scales but becomes a master of them in daily use, so the catechumen does not “graduate” from catechesis but becomes a master of catechesis in daily use. They grow in spiritual maturity as they go from suckling on milk to partaking the bone and marrow of the Word.
  4. Lastly, pair the catechumen—especially the youth—with a mentor in the church. This includes adult catechumens. This mentor could be the child’s own parent (which is preferred), a teacher within the congregation, or any layperson who has proven him or herself to be mature in the faith.

Hauerwas’ vision, which I have just recompiled, significantly aided my passion for catechesis regarding pedagogy. I don’t have much experience with teaching catechism, which is why I’m taking “Confirmation and Christian Formation” as an elective this first semester of my final year of seminary. I also found Hauerwas’ suggestion for a practicum during Confirmation quite helpful, which is recompiled as follows:

  1. “Read the Gospel of Luke together [catechumen with mentor]. As each of you reads at home, keep a note pad with you and note those passages which you find interesting, confusing, inspiring. Every two weeks, make some time to discuss what you have read” (106).
  2. Attend Sunday services together. After each service, get together to discuss your reactions and questions. You could do this over lunch or somewhere in the church. If your mentor is not one of your parents, I encourage you to discuss this with your parent(s) as well. (I’m attempting to be considerate of single-parent families here.)
  3. “Get a copy of our church’s budget. Find out where our money goes. Discuss together how each of you decides to make a financial commitment to the church” (106).
  4. Attend the board meetings in the church that interest you for the next three months. Then discuss “what congregational board or committee you would like to be on” as a future leader of the congregation (106).
  5. Read the book I’ve assigned you, Why Am I Joy:fully Lutheran? Then in your own words, write a brief essay (1-3 pages) about, “Why I am joyfully Lutheran” and write down anything you’d like to know more about our church body. This is not a book review. This is your personal testimony on why you love being Lutheran, but feel free to quote anything from the book (with page numbers) that you found particularly inspiring, encouraging, or helpful.
  6. Attend one funeral and one wedding at our church together. After each service, discuss, “Where was Christ in the service?” Also discuss, “‘Why is the church involved in these services?'” (106).
  7. Find a non-profit ministry or other organisation at which you’d like to volunteer, then actually do so. Discuss together why this ministry or organisation is important to you.

With this pedagogy and this practicum, I believe they will facilitate the effort of making disciples for life. Like the father who participates in minor baseball league with his son, the mentor of the congregation walks life with his or her “spiritual child” as a family while they both live as resident aliens in the world.

Works Mentioned

Harrison, Matthew. Why Am I Joy:fully Lutheran? St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2018.

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