Rod Dreher, writing in “The American Conservative” yesterday, reflects on an older book that will serve as a valuable resource for all of us trying to figure out where and how to lead the church in this modern America of cultural indifference, Christian persecution, Planned Parenthood’s wanton slaughter of innocents, and immorality on a scale never before seen in our nation (the Ashley Madison hack and subsequent release of its membership revealed 32 million names in its database seeking adulterous relationships—unless I’m worse at math than I realize, that number represent 10% of America’s population!)
The book Dreher references is “Resident Aliens” by Duke University professors, Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon. I read it some time ago and was struck back then with the incisive way the two analyzed the cultural captivity of the American Protestant church. I just didn’t know what to do with their conclusions. Today, though, in the gathering storm in our culture that’s threatening to engulf all things Christian, their work has greater resonance.
“Resident Aliens” gives a kind of roadmap—I say “kind of” because no one really knows exactly what to do right now only that the response of those churches that have simply hunkered down in the hopes that the storm will blow over and things will get back to normal is NOT an adequate response—for churches and their leaders trying to minister with biblical fidelity in this uncertain time.
In his piece, Dreher lists ten pertinent points from the book, along with some of his own comments in response. They’re worth pondering:
- The end of Christendom (“Christendom” doesn’t mean Christianity as a whole but instead the entanglement of the Christian faith with politics, economy and culture) is not so much a crisis for the church as an opportunity for greater fidelity. The church must cease being chaplains to the Enlightenment liberal status quo.
- We Christians are “resident aliens” within the larger unbelieving culture, and must never forget that, just as the Hebrews in Babylonian exile did not forget Jerusalem (i.e., who they were, and who they were not).
- The church today, both on the cultural left and the cultural right, has forgotten its story – especially the radicalism of the Christian story — and must re-learn it.
- “The church is the colony that gives us resident aliens the interpretive skills whereby we know honestly how to name what is happening and what to do about it.”
- Real Christianity is so demanding we cannot live it alone. “The church not only gives us the support we need in being moral, it also teaches us what being moral is.”
- The colony (that is, the church) exists primarily to form disciples – that is, to make people who are Christ-like. We must ask ourselves what kind of community would it take to form people who live like Christ?
- One of the main tasks of pastors and the laity is to ensure “the survival of a colony within an alien society.” If we lose the colony, we lose our way on the journey.
- The church must prize discipline and asceticism over comfort and self-indulgence. This is a revolutionary stance.
- We turn inward not for the sake of defensiveness, but for the sake of protecting what we need to go on the offense. The church can never be “out of the world,” but the greater danger is that the world is too much in the church. “We had lost the theological resources to resist, lost the resources even to see that there was something worth resisting.”
- “The church must not withdraw to its own little enclave,” we are told. It must be involved in society, in helping to make American society a better place in which to live, working to change the structures of injustice.
“Resident Aliens” is one more resource that many pastors will need to hang onto in the coming months and years as the Benedict Option becomes more and more the direction we pursue. We’re faced with a struggle that will define American Christianity into the coming centuries (if the Lord doesn’t return sooner!), and our calling has never been as critical as it is now.