Resident Aliens

One of my favourite books…..

Article below by len

In the second chapter of Resident Aliens Hauerwas and Willimon take on Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture. They write that, “We have come to believe that few books have been a greater hindrance to an accurate assessment of our situation than Christ and Culture. Niebuhr rightly saw that our politics determines our theology. He was right that Christians cannot reject “culture.” But his call to Christians to accept “culture” .. had the effect of endorsing a Constantinian social strategy. “Culture” became a blanket term to underwrite Christian involvement with the world without providing any discriminating modes for [discernment].”

In saying “the church doesn’t have a social strategy, the church IS a social strategy,” we are attempting to indicate an alternative way of looking at the political, social significance of the church.”

More helpful than Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture is John Howard Yoder in “A People in the World: Theological Interpretation.” Yoder distinguishes between the activist church, the conversionist church, and the confessing church.

The activist church is more concerned with the building of a better society than with the reformation of the church. Through the humanization of social structures, the activist church glorifies God…

The conversionist church argues that no amount of tinkering with the structures of society will counter the effects of human sin… the sphere of political action is shifted from without to within, from society to the human soul..

The confessing church is not a synthesis of the two approaches, but a radical alternative.

“Rejecting both the individualism of the conversionists and the secularism of the activists and their common equation of what works with what is faithful, the confessing church finds it main political task to lie, not in the personal transformation of individual hearts or the modification of society, but rather in the congregation’s determination to worship Christ in all things.. We might be tempted to say that faithfulness rather than effectiveness is the goal of a confessing church. Yet we believe this is a false [dichotomy].. (45)
“The confessing church, like the conversionist church, also calls people to conversion, but it depicts that conversion as a long process of being baptismally engrafted into a new people, an alternative polis, a countercultural social structure called church. It seeks to influence the world by being the church, that is, by being something the world is not and can never be.. The confessing church seeks the visible church, a place, clearly visible to the world, in which people are faithful to their promises, love their enemies, tell the truth, honor the poor, suffer for righteousness, and thereby testify to the amazing community-creating power of God…

“This church can participate in secular movements against war, against hunger, and against other forms of inhumanity, but it sees this as part of its necessary proclamatory action. This church knows that its most credible form of witness (and the most “effective” thing it can do for the world) is the actual creation of a living, breathing, visible community of faith.” (47)

This emphasis on a visible, concrete, alternative.. visible in a people and a place.. connects well with the recovery of a theology of place. There are many great sources and conversations for that recovery, the roots of the loss of which are found in dualism and the tendency to abstraction and “objectification.” (Though it’s fascinating to reflect that the Eastern church and the sacramental traditions never experienced this loss in the same way as the Western church and non-sacramental traditions. See esp “Religion and the Shape of National Culture” R. Bellah, 1999).

“Everything that the Creator God does in forming us humans is done in place. It follows from this that since we are his creatures and can hardly escape the conditions of our making, for us everything that has to do with God is also in place. All living is local: this land, this neighborhood, these trees and streets and houses, this work, these people.” Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, Peterson

This entry was posted in Christianity, Church, Culture, Discipleship, Institution, Justice, Mission, Politics, Postmodernity, Spirituality, The State, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

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