The Church In The World Or The World In The Church? A Review Article -- By: Carl F. H. Henry

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 34:3 (Sep 1991)
Article: The Church In The World Or The World In The Church? A Review Article
Author: Carl F. H. Henry

The Church In The World
Or The World In The Church? A Review Article

Carl F. H. Henry*

Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon. Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony. Nashville: Abingdon, 1989.

Stanley Hauerwas’ sparkling verbal fireworks aim to illumine Church-and-society issues that urgently call for attention. He disclaims any intention to do systematic theology, a disavowal in which he notably perseveres, only to leave in midair some important questions of epistemology and ontology. But none of us can afford to ignore Hauerwas’ reflections on the growing confusion over social ethics, and some of his emphases call for applause.

On the positive side we may range his rediscovery of the evangelical emphasis that the Church as a new society lives in the larger world as a colony of heaven obedient to the crucified and living Lord. He rejects as ill-conceived both the modernist social gospel that sought to “christianize society” and the recent fundamentalist New Christian Right that sought to “rechristianize America.” The Church’s mission, he holds, is not to remedy existing social structures in order to achieve an improved society or world order. The Church has no mandate to guarantee durability to a culture that skews God’s significance for society or refuses to acknowledge him a public role. The Church is to recover her role as an alternative political community. Her mission is not reducible to personal evangelism that gathers together a complex of isolated individuals, important as evangelism is, or reducible to reconstruction of the world order.

Hauerwas joins those who believe, as I do also, that the primary social concern facing Christians is to be crystal clear about the nature and mission of the Church. In evangelical context the Church is a transnational, transcultural, transracial community of regenerate sinners who as the people of God are shaped by the Scriptural revelation and seek to obey Christ Jesus in word and life. The Church’s legitimate concerns must therefore not be taken captive by secular society. Consequently it is understandable why politically-tilted churches lose more and more members who instead of political activism want first and foremost a personal relationship with God. “The most important political service the church does for any society,” Hauerwas says in his earlier book Christian Existence Today (1988), “is to be a community capable of developing people of virtue” (p. 13), especially the virtues of forgiveness, hope and peace.

*Carl Henry is lecturer-at-large for World Vision International.

Christian obedience, as Hauerwas sees it, requires...

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