I had a hard time falling asleep last night, so my typical cure is a theology book. I picked up Willimon and Hauerwas’ book Resident Aliens, a self-described “provocative Christian assessment of culture and ministry for people who know something is wrong.”
Unfortunately, it’s a very compelling, beautifully written book that left my head spinning . . . in a good way.
For someone who has been wrestling with ways to humbly share the good news of the Gospel, Hauerwas and Willimon are solid food. Take this quote for instance. Building on the theology of Karl Barth, they state:
“The theological task is not merely the interpretive matter of translating Jesus into modern categories but rather to translate the world to him. The theologian’s job is not to make the gospel credible to the modern world, but to make the world credible to the gospel” (24).
What a refreshing way to consider Christianity. We go into the world to bring God’s reality and to transform the world.
And if I may backpeddle a little, they also have quite a bit to say about theology and the ways we can botch things up. For example, I was taught in college that Bible study is a three-part process where we understand the ancient world, distill the basic truth, and then recontextualize it into today’s world.
I’m not a fan of this approach for no other reason than the sheer impossibility of such a task. But Hauerwas and Willimon have much more to say:
“The theology of translation assumes that there is some kernel of real Christianity, some abstract essence that can be preserved even while changing some of the old Near Eastern labels. Yet such a view distorts the nature of Christianity. In Jesus we meet humanity, but an invitation to join up, to become part of a movement, a people. By the very act of our modern theological attempts at translation, we have unconsciously distorted the gospel and transformed it into something it never claimed to be–ideas abstracted from Jesus, rather than Jesus with his people” (21).
That is a mouthful, earful, and pageful, but I think this insight is so important. Isn’t it tempting to boil Christianity down to doctrines and principles? It is far too easy to make the Bible into a book of rules that can be clearly followed.
The fact of the matter is the Bible and Jesus are far more concerned with revealing God and uniting us with God. The Bible tells us about God, but it cannot be reduced to simple abstract truth about God.
I love that last line of the quoted section: “Jesus with his people.” That’s so simple and beautiful that we’re bound to mess it up.