Author Archive | Stephen Barkley

Resident Aliens | Stanley Hauerwas & William H. Willimon

The cover of Hauerwas and Willimon's Resident AliensFirst Century Philippi was a colony of Rome. It was the place where grizzled Roman soldiers would settle when their warfare was over. Consider it a mini Rome—a place where Roman law and values reigned. It was to the Christians in this Roman colony that Paul wrote, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20 NRSV). In the same way that Roman citizens embodied Roman values in Philippi, heavenly citizens are called to embody heavenly values while in the colonies on earth.

Resident Aliens is a fiery book. In it, Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon describe a tragic situation: the colony of heaven is starting to look like the kingdoms of this world! Rather than being different, the church tries to fit in. In contrast to this capitulation, the goal of Hauerwas and Willimon is

to empower people in the church by exciting their imaginations to see what wonderful opportunities lie at the heart of Christian ministry—once the integrity of the church is reclaimed. (144)

The world has changed. Christendom has fallen. Rather than mourn, Christians can view this as a blessing. The church is no longer church-by-default. It must, once again, be the colony of heaven.


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

After Virtue | Alasdair MacIntyre

The cover of MacIntyre's After VirtueIs there anything left to be said about After Virtue? With this book, Alasdair MacIntyre brought Aristotelian-style virtue ethics back into the modern conversation. It is a true classic, still quoted and built upon today, almost forty years after its original publication date.

After Virtue falls into two parts. The first half of the book is deconstructive. MacIntyre carefully explains how the ethical problems of our time cannot be answered from within our post-Enlightenment framework. The ethical landscape today resembles the ruins of a once great culture. We have bits and pieces of ethical material from the past, but no historical context with which to apply them. Without context there can be no ethical progress beyond the emotivism of the day.

[M]oral judgments are linguistic survivals from the practices of classical theism which have lost the context provided by these practices. (60)

The second half of After Virtue is constructive. Now that the problem is diagnosed, MacIntyre prescribes Aristotelian medicine. Humans are social creatures, narrative construed toward a telos or goal. It is through the practice of virtues within a community that humans mature and become the sort of people who are able to encounter the moral quandaries of the day.

It is difficult to overstate the value of this book. After Virtue is one carefully argued perspective in which each of the 286 pages adds value. It is multidisciplinary, combining philosophical argument with sociological and historical context. Despite its age, I found myself continually reflecting on current political and social events through MacIntyre’s lens.

This is not a Christian book per se, but it has serious implications for the church. This is the foundation on which Stanley Hauerwas has based his ethical perspective. Pastors who wish to understand the moral makeup of the world and the church would do well to revisit this venerable volume.


MacIntyre, Alasdair. After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory. 3rd Edition. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007.

Ethics | Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The cover of Bonhoeffer's EthicsSometimes I think I really have my life more or less behind me now and that all that would remain for me to do would be to finish my Ethics . . . (14)

Unfortunately, he was unable to finish. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged by the Nazi regime on April 9, 1945, a mere two weeks before the allies liberated the Flossenbürg concentration camp which held him. The essays and notes which comprise Ethics were gathered and published posthumously.

Despite the lack of unified structure or flow to the book, the work is rich. Bonhoeffer’s penetrating mind reached deeply into a variety of ethical topics. Consider, for example, this meditation on obedience and freedom:

Obedience restrains freedom; and freedom ennobles obedience. Obedience binds the creature to the Creator and freedom enables the creature to stand before the Creator as one who is made in His image. (248)

Bonhoeffer’s Lutheran background is evident throughout this work. His discussion of the church and the world, the three uses of the law, and the role of the conscience in the life of a believer all reveal a Lutheran mind at work.

Ethics is a slow read. It’s a book that forces you to slow down and consider the details of what it means to be an ethical Christian.


Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Ethics. Translated by Neville Horton Smith. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995 (1955).

The Peaceable Kingdom | Stanley Hauerwas

The cover of Hauerwas' The Peaceable KingdomWe often think of Christian ethics in response to a concrete problem. Did that politician abuse his power when he dated that intern? Is it ethical for a rape victim to have an abortion? Is it permissible to lie in order to serve the greater good? Where can we go to find the resources to answer these questions?

Many Christians, especially of evangelical stripe, go to the Bible—Hauerwas goes to church. It’s not that Hauerwas doesn’t value scripture, but he knows that scripture was written by and formed within the church. Scripture is best read together, within the context of the church. It is in the community of the baptized that believers grow in virtue. It is in the church that Christians learn their place in God’s story and have their imaginations freed to think truly and ethically.

The entire book centres around chapter 5, “Jesus: The Presence of the Peaceable Kingdom” (72-95). The story of Jesus (not Christological reflection) is “meant not only to display [Jesus’] life, but to train us to situate our lives in relation to that life” (74). The life of Jesus is characterized by nonviolent love.

Thus to be like Jesus is to join him in the journey through which we are trained to be a people claiming citizenship in God’s kingdom of nonviolent love—a love that would overcome the powers of this world, not through coercion and force, but through the power of this one man’s death. (76)

The church embodies an alternate reality—true to reality. The church the place where nonviolent love reigns and thus bears witness to the world that Christ is present. (Or at least it should be thus. Violence and disunity threaten the witness of the church to its core.)

When it’s time to make difficult moral and ethical decisions, we will have been apprenticed by the church into the life of Christ and will have become the sort of people capable of making those hard choices.


Hauerwas, Stanley. The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2002 (1983).

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