I found myself personally resonating with several of Hauerwas and Willimon's concerns in "Resident Aliens" about how American Christians tend to think. Hauerwas and Willimon rightly point out that it is absurd to expect a world no longer saturated with Christian language and assumptions to act like Christians. And it is insufficient to rest our hope in the restoration of Christendom, as they perceive that this longstanding era of church-state partnership (whether explicit or implicit) is seriously waning (now much more so than when they wrote RA in 1989).
They suggest that it is insufficient for the church to merely be an institution that tries to make the world a better place. And they find it to be equally unsatisfying for the church to simply try to minimize the discomfort that church-goers and would-be Christians experience in this individualistically-driven and materialistically-obsessed culture. They propose that the way for the church to be a Christian colony in a world that does not know God is to simply "be the church."
It is in this solution phase that Hauerwas and Willimon left me seriously wanting more. They are quite adept at picking apart a host of operating systems and philosophical constructs that many of us use to envision the church, ultimately to the detriment of the work of the church. But when they move into their proposed alternative (which they seemed to attempt at multiple points throughout the book), I was left in a world of abstraction. They kept returning to the idea that the church needs to be the church (without expecting the non-church world to function like the church). And as much as I embrace this general concept, they did very little to help me understand or picture what that means from their vantage point. The most concrete idea that appeared in several places was the suggestion that the church out to be a place of complete (and sometimes brutal) honesty. And as much as I agree, I do not think that being mere truth-speakers is a sufficiently holistic expression of following Christ upon which to base the church. I don't know what they think the church should be.
As a prospective pastor (and therefore, targeted audience for this book), I wanted to know how they recommend that pastors lead a church as a Christian colony? They seem to value preaching, but they are very critical of all of the ways that we have been taught to communicate from the pulpit (careful biblical exegesis, relevance, etc.) other than story-telling. They do not seem to think that pastors should have a vision and try to lead the congregation towards that vision, at least not coming out of seminary ripe with bad ideas of ecclesiology. They do not seem to think that pastors should respond to the needs of their congregants, as these people are saturated with individualistic and consumeristic dogma. They do not seem to think that pastors should care about ministering to a world in need, as social justice is just another reflection of the world's solution system.
To their credit, Hauerwas and Willimon actually manage to come across as relatively even-handed critics, in the sense that they seem to utterly disdain everything and everyone not named Karl Barth. (They are especially critical of anyone named Neibuhr.) But I found their sweeping negativity to be increasingly unhelpful as the book progressed. As accurate as their critiques may be, I found their work to be seriously lacking on the solution side of their thesis and much less poignant than it might have otherwise been had they more intentionally and specifically described what life in the Christian colony should actually look like. Maybe the picture of their hope for the church was painted in the midst of their abstract language, but I struggled to see that painting with any clarity.