Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Western church is about to enter stage two of its exile from the mainstream culture and the public square. And it will not be an easy time.

In case you missed it, Exile Stage One began a few decades or so ago, budding in the sexual revolution of the sixties before building up a head of steam some 20 years ago. Finally some Christians sat down to talk about it 15 or so years ago, and that set the ball, and the publishing companies rolling.

For those of us in ministry who were culture watchers, Exile Stage One was a heady time. Only we never called it Exile Stage One. We simply called it “Exile”, and pored over biblical texts such as the exilic book of Daniel and its New Testament counterpart 1 Peter. After all no one ever called World War One “World War One” before World War Two came along, right? It was simply the Great War.
So too with exile. Cafes were taken over for morning conversations between up and coming exilic leaders; pubs were used for exilic church; MacBooks were bought in bulk; and emerging/missional trailblazers employed coffee quality as a spiritual boundary marker, with a zeal that would have made any adherent of Second Temple Judaism weep with recognition.

In Exile Stage One the prevailing narrative was that the Christian church was being marginalised, Christendom was over, the church needed to come up with better strategies to strip away the dross, and all of this in order to reconnect Jesus with a lost world. We were all about “ad fontes”, a second Reformation getting back to the ecclesiastical source—hopefully utilising the Bible—or at the very least the Early Church Fathers and a bunch of candles (now-now - Sarcastic Ed).

The biggest problem the church had, according to Exile Stage One thinking, was that no one was talking about us anymore. And as Oscar Wilde wryly observed, the only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about. So in Exile Stage One the conferences and front-room conversations were busy talking about what it was like not being talked about. We'd been marginalised; locked out of interesting rooms; been abandoned at a rate of knots; discarded. Only a few perceptive people had seen it happening. How many? Well probably no more than in this front room with us, and perhaps a few others who meet at pub church every third Sunday.

And oh, everyone was quoting Lesslie Newbigin, or at least the only line of his they knew about the congregation being the hermeneutic of the gospel or some such. Everyone was discussing what it meant to have Christian convictions, but be post-foundational. Christendom was collapsing, and isn't that a good thing, given all the fighting and crusades and bad stuff priests did? Were we not sick of simply being chaplains to the culture? Time to refresh. Time to do organic/total/on-the-other-side/radical church. For Exile Stage One adherents there was a kind of glee that Christendom was falling. And if it was holding out in some areas such as North America, so what? Who wants to be a Southern Baptist anyway, what with single malt and cigars being so tasty and all?

Of course, I am being a little facetious, and in a way I have a right to be. I got involved in this Exile Stage One process and it has informed much of my thinking and that won't change. I also met amazing people, creative thinkers and theologians who deserve a hearing and a reading.

But here's the problem. Exile Stage One thinking has left Christians completely unprepared for Exile Stage Two reality. There were a set of assumptions made by Exile Stage One-rs that have not lined up with what is going to pan out over the coming three or so decades if the last five years are any indication. Let me map out some of these misplaced assumptions briefly:
Acropolis wide view

1. We Assumed Athens not Babylon

For all of the talk about exile, the language of Athens, and the need to find a voice in a culture of competing ideas, was far more prevalent in Exile Stage One conversation than the language of the true city of exile, Babylon. We were exploring ways to deal with the culture being uninterested in us, not despising us. I well remember myself saying “People are not walking past your church and saying, ‘If I never go to church, that’s the one I am never going to.’ No, they don't see it at all.” That’s Athens talk, and assumes that if we can just show a point of connection to the culture then the conversation will flow and we will all get along.

I have changed my mind on this one. In the last five or six years the culture (read: elite framework that drives the culture) is increasingly interested in bringing the church back into the public square. Yes, you heard that right. But not in order to hear it, but rather, in order to flay it, expose its real and alleged abuses and to render it naked and shivering before a jeering crowd. It is Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego standing up before the statue of gold, whilst everyone else is grovelling and going, “Pssst, kneel down for goodness sake!” It is officials conspiring with the king to show that Daniel’s act of praying towards Jerusalem three times per day is not simply an archaic and foolish hope, but a very real threat to the order of the society and the new moral order that will hold it together.
Babylon 3

If the primary characteristic of Exile Stage One was supposed to be humility, the primary characteristic of Second Stage Exiles will have to be courage. Courage does not mean bombastic pronouncements to the world, not at all. It has to be much deeper than that. It will mean, upon hearing the king’s command that no one can pray to any god save the king for thirty days, that we go into our rooms with the window open towards Jerusalem and defy that king even as our accusers hunt us down. It means looking the king in his enraged face and saying, even in our God does not rescue us from the flames, we will not serve your gods or bow down to your statue of gold. Unlike Athens, Babylon is not interested in trying to out-think us, merely overpower us. Apologetics and new ways of doing church don’t cut it in Babylon. Only courage under fire will.

Read more at http://australia.thegospelcoalition.org/article/stage-two-exile-are-you-ready-for-it?utm_content=buffer4041b&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

No comments:

Post a Comment