Steve McAlpine, writing at TGC Australia, has the post of the day.
Here’s how he begins:
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.
McAlpine identifies two mistaken assumptions and one mistaken tactic: (1) we assumed Athens, not Babylon; (2) we assumed a neutral culture, not a hostile world; (3) we loosened our language, just when cultural elites were tightening theirs.
Here is his conclusion:
Second Stage exiles do not place their hope in a city here, be it Athens or Babylon, but seek a city that is to come (Hebrews 13).
Second Stage Exiles do not need the approval of the culture, neither do they need to provoke the culture in order to feel good about themselves.
No, true exiles can live out their time in exile with confidence, love and hope because they trust in him “who is able to keep [them] from stumbling and to present [them] before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (Jude 1:24).
I encourage you to read the entire thing. It’s worth your time.