I recently saw NT Wright speak at a local Bible College. It was obviously thought provoking and filled the typical challenges you would come to expect from a theologian such as NT Wright. Oddly, the part that stuck with me wasn’t Wright but the man who introduced him to the stage. He was a representative from Fuller Seminary and this is what he said:
“The church is no longer at the center of influence in our culture…we must be preparing the church for exile.“
This thought isn’t new and physical exile isn’t necessarily what he was referring to. In fact Judeo-Christianity has had plenty of historic moments in exile. The most well known is, of course, found in Exodus as God’s people roamed around in a desert for 40 years as well as their life under the Roman regime during most of the New Testament accounts. I believe he was referring to a time soon-to-come that places Christianity as oddities culturally, politically, and socially to the extent that we will be exiles on our own soil. Neil Cole mentions his speculations on this in a recent blog series he posted.
One reason the statement caught my attention was the matter-of-factness with which he stated it. He ASSUMED a tipping point had occurred and most of us listening had an understanding of what he was referring. It would be foolish to ignore the fact that the christian influence in America has waned and will, most likely, continue over the next few years. Maybe God has revival in our future but I too sense the church is heading into a time of cultural exile in America. I believe, as a church leader, that I am responsible to prepare God’s people for it. Not simply for the purpose of survival but for thriving within the pressure of this exile. This preperation involves:
- how we are to live in loving, gospel community together
- how we are to present an alternative lifestyle contrary to the dominant culture we are immersed in
- how we are to adhere to and protect God’s word
- and how we are to be on mission in a new context where christian values are not embraced or even tolerated.
The questions to ask:
- Are we adequately preparing the church?
- Is the church actually as aware as this man supposed?
- If he is correct, what should we do to prepare?
- Are we willing to let go of old paradigms [traditions] to channel the gospel in new ways?
- Are there aspects of our current expression of church that can’t survive without government help?
Again, it wouldn’t be the first time God’s people walked in exile. In fact the church often moves into a stage of spontaneous, unstoppable expansion when put under pressure. I believe we can learn a lot from the scriptures and how God guided His people during those times [the book of Acts would be a great starting place] and that we should prayerfully consider how God might want us to live in the exile to come.