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.
A friend of mine brought this thought to my attention a while back but it wasn’t until recently that God reintroduced it into my life and I began thinking, meditating, and chewing on Isaiah’s words in chapter 40, especially verses 3-5 [click here for the whole chapter]:
This passage is echoed by John [the baptizer] and speaks of a coming King who’s path needs to be cleared as he is ushered in. Most commentaries that I have read would agree that the mountains and valley’s are metaphors of the heart as we make straight the crooked paths of our lives for the coming King to enter in [remember John preached and baptized for the repentance of sins]. Some heeded John’s warning willingly out of humility and fear of the Lord while others are humbled as they reach the limits of the things they put their trust in [power, money, and abilities].
Jesus had a way of leveling the playing field for all of us as He spoke of a Kingdom with upside down methods and an inverted way of thinking. We see it reflected in the words of Paul and a similar theme [even similar language] throughout the entire bible:
- The first will be last and the last will be first (Matt 10:16)
- Whoever wanted to be great would have to be a servant (Matt. 20: 26).
- Paul tells us to boast in our weakness (2 Cor 12:9).
- God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and the weak things of the world to shame the strong (1 Cor. 1:27).
- Jesus gave us the example as He emptied Himself as nothing, taking the very nature of a servant (Phil. 2:6-11).
- Believers should not take pride in their high positions and the rich should boast in their humiliation (James 9-11)
- 2 Samuel 22:8, Isaiah 2:11, Psalm 18:27, Luke 14:11, Isaiah 5:15, Luke 1:52, Psalm 72:11, Proverbs 29:23, and the entire story of Exodus are examples of God’s tendency to raise the lowly and bring down those who are living out of their strength, might, or riches.
What if Isaiah were also speaking to us today? Perhaps in preparation for the second coming of Christ or perhaps simply in the likeness of John’s heart to see us willingly come to God’s grace in repentance so that we aren’t. Since the Bible was written and based in the mindset of community, people groups, and nations, I decided to ask myself a few questions about our current culture! Who are the valleys? Who are the mountains? Most Americans [and the rest of the world] would agree that America could hardly be described as a humble, poor, valley. Is it possible that He is trying to get our attention through recessions and housing market collapses to humble ourselves before we are humbled? Could we willingly reach down out of our mountain top to help out and lift up those who are in valleys valleys?
I am not trying to sound like a doomsayer but we can’t deny that Jesus IS coming again as a righteous Judge. Nations change with small beginnings and it starts with how each one of us lives our lives, use our finances, and the way we spend our time. Which leads me to the final question. This is the question that I feel God posed to me:
“Do you think I didn’t mean what I said or do you not fear me?”
Reading his book right now and I found this little gem on YouTube which I thought was an interesting and incredibly powerful teaching on the overarching ideas in Exodus of the Hebrews’ relationship to both God and Pharaoh.
I’ll probably write a response post on my thoughts from Brueggemann soon. What do you think??