We’ve heard a lot lately about the church in North America being in exile, or it being winter, or about how we all need to be “countercultural.”  So we decided to discuss it.

If you haven’t already, read Andrew Wilson’s post on the church’s winter and then my own take on the rhetoric of being countercultural.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

  • Great discussion, guys. Especially Matt’s cantankerousness at the end. I’d argue that a lot of the impetus towards exile/winter language has more to do with the anxiety about knowing that there was social/cultural power for orthodox Christians get our way in the past (for good or for ill) and that’s receding.

    I think that there’s a case to be made for understanding “exile” as a more permanent condition, in the “two cities” sense of working for the good of our earthly domain while affirming the primacy of our Christian citizenship. How this plays out in our culture is always evolving: 60 years ago, our understanding of sexual morality was a bit more congruent with Biblical precepts but our approach to race was in captivity.

  • C. Quinn-Jones

    Another great discussion!
    This springs to mind:
    ‘Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.’
    I gather that snakes know when it is best to hide in a cleft of a rock.

  • Pingback: Podcast: Living Through the Church’s Exile | Alastair's Adversaria()

  • Alastair’s word near the end of the podcast, that perhaps we “are all just depressed” is intriguing. It testifies to the reality that we lack the vantage to discern precisely what is going on, which I think is evidenced within this discussion. The articulation that follows regarding leadership and courage, I think, was a helpful admonition to pastors, scholars, theologians, and spokespersons for Christ, wherever they may be found. In fact, I think it was the most helpful moment of this podcast.

    And, Matt, cantankerousness aside, the rhetoric of exile can be helpful for common Christians in the pew. So can the beatitudes, and love for the poor, widow, and orphan. I would simply say that the full counsel of the word of God is needed, for every Christian. Multiple motifs are always in play, in my view, and the Spirit applies them creatively and often surprisingly, within each context whether broad (a city or region) or narrow (an individual, common life).

  • The exile model either became popular or has reemerged because of emergence of 2K theology. The difference between 2K theology’s use of this model and the model of though used by the guest on the show is that 2K theology reduces the Church’s relationship with society to that of exile. In another section of Tim Keller’s book Center Church, Keller acknowledges the exile model but adds evangelism because that is the primary way God’s people should grow now as opposed to when the exile took place.

    There is a problem with using Keller’s 4 seasonal approach to the Church’s relationship with society. That problem revolves around the status of the Church’s privileged position in society. The warmer times of the year in Keller’s model revolve on the Church potential or actual gaining of privilege in society while the cooler times of the year revolve around Church’s potential or actual losing of privilege in society. A two part model that expresses the same idea as Keller’s 4 seasonal model is the pendulum swing.

    The problem with using Keller’s model of thought here is that it teaches us Christians to seek a privileged position in society so that we are in a better position to determine society’s laws and mores. And the question is, considering the passages that dealt with Church discipline along with Jesus’ warning for us not to lord it over others, should the Church always seek or maintain a privilege position in society or should it attempt to share society with unbelievers as equals?

  • Hmm. I was waiting for someone to make the point I was expecting to hear, but didn’t hear it. Which probably means that I’m confused. Somebody (Alistair?) came closest, but I continually have conversations with people in my church who expect to be living in Christendom. Not just “a Christian culture,” but specifically “a Christian nation.” It’s offensive to them when the “culture gets more godless.” In those types of pastoral conversations, I’ve found the language of exile to be helpful. Jeremiah 29 is helpful, here, as is Paul’s stuff in, for example, Romans 13.

    The point (contra Matt, I think) is not to be defeatist, but to reframe expectations: “You should not expect to be powerful.” That’s the value of exile language, I think.

    Thoughts?

    • I don’t know if “You should not expect to be powerful” was your own thought or someone said it during the podcast, but I disagree with the sentiment (although I agree with everything else you said!) Exile certainly “reframes expectations,” but in the sense that we always have a certain degree of cultural power and have to steward it appropriately.

      • Well, I can agree with that up to a point, but the issue at hand is a decrease in the cultural power of the Church. People have an expectation of a certain level of cultural power, but in reality they have less and it frustrates them. Right?

        • For sure, there has been a decline in certain areas of cultural power (and people remember having more power in the past, causing some angst & frustration about the discrepancy.) However, realistically considering and generously applying the power we do have is still important.

          • I can go along with that.

    • hoosier_bob

      Micah,

      I agree that there’s a loss of power, but I’m not sure that the consequences are all that significant or remarkable.

      One problem with the Culture War motif is that it supposes that evangelicals are in a two-sided battle with their enemies, the secularists. Whenever we lose ground, we suppose that the secularists must be gaining ground. We therefore assume that doom must be around the corner.

      The reality is far more complex. Our culture isn’t really divided between two sides. To the contrary, we’re made up of a number of different tribes, none of which has the power to dominate the culture. This is a change from the past (1950s), where we had something that more closely resembled a common dominant culture. That culture has largely lost its dominance. And it’s that common culture that most evangelicals generally want to restore.

      But that common culture didn’t lose its dominance to a single entity. Rather, it lost its power to a number of disparate tribes that arose in its place. That’s why the situation for social traditionalists isn’t that dire. Most tribes are only interested in nurturing their tribal culture; they don’t ask for anything from the broader population except to be left alone. If they seem to be opposed to social traditionalists, it is only because social traditionalists are often trying to reestablish a common culture. And the tribalists rightly see that as a threat. It is.

      I recognize that many social traditionalists see this as a declension. I don’t. I see it as an opportunity for the church to recover its distinctiveness without the pressure of having to carve out a place for itself within a common, dominant culture. In that sense, it presents an opportunity for the church to thrive. But we’re not thriving. Instead, we’re largely sitting around wringing our hands over the loss of a common culture and trying to assert the merits of that culture at every turn.

  • Not that I have much to add, but I have to say the comments by the listeners are among the best we’ve had so far. Keep it up! Plenty to continue discussing!

    • Respond to my comment and I will! =:-)