I’m now about half way thru Mike Frost’s new book Exiles and finding it a fantastic read. I think I’ll review it in several parts as there is a fair bit to reflect on, both in terms of content and personal engagement.
Mike’s thesis is that the church in the west no longer holds a position of dominance or influence but rather is increasingly a marginalised body – and needs to see itself as such. It’s the whole ‘post-Christendom’ idea.
He quotes Stuart Murray who says “post-Christendom is the culture that emerges as the Christian faith loses coherence within a society that has been definitively shaped by the Christian story and as the institutions that have developed to express Christian convictions are in decline.”
When you have lived for so long with the church as the centre of society it can be difficult to conceive of operating in any other way, but in his opening paragraph Mike highlights the fact that there are plenty around the world who are falling between the cracks.
This book is written for those Christians who find themselves falling into the cracks between contemporary secular western culture and a quaint old fashioned church culture of respectability and conservatism. This book is for the many people who wish to be faithful followers of the radical Jesus but no longer find themselves able to fit into the bland, limp, unsavoury straitjacket of a church that seems to be yearning for a return to the days when ‘everyone’ used to attend church and ‘Christian family values’ reigned. This book is for those who can’t remain in the safe modes of church and who wish to live expansive, confident Christian lives in this world without have to abandon themselves to the values of contemporary society. This book is for those Christians who feel themselves ready (or yearning) to jump ship but don’t want to be left adrift in a world where greed consumerism, laziness and materialism toss them about endlessly and pointlessly.
‘Exiles’ is written to help those of us who resonate with the term consider how we live in world where the balance of power has shifted, but where the call to follow Jesus is still the motif that shapes our lives.
The ‘exiles’ theme works well as in the biblical world exiles were often allowed to carry on functioning within society but did not hold any privileged place – a great metaphor for the current location of church. In contrast to those who would suggest our task is to regain power and establish a ‘Christian state’, (think Christian political groups) Mike suggests that its in this place as exiles that we can really begin to transform society in a very powerful, but subversive way.
Having heard Mike speak on this theme at the start of the year I found the book a fairly easy read and a chance to reflect more deeply on the 4 primary themes
Dangerous Memories – where he calls us back to the gospel stories to re-connect with the real Jesus, rather than the sanitised ‘spooky’ Jesus we often seem to encounter
Dangerous Promises – where we as the church live out the values of the kingdom in tangible visible ways in our host communities
Dangerous Criticism – where we boldly speak for the issues that concern the heart of God even if they are unpopular or bring us suffering.
Dangerous Songs – where he argues for songs of passion and inspiration that evoke revolutionary action from people rather than a warm fuzzy glow.
I’ll begin to flesh these out a bit next time and hopefully whet your appetite for the book…