Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Preaching from Exile

I spoke today at the Festival of Preaching at College Wesleyan Church today. I think the video will be available eventually. The topic I was given is, "Finding Themes of Exile in the Word." Here is my basic outline and thesis:

1. Introduction
I started by noting that pretty much every Christian in America has felt like they were in exile over the last five years:
  • We should be mindful that there are some Christians who have never felt in power. All their lives they have felt marginalized, not just as Christians but as people.
  • American evangelicals have increasingly felt exiled from their Christian nation since Roe v. Wade in the 70s. But Obergefell especially gave a profound and sudden sense of alienation and disorientation.
  • For another group, especially a lot of younger Christians, felt oriented by the 2016 election. To them, the forces of hatred seemed to prevail. To them, not only the electorate but evangelical Christianity itself vote the opposite. They have felt not only alienated from their country, which in any case they never thought of as Christian, but from denominations and the church itself.
  • Point 1: While we may have felt especially alienated in these recent days, we have always been exiles.
Christians are always in exile because Sin reigns over this world. We have been in exile since the day Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, and we will be in exile until Jesus returns and brings his kingdom to this earth as it is in heaven.

Hebrews 11:9-16
The exile that Hebrews mentions here is more profound that a mere situation behind this sermon. Hebrews considers this created realm itself to be in need of shaking (12:26-27). I gave my sense of the situation of Hebrews as it related to a context of marginalization and alienation.

The implications here are striking:
  • It implies that even when Israel was in control of its land, there was an Israel within Israel. It was not the political Israel that was the exiled people of God, but some subset within Israel.
  • Is this not what Jesus said: "Narrow is the gate and few there be that find it" (Matt. 7:14)?
  • Ed Stetzer has a striking position here. The amount of true Christians in America probably hasn't changed. We are simply seeing the true number better and better.
2. Models of Exile
If we are always in exile, what are some of the modes of believers in exile? I expanded H. Reinhold Niebuhr's categories to suggest some modes of being in the world in exile and thus some modes of preaching while in exile in the world.

Point 2: God has inspired Scripture in such a way that different texts in Scripture speak more directly and more powerfully at different specific times and places. The Bible is a library of words, some of which jump out today, here. Others jump out tomorrow, there.

a. Taking over the culture (Christ above culture)
I called this mode of exile, "temporary assertion." It is for Joshua days. I think these are rare. After all, the conquest is a unique biblical event, never again repeated. There may be times when God calls us to disobey the government (e.g., the underground railroad). But most of the time, this is not the mode.

When religions try to take over the state (e.g., sharia law), bad things tend to happen. This is not a primary biblical mode of exile. In fact, the conquest of Canaan in Joshua was only done in order to create a context where Israel could withdraw from its surrounding world (option five below).

b. Desperate assimilation (Christ and culture in paradox)
I tweaked this one a little. This is the compartmentalizing of faith. I say I believe in church. It doesn't affect the way I live. I again suggested that this is not a primary mode of exile. Maybe it is never an appropriate mode. Certainly it is not a mode in any normal times. In normal times it is an indicator that someone is not truly part of the people of God.

But there are possible times when this has happened in exile. The movie Silence is about a Roman Catholic missionary who recanted his faith, not to save his own life, but to save the lives of other believers. Did the declaration of loyalty by the Russian Orthodox patriarch to the Soviet revolution save the church in Russia or ensure that it would only continue to exist in a corrupted form?

I can only think of one text in the Bible that might fall in this category in some way and that is the book of Esther. This is not a recommended mode of exile.

c. Principled assimilation (Christ in culture)
Again, I've tweaked this one a little. Here I looked to 1 Peter and echoed Scot McKnight's sense that it embodies a defensive strategy.
  • Babylon - This reference suggests that Rome was breathing down the neck of the audience.
  • "exiles and aliens" - not literal but this is how they're feeling
  • "judgment has begun" - the church feels like it is experiencing the end times
  • "Live good lives" - don't let them have any real reason to punish you.
  • Blend in - slaves be good slaves, wives be good wives
d. Separation (Christ versus culture)
Paul largely sees the church as living in a separate world than the Roman world around him. He doesn't stop sharing the good news, both in synagogue and church, but he largely sees the world as something that is God's concern, not the church's.
  • 1 Corinthians 5:9-13
  • This is similar to Jesus on taxes. "Render to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's."
e. Withdrawal (Christ really versus culture)
The people have done this from time to time. Monks, Shakers. Israel may be the best illustration. In Egypt, probably in Babylon, the very nature of the Law itself was to provide a hedge around God's people to keep them from serving other gods. I used 2 Corinthians 6:14-17.

f. Influence (Christ transforming culture)
We all say we favor this, but God's mode is one of wooing, not forcing the world to follow God. In Romans 1, God "gives them up." I end with Philippians 3:18-20.
  • Philippi was a Roman colony. Citizens of this city were citizens of Rome. It was largely settled by Roman soldiers who were rewarded for their service with land here.
  • Paul calls these Christians "citizens of heaven" nonetheless. They might have reason to boast in their earthly citizen, as American Christians. But Paul reminds them they are really in exile.

1 comment:

Martin LaBar said...

Good summary.