Christian: Are You Ready For Exile Stage Two?

The Western church is about to enter stage two of its exile from the mainstream culture and the public square. And it will not be an easy time.

In case you missed it, Exile Stage One began a few decades or so ago, budding in the sexual revolution of the sixties before building up a head of steam some 20 years ago. Finally some Christians sat down to talk about it 15 or so years ago, and that set the ball, and the publishing companies rolling.

For those of us in ministry who were culture watchers, Exile Stage One was a heady time.  Only we never called it Exile Stage One. We simply called it “Exile”, and poured over biblical texts such as the exilic book of Daniel and its New Testament counterpart 1Peter.  After all no one ever called World War One “World War One” before World War Two came along, right? It was simply the Great War.  So too with exile. Cafes were taken over for morning conversations between up and coming exilic leaders, pubs were used for exilic church, MacBooks were bought in bulk and emerging/missional trailblazers employed coffee quality as a spiritual boundary marker with a zeal that would have made any Second Temple Judaism adherent weep with recognition.

In Exile Stage One the prevailing narrative was that the Christian church was being marginalised, Christendom was over; the church needed to come up with better strategies; to strip away the dross, and all in order to reconnect Jesus with a lost world. We were all about “ad fontes“, a second Reformation getting back to the ecclesiastical source – hopefully utilising the Bible – or at the very least the Early Church Fathers and a bunch of candles (now-now – Sarcastic Ed).

The biggest problem the church had, according to Exile Stage One thinking, was that  no one was talking about us anymore.  And as Oscar Wilde wryly observed, the only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about. So in Exile Stage One the conferences and front-room conversations were busy talking about what it was like not being talked about. We’d been marginalised; locked out of interesting rooms; been abandoned at a rate of knots; discarded. Only a few perceptive people had seen it happening. How many? Well probably no more than in this front room with us, and perhaps a few others who meet at pub church every third Sunday.

And oh, everyone was quoting Lesslie Newbigin, or at least the only line of his they knew about the congregation being the hermeneutic of the gospel or some such. Everyone was discussing what it meant to have Christian convictions, but be post-foundational. Christendom was collapsing, and isn’t that a good thing, given all the fighting and crusades and bad stuff priests did? Were we not sick of simply being chaplains to the culture? Time to refresh. Time to do organic/total/on-the-other-side/radical church. For Exile Stage One adherents there was a kind of glee that Christendom was falling. And if it was holding out in some areas such as North America, so what?  Who wants to be a Southern Baptist anyway, what with single malt and cigars being so tasty and all?

Of course, I am being a little facetious, and in a way I have a right to be.  I got involved in this Exile Stage One process and it has informed much of my thinking and that won’t change. I also met amazing people, creative thinkers and theologians who deserve a hearing and a reading.

But here’s the problem. Exile Stage One thinking has left Christians completely unprepared for Exile Stage Two reality.  There were a set of assumptions made by Exile Stage One-rs that have not lined up with what is going to pan out over the coming three or so decades if the last five years are any indication.  Let me map out some of these misplaced assumptions briefly:

1. We Assumed Athens not Babylon

For all of the talk about exile, the language of Athens, and the need to find a voice in a culture of competing ideas, was far more prevalent than the language of the true city of exile, Babylon. We were exploring ways to deal with the culture being disinterested in us, not despising us.  I well remember myself saying “People are not walking past your church and saying, ‘If I never go to church, that’s the one I am never going to.’ No, they don’t see it at all.” That’s Athens talk, and assumes that if we can just show a point of connection to the culture then the conversation will flow and we will all get along.

I have changed my mind on this one. If the last five or six years are any indication, the culture (read: elite framework that drives the culture) is increasingly interested in bringing the church back into the public square. Yes, you heard that right. But not in order to hear it, but rather in order to flay it, expose its real and alleged abuses and to render it naked and shivering before a jeering crowd.  It is Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego standing up before the statue of gold, whilst everyone else is grovelling and going, “Pssst, kneel down for goodness sake!”. It is officials conspiring with the king to show that Daniel’s act of praying towards Jerusalem three times per day is not simply an archaic and foolish hope, but a very real threat to the order of the society and the new moral order that will hold it together.

If the primary characteristic of Exile Stage One was supposed to be humility, the primary characteristic of Second Stage Exiles will have to be courage.   Courage does not mean bombastic pronouncements to the world, not at all.  It has to be much deeper than that.  It will mean, upon hearing the king’s command that no one can pray to any god save the king for thirty days, that we go into our rooms with the window open towards Jerusalem and defy that king even as our accusers hunt us down.  It means looking the king in his enraged face and saying, even in our God does not rescue us from the flames, we will not serve your gods or bow down to your statue of gold.  Unlike Athens, Babylon is not interested in trying to out-think us, merely overpower us. Apologetics and new ways of doing church don’t cut it in Babylon.  Only courage under fire will.

2. We Assumed a Neutral Culture Not a Hostile World

How many Christian books/articles/conferences have there been over the past years that dealt with the concept of culture?  How many times were were told that the role of the exiled Christian was to make a difference in the culture?  That whether we were involved in church or not, the real kingdom change was going to take place out there in the culture?  Google the word “culture” and the word “Christian”. Check it out.

Whilst I admire many of these works and am indebted to several exceptionally gifted culture watchers, the always impressive Scott McKnight has belled the cat on this one in his latest book – Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church. He nails the naivety of what he calls “the Skinny Jeans Crowd” over the nature of the surrounding culture.  Here’s what he says:

“Not only have our efforts at culture’s transformation far underachieved the goals (except on paper), but this word “culture” seems to be replacing the Bible’s word ‘world’ (emphasis mine). Put less discreetly, just sprinkle some baptismal water on ‘world’ and we can now call it ‘culture’. in this sense, ‘culture’ becomes the redeemed elements of the world, but with the connotations of world dismissed. Why say this? Because the word ‘world’ does not come off so well in the New Testament.” (p16)

He then lists myriad texts in John’s gospel in which the world is linked with other words.  Words such as “darkness”, “below”, “hate” and so on.  McKnight goes on to make the point that Jesus did not come to make the world a better place, but to redeem people out of it, and that trying to make the world a better place is in fact, “a species of worldliness.”

Now I acknowledge that the whole either/or language of “worldliness” is anathema to many of us who grew up in fundamentalist faiths that tried to keep us from engaging with the world, and especially those of us who were creative types, because the “arts” were not simply “the arts” , but the “dark arts” in Fundamentalist-land. I well remember telling my Northern Irish great grandmother – Brethren to the back false teeth – that I wanted to be a journalist when I grew up.  “Why would you do something so worldly?” she asked, before offering me too much cake and a cup of weak tea.

Many of us, worn out by fundamentalism’s battle scars and the gated-compound-thinking, drove Exile Stage One thinking precisely to get away from this false dichotomy. But McKnight’s baby should not be thrown out with the baptismal bath water. The creation is good, but has been corrupted; it portrays a great God, but is the theatre for all sorts of godless depravity.  McKnight quotes the late, tragically worldly theologian John Howard Yoder who called the world “structured unbelief, taking with it a fragment of what should have been the Order of the Kingdom.”

So what’s the point? If we assumed neutral culture we assume we can get involved in, and play with, culture without getting infected by it. That we can remain distinct from it, undrawn to its more sickly parts, and more than capable of knowing when to say no to culture’s soft-focus, slow-motion beckoning and effete “Join us! Join us!” plea (Game of Thrones anyone? – Netflix Ed).

Simply put we assume that we can have more impact on culture than it can have on us.  That is dangerously naive thinking.  Jesus never said the culture will misunderstand you, he said the world will hate you.  He did not say to his disciples, “Display reckless abandon and go out there and change culture,”, he said “fear not, I have overcome the world.”(John 16:33).

How have I seen this play out over the past decade?  Sadly in too many ways. Whilst good has come of it, I have watched too often as burnt out evangelicals who are sick to death with fundamentalist infightings drift first from saying we must get back to the source of the gospel for the sake of the culture, to re-interpreting the gospel in the shape of the world.  I have watched as what began as a series of questions beginning with “What if we changed the perspective on how we look at this traditional issue?” to “Did God really say?”. And painful though it is to say, the post-evangelical Sexuality Gospel has simply replaced the Boomer Prosperity Gospel for a generation that idolises the comfort that experience offers,  rather than the comfort that money offers.

The result? All too often Exile Stage One became Exit Stage Left.  Post-evangelicalism/post-foundationalism took many people down the path of post-Christian, providing a soft landing for those who wanted to jump out of the plane but were afraid of heights.  I will say more on this in a later post, but that’s my nutshell thinking on this one.

3. We Loosened Our Language Just When The Cultural Elites Were Tightening Theirs.

There is a whole book in this, but suffice to say, many Exile Stage One proponents were busy loosening the bolts on their language wheels at the very time the cultural framework was tightening up theirs. And no prizes for guessing whose wheels have fallen off!  Or to use another metaphor if we fail to appreciate and use the language in our armoury then someone will steal in, take it and use it against us.  We’ve cultivated a half generation of Christian literature completely certain about its uncertainty when it comes to terminologies.  Meanwhile the cultural framework is more and more certain about its terminologies.

A prime example relates to public ethical matters.  A church that has gone all loose on language for the sake of reaching the culture – dropping the categories given to it by its time-tested theology – is suddenly finding its own terminologies and thought-forms used against it, and it is unsure how to respond.  When it comes to sexual ethics now, it is not simply that traditional Christianity has “strange” or “weird” or even “interesting” perspectives, but rather “wrong”, “bad”, “unenlightened”, even “sinful” positions. Read the opinion pages.

The semantic field of “heretic” will increasingly surface in Second Stage Exile when describing traditional Christianity.  Now I am not saying its the church’s role to scold the culture, it’s not, because the primary and critical place the church loosened the wheel nuts of language was in the church! Exile Stage One proponents were very often critical of the Boomer-led Mega-church which jettisoned theological language to reach an indifferent, consumer culture.  But their criticism did not extend to picking the language off the floor, dusting it off and using it again. If anything they exacerbated the Boomers’ mistake of displacing theological language by distrusting theological language (the new Reformed crowd being an  exception).  That junking of language categories was a crucial error. If our God is a speaking God then language is deeply theological and deeply moral.  It’s no mere play-thing to put to one side when we are disinterested in it.  We use it or we lose it – to others.

Now that loss will surprise you if your city category is Athens, but not if it is Babylon. Listen to what Peter says to his exilic communities scattered throughout the Roman Empire:

“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:11-12)

The Roman Empire viewed the early Christians as bad.  Just think about that.  For decades in Australia Christians were regarded pejoratively as “do-gooders”.  In Second Stage Exile the pejorative is “do-badders”.

This is the same Peter, by the way, that can say in the very next verse “submit yourself for the Lord’s sake to every human authority, whether to the emperor as supreme authority, or to the governors…”  This is not for the faint-hearted.  We need to be able to pick our way through language minefields without blowing our legs off.  And that will take hard work.  Foaming-at-the-mouth ranting – the rage of the culturally impotent – is no option, but neither is the surrender of our thought and language categories to the culture.  We need to learn to speak truth to power, just as I was taught in my Arts degree back in the 80s, only this time the roles have been reversed. What was marginal in the universities of the 80s is mainstream political language of the 21st century.

I observed even yesterday in a social media exchange that a hard secularist was more than happy to use the thought categories of “insider/outsider”, “sinner/saint”, “heresy/truth” “god/devil” in defending his position.  Faced with no original language of his own to describe his anathema to the Christian position, he simply said “Don’t mind me!” leaned across and took ours!  And here we were being so careful to be seen  not to cut anyone with our language.

A personalised, pietistic “Jesus is my homeboy” theology-lite simply will not stand up in the face of a public reshaping of language.  Exile Stage One proponents must unlock the armoury door, whet the stone and sharpen the tools of language once more, not in order to slay people, but in order “to contend for the faith once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 1:3).

And what does Jude go on to say?  He utilises language and terminologies that even in private usage make us blush, and are probably not for public viewing:

 But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold.  They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.”  These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit. But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit,  keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.  Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh. (Jude 1:23)

(By the way, there’s nothing in there about placarding parliament).

The letter of Jude is true, unadulterated exile language.  It’s unadulterated precisely  because his readers had never experienced the mild disinterest of Exile Stage One brought about by the eclipse of Christendom. They were hated right from the moment Jesus was nailed to a tree, but got on with contending for the faith, godly living in their communities and love towards God and others nonetheless.

That is what we must recover. Second Stage exiles do not place their hope in a city here, be it Athens or Babylon, but seek a city that is to come. (Hebrews 13). Second Stage Exiles do not need the approval of the culture, neither do they need to provoke the culture in order to feel good about themselves. No, true exiles can live out their time in exile with confidence, love and hope because they trust in him “who is able to keep [them] from stumbling and to present [them] before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.” (Jude 1:24).

Christian, Second Stage Exile is coming.  Are you ready for it?


  1. Hey I live in Queensland and go to church I have listened to a sermon you have given on the net but I don’t know you. So last article I read of yours I misunderstood your tone and posted a cynical post expecting to critique but that you agreed with. I like what you are talking about and you are landing with the conclusion I would make. But I think im still confused as to why you wouldnt go further than saying we are exiles now, and not say we ought always have seen ourselves as exiles. The premise of Christendom, that the ‘world’ can be christian has always been a faulty one. Why was it the sexual revolution and not colonialisation, slavery, and endless European war that made it clear that the western christians weren’t home yet.

    1. Hi Alisdair. I am sorry I am going to have to agree with you again! 🙂 The documents of the NT (and the Old!) do have us as exiles, but were of course written before the Xn framework became normative in the West. I do think that in the non-magisterial reformation there were many groups who felt their exile sharply, especially in light of the punishment meted out to them by the state for basically fomenting rebelling by not signing up to the state church. There is much to be commended about the Christian worldview and the Christendom model, if truth be told – at least as far as it goes. Rodney Stark’s work on this is excellent in my view. The stability brought about by a Christendom in Europe, for all its ills, did have some form of salt-in-the-world savour. I would liken it to the situation in Canaan during the desert wanderings of Israel. Israel did some terrible things, but the texts clearly point out that Canaan was no picnic and that the world of that time was nasty, brutish and short. Much as the Roman Empire world was. A more modern day comparison may be the Spanish Conquistadors who, though they get bad press, were totally shocked by the bloodthirstiness of the Aztecs. Cortes’ men could not comprehend the full-blown human sacrifice system on display (not the odd virgin on a moonlit Thursday once a year as sympathetic texts would have us believe). His diaries describe his shock. They also describe how the Aztec locals were astonished when, following brutalities by his own soldiers towards the locals, Cortes had the perpetrators tried and executed. Ok, it’s not our M/O but the Aztecs saw in this a sense of “blind justice” that was unheard of. I the sexual revolution and the current tumult is indicative of a major tectonic shift that we have only seen the beginning of. As a non-magisterial type myself I agree wholeheartedly that the “world” being Christian was a faulty idea, but God in his grace did allow the gospel to flourish despite the obvious corruption going on. Insofar as the church mirrored the less-than-perfect Israel of the OT, it provided some form of leavening, and gave rise to many things that secularists fail to see would not be possible without Christianity. They are, so to speak, standing on the shoulders of Christian giants in the areas of the arts, science, humanitarianism etc. And even in the realm of slavery it was Christians who slew it, because they were able to speak a common narrative to the slave-loving colonial empires and shame them through the very gospel these empires professed to believe. That opportunity is no longer there. There is no common discourse, and that’s probably where things are going to get a little nasty.

  2. An epic article – I’m guessing it cost you a lot of sleep. I agree with a lot of the basic analysis, but I think there’s plenty of room for different interpretations of the facts (using the word loosely).
    What if we are in exile because of our sin, and the culture is right to criticise, just misguided and sinful too. Maybe christians have more in common with other humans than they do with God. Christians are trying to be gate keepers on marriage, when decades of child abuse and official cover ups suggest we can’t be trusted. And somehow some of us think 97% of scientists must be wrong on climate change (Flat Earth pt 2) because of something vaguely in the bible somewhere. Our backflipping believer PM neatly brings all these things together. Do you not expect backlash? Is this good vs evil, or simply Christians being bad or silly even gravely sinful in things that have serious consequences on others, and getting whacked for it?

    1. The answer still lies in following Jesus in what he said and did, and the church being a community of people doing the same. Not trying to control society or culture, but standing with its victims and celebrating when things go right, because it’s “not about flesh and blood, but principalities and powers”

    2. I think there is some pay back in it Gary. Though what is interesting is that the level of outrage levelled at those who do not play the game is interesting. So Joe de Bruyn, Catholic trade union official with years of experience and service has today been told his tribute offered to him by the ACTU has now been cancelled due to his position on SSM. And with fifty of Australia’s largest companies today placing an ad in The Australian backing SSM it seems that money, politics and sex are lining up on this one. There is an interesting article in First Things which shows the same thing

      The killer quote from that article:

      And that’s just the point: The decision by Apple, Walmart, Eli Lilly, Angie’s List, and so on was a business decision—even more, a marketing decision. Coming out in opposition to the Indiana RFRA law was one of the shrewdest marketing coups since E.T. followed a trail of Reese’s Pieces. The decision to #BoycottIndiana was not made because it was the politically courageous thing to do; it was made because it was the profitable thing to do. The establishment could express support for a fashionable social norm while exerting very little effort, incurring no actual cost, and making no sacrifice to secure the goal. It had the further advantage of distracting most people from the fact that corporations like Apple have no compunction doing business in places with outright oppression of gays, women, and Christians. Those real forms of repression and discrimination didn’t matter; Indiana’s purported oppression of gays did.

      Not that I think we should be placarding, and I am definitely no Republican, but the gay lobby in the US is definitely not the weak party in this argument any longer, and it has no interest in an even handed approach. The language of sinner/saint is still being utilised, just the other way around!

    3. The 97 % of scientist meme is a lie. Science is not about consensus, politics is. The number is wrong anyway.
      There has been no warming for 19 years. Way back last century when I was in High School we were taught about the new Ice Age mankind was causing (Global Cooling). When that was debunked it suddenly changed to Global Warming. Now the warming has stopped it is Climate Change. Amazingly the cure is the same for all 3 problems. Stop using oil and de-industrialize the planet. Population reduction is called for.

      I am not against Climate change (or whatever it is called this minute) because of a reference. I detest science being hijacked for political purposes.

  3. Hey Stephen Great insights mate, we chatted a little about this idea at church a few weeks back looking at the idea of morality in culture. Because we were using a visual example we later filmed it (its a little raw

    but I love your insights on this as a second exile.

    Great Job

  4. Thanks for your article. It clearly articulates what I’ve been feeling in my guts for a while now – esp. since someone pointed out a while ago that the church is now viewed as the enemy.

    With the whole “same sex marriage/marriage equality” debate looking like it will land in favour of “marriage equality”, I ponder what the next item on the agenda is for that lobby group. Any ministry relying on the vestiges of Christendom are under threat – clergy performing marriages, Christian schools, SRE, school chaplains, Fee-Help for Bible colleges, etc. The Fundamentalists in the US could retreat into separation of Church and State space. I don’t know if there will be much of that space left to retreat to in the end.

    I’m glad I work in an organisation with close ties to places where ministry isn’t publicly supported… I hope my colleagues in those places will inspire and instruct me how to keep doing what I am supposed to do.

  5. Reblogged this on wordfocused and commented:
    A friend of mine put me onto this article this morning, and I haven’t been able to let it go all day.

    Much to consider. Much to pray through. Much to plan for.

    At the risk of including a much abused verse, a deep and prayerful reading of Jeremiah 29:1-14 is sorely needed.

  6. Just wanted to say how excellent this article is as I am presently studying 1 Peter and prepare to preach it. Not to mention as I feel my community hardening toward me (and I am really nice!). You have articulated misgivings I have felt for a while, and errors I have promulgated even recently. Thank you very much. I will be sharing this widely.

  7. This was really interesting Steve thanks. It affirms the gut feel I’ve had lately. It was quite enjoyable I’ll admit sitting around in the early 2000s talking about how church should look. The conversation now seems lightweight and pointless. I’d be really keen to hear some examples of the language sacrifices. What did we give away do you think? What do we dare not claim but should? What have we kept hold of but leaked all potency from? I hope that makes sense, as some examples will help me to make sense of some of parts I can’t fully grasp.

    1. Hi Katie
      yep – that’s what I have been thinking – we did a lot of talking about what we thought would happen, but I am not sure it will pan out that way. Time for wisdom and circumspection methinks!

    2. We should claim that we believe in the creator God of the universe (the air we breath and the ground we walk on, the laws of physics that hold it all together) and that God sent Jesus into our physical realm to be our teacher, leader, friend and savior, to reconcile our relationship withdescribere revealed by Jesus recorded in the Bible.
      In this day this says some important things:
      1) the environment is important to us as God’s creation. We should have much in common with environmentalists
      2) God vs science is nonsense. God created our entire realm of existence. Whatever the latest theory of evolution, the building blocks are Gods creation
      3) our faith is not just in our heads. Jesus existed and made these claims. Some parts of the church are way too theoretical and shy away from the real world that Jesus interacted with.
      4) God is God of all, and has no superiors or siblings. Yes that clashes with other religions. That’s ok, we can still love and respect them while disagreeing.
      5) Justice and mercy are core to the faith, and demonstrate “God is love”
      6) We can be too ascetic – people are looking for spiritualility and intimacy and expect some kind of connection and emotional impact. There would have been no shortage of that hanging out with the disciples. Less lectures, more interaction.

      etc etc

      1. Based on Ps 137, from the exiles who were living in a multi-cultural, prosperous society (Jer 29), the question is (v.3) “how can we sing Yahweh’s song while in a foreign land?” The answer comes in two parts: 1. Praise/prayer is itself an act of defiance (vv.4-6). It may not make (worldly) sense in our present experience, but declaring allegiance to Jerusalem/Yahweh is still important. (Not so much singing about our own experience of God?) 2. Prayer for God to bring about his justice (vv.7-9)… Not seeking our own vengeance but petitioning God on behalf of all who suffer under the oppression of “the world”. Ties in with God’s judgment of Babylon in Rev 17-19. We look forward with hope to the return of the Messiah. This is part of the gospel.

        This is not a complete answer, but an example from one text about how we can think about our position as exiles in Babylon.

    3. Katie Payne, you ask for examples of language sacrifices. I humbly submit the following examples from my days in seminary.

      1) The trinitarian formulation of “Father, Son, ans Holy Spirit” is sexist and patriarchal. It shouls be replaced with something like “creator, redeemer, and sanctifier” *cough … modalism! … cough*.

      2) People don’t want to hear about sin anymore. It makes them feel bad. Instead lets talk about “brokeness”

      3) The cross is a negative symbol. It is a symbol of divine child abuse. It is also vaguely phallic. Better we should use the symbol of a circle. More holistic.

      4) Speaking of holistic …. People don’t want to be holy. But they want to be holistic.

      5) Nobody wants to be religious. But spirituality is very popular. So long as it is non specific to any particular religion.

      6) Speaking of religion …. nobody likes religion. Better to talk about faith.

      7) Speaking of faith …. be careful with faith, because the word might be interpreted to mean adherence to a particular belief in a particular saviour named Jesus. Or adherence to a particular religion (see #6). These days people make a particular point to avoid particularity.

      8) Speaking of saviours ….. yeah …. people don’t want to be saved from their sins anymore (see #2). They want their brokenness (#2 again) to be healed so they can be whole (see #4).

      9) Justification is out. Justice is in.

      10) Judgement: God is not judgmental. Not like those hypocritical, angry, patriarchal, heterosexist, homophobic, evangelicals and Catholics!

      11) God’s wrath? Don’t get me started. God weeping over the brokenness (#2 again) of the world and calling us to works of justice (see #9)? Now yer talking!!

      Sadly, I could go on …

    1. Your article was truly a bold insight into what many have tried to ignore. I see the hard truth here. The question I have regarding your observation about politics is whether you are saying we should just bow out. Living in the US where we still have influence over our government, although waning, it seems wise to slow the rapid advance of the totalitarian state which is coming,and not with a “Christian” party, but an attempt to steer us from relinquishing freedoms granted still to our citizens. Churches will shrink. Funds will dry up, but God’s Spirit will be even more strong in us as we draw strength and wisdom from Him in an unadulterated fashion.

      1. Yep – cos our hope is in God and not humans. The interesting thing from your perspective in the US is that, unlike say here in Australia, Christianity has had a few more seats at the table. To be an evangelical(or any sort of traditional believer) in Australia has always meant being a small minority, whether or not the culture was generally Christianised. Perhaps the rest of the world is going to show us in the West how to do this exile thing better.

  8. Reblogged this on For a purpose and commented:
    I remember thinking, back when I first started working professionally in the field of apologetics, that something wasn’t quite right with all the talk about escaping the sacred/secular dichotomy and seeing all as sacred. This went hand-in-hand with the talk about transforming culture. I never was clear about how that was to be done. The idea seemed to be that if we talked about it all being sacred, and if we performed our cultural tasks with excellence, somehow culture would be changed for the better. Now, I know that the first concern behind this was the seeing all as sacred would lead Christians to live more godly lives. But there was an external, cultural application as well. The idea of changing hearts before changing lives that I heard from pulpits and evangelists wasn’t prominent in the culture-transforming talk. The only ones of Niebuhr’s categories that were live options for conservative evangelicalism were Christ against culture and Christ transforming culture. We couldn’t go with the separatistic fundies on the former, so the latter it was.

    What I was witnessing in the church, however, was that, far from bringing everything up to the level of the sacred, the sacred had been brought down to the secular, and evangelicals were looking a lot like their non-Christian neighbors. We had to be hip and cool. I haven’t read McKnight’s book, but I agree with the observation (quoting McAlpine) that “Jesus did not come to make the world a better place, but to redeem people out of it, and that trying to make the world a better place is in fact, ‘a species of worldliness.’” Trying to be “in the world but not of it” is an interesting idea, but the results depend upon how far into the world one goes. Rather than being so heavenly minded that we’re no worldly good, we could be—and in many cases are—so earthly minded that we’re no heavenly good.

    There are no simple rules for how to engage a post-Christian culture in the Bible. Christianity isn’t just a competing religion now, one in a sea of many. It now is regarded more as “been there, done that,” and not with a sense of nostalgia. Also, many of us are still smarting from having our quasi-Christian culture taken away from us, from losing, if not a place of power, at least a place of some respect. America was a comfortable place for Christians (speaking as a Baby Boomer), but now it isn’t, and we’d to back things up.

    But lacking a friendly response today, taking our ball and going home isn’t an option. We really shouldn’t retreat to the fundamentalist trenches since we can’t even reach individuals well from a hiding place, much less influence culture. We do have to “Come out! Come out!” and be witnesses for Jesus live and in person.

    Maybe that’s a key point or at least a place to start. Our job isn’t to change our culture (which might only be possible in the very long run after hearts are changed) but to be living and speaking witnesses for Jesus. Which means we have to leave the constantly shifting sands of “coolness” behind. If Builders and Baby Boomers made no headway that complaining that this country is ours and we want it back, generations following will make none by pointing out how hip we are.

    Francis Spufford, in his book Unapologetic, thinks the next generation of Christians will have to deal more with being thought weird than being considered evil, the basic charge of the New Atheists. I think McAlpine is correct, however. If Christians are living like Christians, other-than-Christians can hardly be neutral in their responses, especially if we’re seen as encroaching upon their territory. Paul said that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). We may have had a bye on that to some degree in the West, but I think that promise will have more and more relevance in the coming years.

    Read this article. Christians must make this a topic of serious consideration.

  9. My apologies for the long comment above. When I saw the option of reblogging and making a comment, I thought the comment would only appear on my blog. If it’s too long for here, please do remove it.

  10. Excellent article! You articulate something that has been knocking about in my head since I entered seminary nearly 30 years ago. In fact, something very much like this is the subject of next year’s version of an annual theological conference put on by a friend and I. The title of our conference is “Relevant or Remnant?” For decades the western church has chased the will ‘o the wisp of relevance. We have looked to large congregations for leadership in this, with the (sometimes) unspoken assumption being that their success in terms of numbers was ultimately a sign of their faithfulness. Yet when I read the scriptures, it seems that it is often the case that the faithful are marked by their lack of popularity, and by the fact that they have been kicked to the curb by the rest of the world. And yet, we are told that if only we can be relevant, we will be popular, loved, and successful. For most of us, reality does not match up with these expectations. Perhaps this is (in part at least) the cause of the epidemic of clergy burnout about which we hear so much these days. It is crucial that we come to embrace the truth of the matter. There is a way to be the church when we are relegated to the fringes of a culture (sorry … a world 🙂 ) that is hostile to us. It has been done before. It is being done now in certain parts of the world. It must be done by us as well.

  11. First: excellent analysis. A thought to add to the discussion: in regards to the Psalms, years ago I heard a lecture an orthodox Anglican priest and Biblical scholar point out that in Psalm 1, verse 3, the blessed man, “…is like a tree planted by streams of water”, the Hebrew “streams of water” is related to the word for “canals”, as the canals built out of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in Babylon. The Word of God will be streams of water even in exile. I have not verified the scholar’s exegesis, but it does fit both with Jeremiah’s Letter to the exilees and your article. And as a Lutheran Pastor who believes in the Biblical truth of the two kingdoms, we are to pray for Caesar, but not to Caesar. And as the world around us devolves and becomes hostile, the tendency to worship Caesar increases and I am reminded of an observation by Richard John Neuhaus that when the Church is removed from the public square, the state will become the Church. Still the Lord is Lord of both the secular and eternal kingdoms, even Babylon, and the Christian is citizen of both, yet we believe, teach and confess the two kingdoms are by no means equal. And as Jeremiah wrote, chapter 29, “… seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” This does not mean we sell out, but remain steadfast in the Word.Maybe we will find out what it really means to be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world”.

  12. This is a really insightful analysis into Christians living in the world today. It was heavy-going for me but I ploughed through as it resonated with recent experiences I have had in defending my views as a Christian. Apologetics turns into personal attacks! My question is, do you think we should be publicly proclaiming or defending our position, as you didn’t suggest placarding the government was a good idea? Should we just wait quietly in exile? Social media for instance, is flooded with worldly opinions – how should we deal with that? If discussions come up in the workplace should we only be offering our viewpoint if requested, should we let non-Christians affirm their own sinful/broken choices amongst themselves?

  13. Very astute article and the Athens-Babylon parallel is helpful.

    Having tried Discovery Bible Studies, with their emphasis on re-reading short passages, discerning what to learn and obey, and interacting with others via storytelling and compassionate help, I can see a way forward.

    These studies are designed for use with Muslims and unbelievers. Recommend you look it up and maybe read ‘Miraculous Movements.’

    Keys to the future are also held by the likes of the Chinese underground Church, Back to Jerusalem and other such fearless believers. Simple, courageous living. There is hope because God always preserves a remnant.

    Romans 11 reiterates that this is also for the good of Israel, who are still God’s people, and whom we are grafted into. Let’s not throw out that baby either, and let’s get back to Biblical living and festivals.!
    : )

  14. yep couldn’t agree with you any more, have been watching this happen for over 15 years myself.We all pray come Lord Jesus come by don’t get it.The world will hate us…………. Thats what Jesus said,

  15. I wouldn’t think that the end of this civilisation, the civilisation we inhabit, is a good thing that we are all going to enjoy.

  16. Hi Stephen, Congratulations on a fine article.

    I’m glad you said what you did about our un-met expectation of having an Athenian dialogue.

    One angle you might want to consider the assumption that democracy is essentially good and perhaps in some circles it is even considered godly.

    If we get Babylon, who dresses up in Athenian clothing (democracy) then, perhaps, we need to recognize the disguise and call it out. Once we know exactly what we are dealing with, we will be better placed to survive.

    This article is a good place to start.

    Cordially yours,


  17. Learned so much from your article.

    1) Where can I read more on this topic?
    2) What do you think of 21st century Bible translations like NIV 2011 and NLT that have done away with terms like “saint”? Is that a result of Exile I thinking? If so, as we enter Exile II, do our Bible translations need to recover traditional theological terms?


  18. The Second Stage Exile, as you describe it, is essentially pietism. Don’t get me wrong, I like pietism, but it’s nothing new. It’s been popular before. Assuming you’re right, it’d be nice to have it back. Of course, the same issues people had with it back then will likely be brought up eventually…

    1. If by pietism you mean withdrawal then I think you haven’t, along with a few others, read this correctly. It’s not a call for a new holiness movement, or at least it is a call to be what we are in the face of a turning culture.

  19. We have been seeing this coming for the past seven or eight years. One could easily see it coming from miles away. Some who once called us crazy, are now shouting from the rooftops what we have been warning about all this time. It is time that the Church militant grab some serious courage and face the onslaught. It is getting too late to be “missional”, we must start sending trained insurgents behind the lines to do battle. This is war; and radical Truth, Love and prayer are our only effective weapons in this war. Christ is our righteous leader and strategist, so we must obey His commands and take fresh ground as we follow Him up to the top of Calvary.

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