This past Thursday, once again, I got up before coffee and made the trek to Biblical Seminary for another session of Breakfast With Biblical, the weekly lecture series this fall. The series this time is titled “Living as Strangers and Exiles” and covers topics of what it means to live as Christians in a world hostile to Christians. You can read my summation of the previous lecture by Dr. Samuel Logan at the post found here.
Dr. Logan presented this week again, this time examining what it means to live out a faithful Christian presence in secular world. For the most part, this lecture came from the book To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World by James Davison Hunter (pictured here) and is based upon the biblical book of 1 Peter and upon Jeremiah 29:1-7.
For those two scripture passages, Dr. Logan points out that they are both written to people who are living in exile. Jeremiah was rather literal in this while Peter’s writing refers more towards Christians as followers of Jesus and confessors that ”Jesus is Lord” in a culture where such a phrase is sedition and treason and likely to result in death. In both cases, these People of God (Israel and Christians) were struggling to figure out what it means to live in a godly and righteous way in a world that does not like them.
Dr. Logan sums up these passages and Hunter’s writing on them in 4 “knows”.
- Know where you are – From Hunter, Dr. Logan quoted (and backed up via the recent Pew study) that “Ours is now emphatically a post-Christian culture. Christians are now, more than ever, exiles in a land of exile.” There needs to be some caution taken with this in that not everywhere in the USA is in the same state. Post-Christendom is more present in the Pacific Northwest than it is in the mid-West so the culture needs to be taken into consideration where Christians are living. The local church needs to do as much exegesis of their local culture as they do of the scriptures. In this “land of exile”, as Jeremiah points out, we are to seek the welfare of the city in which we are found. Of course, this forces us to ask the questions of what does this mean in terms national defense (preserving the city), care for all the citizens (health care and social helps), and long-term viability (financial debt for children and grandchildren). People will come to different ideas about these topics (and more topics), but they are topics that need to be discussed in how to bless the land where we live.
- Know who you are – 1 Peter calls the church a “royal priesthood”, a “holy nation”. Elsewhere they are called a “peculiar people”. This means that, in addressing those questions mentioned above, our character as God’s people, his chosen people, his special selection through Christ, must come out in this categorization. Our goal, as God’s “elect”, is to proclaim the excellence of God where we are and by who we are. In this, the city in which we are found is not the end. It may be the means to an extent, but it is not the ultimate goal. Whatever we do, it is to be for God’s glory, even if it goes counter to what the culture around us seems to support. (see my previous post and Dr. Logan’s conclusion of what is the best and worst that can happen). However, Dr. Logan also points out that our welfare is tied to the welfare of those around us. Christians are encouraged “repeatedly to be ‘eager to do good’ and for each person to ‘use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms”. Again discernment of the culture will play an important role in determining what this looks like but always we should be showing ourselves to be God’s people.
- Know what you are to do where you are - Here Dr. Logan describes to things that will help Christians to frame what we are to do. First, we must remember the unity of the church. We’re going to disagree on a lot of things, we’re going to have a lot of different ways of looking at the world around us. Some will be right, some will be wrong, perhaps both at the same time. But we need to remember that when in exile, you find unity with other exiles. Christians have more in common with each other than with non-Christians. So much is written by Paul and others about love for one another, unity with one another, remembering the “one heart” we have for Christ that we must take this as vital for survival and effective faithful presence. Secondly, we can take the Great Commission beyond just making converts. When we go “into all the world”, that’s not geographically, but it also is socially, culturally, politically, and economically. To have a faithful presence and to bring Jesus’ authority to the whole world, we cannot leave anything out. Skilled and unskilled labor, crafts, sciences, law, teaching, etc., all need to have the Christian presence felt. Not everyone will be called to every area, but every area needs Jesus.
- Finally, Know you are going home – This is the reason, primarily, for Jeremiah 29 and 1 Peter. This is not our final resting place. We’re only here for a short time, relatively speaking. This is not our home, at least not as it is. There is more that needs to be done and there will come a day when this world will be completely renewed, refreshed, and recreated. I personally loved Dr. Logan’s parable of the Someday machine. Say your kid sees a machine full of candy and wants some. You tell them no, not now, but someday. After a while, you tell your child “today is the day” and you hop in the car and start driving. You pass all sorts of places where your kid KNOWS candy can be obtained, and they are told “Not yet”. And you keep driving. Finally, you pull up into the parking lot of a big imposing building after a very long drive. It looks nothing like a candy store. Your child starts to cry, thinking that they’ve been deceived. You step up to the doors, unlock them, and open them to reveal the Hershey Chocolate factory. ”It’s all yours”. Some day. Some day we’ll have it all. For now, it’s a little here and there, little glimpses of beauty with a lot of grief. This is not our home. But someday, we will get there.
To wrap this up, here is one of my favorite contemporary songs on this. This is not where we belong. We’re living as strangers. We know where we are in exile, we know who we are in Jesus, we know how we are to behave. And we know that this is not where we belong. THAT’s what hope and faith is all about. Enjoy the song.