Here is the promised book review from my last post:
The Church in Exile, Living in Hope After Christendom
By Lee Beach, published by IVP Academic 2015, 238 pages.
I read this book in 2 days and found it a page turner. When I finished it, I felt as though I wanted to go to page 1 and start reading it again. As the title suggests, times have changed and the church is in exile. The author is Canadian yet he relates it to the United States and the general Western Church. In the past 50 or so years, we have observed the church or Christianity slowly move from having a central place in our culture to a position on the periphery of culture. While the church used to be welcomed or invited to the table, we are now increasingly shut out. Beach expounds on this, and offers analysis and examples. It really can’t be denied that we have lived through a time of cultural shift and it happened much faster than anyone anticipated, really at a shockingly fast pace. I live in the Bible Belt where we are a bit behind the trend, but secularization is clearly in process here too. Beach points out that Canada is a step ahead of the USA, and we can learn from Canada. And I likewise thought that the Bible Belt has the opportunity to get ahead of the game.
By get ahead of the game, I do not mean try to stop the process of secularization. It has already happened or is in process, and we need to admit to the time in which we live and not be in denial about it. We can’t bring back the past, and we must adapt to the changes that have taken place. Methods or approaches that once “worked” will no longer be effective and can even be counter-productive. Sometimes I see such silly or simplistic things on social media, like Christians saying we need to put prayer back in schools and that will solve the problems. Years ago, prayer was in school because it happened naturally or organically as the church then had more general influence in society. We can’t just unnaturally force prayer in schools and expect that to work as the situation is totally different today.
Lest this all sounds depressing, the book is one of tremendous hope. The history of God’s people throughout time has often been with them in a position of exile or on the sidelines of culture. God’s people have lived like this before. We are not the first to have faced exile. Beach, in a major section of the book, discusses Israel going into exile in Old Testament times and relates this to us today. For Israel, exile did not mean utter despair or abandonment of faith. On the contrary, it led to them exploring and expressing faith in creative and daring new ways.
In separate chapters he looks at Esther, Daniel, and Jonah – specifically how these stories would have been perceived by their original audience of Israel in exile. He carefully interprets the stories in context, then applies them to us today. Further chapters in this section look at the time of Jesus, and the New Testament book of 1 Peter as these were times of exile as well. Christianity and the church were born in a Jewish culture where being in exile had become a part of their identity. It was normal.
A final section of the book addresses how the church today (and individual Christians) need to adapt to the time of exile in which we find ourselves. Again, the book takes a hopeful approach. We can see it as an opportunity for renewal. However, we have first got to teach and convince Christians to understand the new time in which they live.
Related to my last Christian bubble post, Beach states “Many who live within a Christian bubble can proceed thinking that things really are not that bad.” Yet, Beach further states that “defining reality is an act of empowerment, because it orients people in a way that allows them to proceed with the facts as they currently stand. Without this act of truth telling, a legitimate hope can never emerge.” (page 144)
In other words, we have got to get our heads out the sand! We have got to learn to think like exiles, and how to accommodate the culture without compromising core Christian beliefs. The gospel must be communicated in fresh, new ways. The final chapters of the book offer practical ideas and thoughtful questions in this regard.
Note this book is by IVP Academic, but I found it very readable and I highly recommend it to you. I see this as such a potential opportunity for the Bible Belt. We can already be exilic people of hope and a light to society when exile arrives here too. Yet I think most will not see the opportunity and continue in a bubble existence until “suddenly” they find themselves in a totally different culture and wonder what in the world happened.
*And note in the photo that I nabbed this new release book for only $6 at my local used book store. Like new condition. I have no idea how they acquired a new release and then put only $6 on it. Their pricing can be odd I find. I sometimes find things overpriced, and other things under priced. Anyways…*