Living in the Lion's Den: The People of God in Exile
It has been said that our world is becoming a “post-Christian” world. Post means after. Christian means an era of time when Christ and His teachings were a dominant influence in society. Culture means the way we think and value things. This means that, over the course of recent generations, there has been an observed decline in the Church’s influence in society.
Think of it in these terms. In a “post-Covid” culture, the virus is losing the influence it once had. “Pre-Covid19” it was dominant: where we go (avoid large groups), how we travel (keeping distance), what we eat (no buffets), who we’re with (avoid exposure), what we wear (a mask that coordinates with our outfit), when we sanitize and for how long). But slowly, it’s losing its dominance. We are rapidly moving toward a “post-Covid” culture.
The same trend, many now argue is happening with Christianity. In a post-Christian culture, the dominant worldview is no longer founded on Christian principles — or at least we can no longer assume that they will be.
Study cultures where the arts and learning has flourished and you’ll find a vibrant Christianity. Christianity and it’s principles have made us great. But now we’re here, the prevailing sentiment is "Let’s abandon it and our true King." So now we’re too big for our cultural britches. “A kingdom without the king” says Mark Sayers. All the fruits of Christian culture but without the seed. A kingdom without the King.
The Current Trends
Church attendance declines across the West (Frost, Exiles, 5). The church is in decline in many places around the world and in the US. Various surveys are telling us that we are on the verge of becoming a minority Protestant country for the first time in our history (Beach). The fastest growing group among 18–29-year-olds is the “unaffiliated” group: atheists, agnostics, and the “none’s” (not nuns but nones). They’re putting church aside. There’s a core that remain faithful. But nominal Christianity, that you’re kind of born into is disappearing. That means people no longer know the answers to those four Biblical Worldview questions we’ve been asking.
As the church enters this time of exile from the center to the margins, we must have a vision through the unique challenges that are presented. As a Christian, in a hostile environment where the dominant values run counter to one’s own, you now experience exile while you REMAIN in your homeland. Just demonstrate that you are unwilling to conform to the tyranny of majority opinion, and you’ll know exile while still at home – forced removals, cancellations, disenfranchisement, job losses.
The Way Forward
What is the way forward in a hostile world? Discerning the meaning of the present moment requires sobriety for no one knows how hostile it may become. Eventually, a post-Christian society moves from assuming Christian values to ignoring them, to resenting them, to repressing them, and eventually to persecuting them. What was once Christian and is now post-Christian will eventually become anti-Christian, led by those who actively destroy it. Where any specific culture is in that process is subject to debate. And “post-Christian” nations begin with “post-Christian” cities.
God’s people do their best work when in exile. We always have. Exile infuses communities with new creative energy that rises to meet the challenges of new cultural circumstances. The way forward is to look around and understand our context, to look back and gather the resources the Word affords to us, and then to look forward with a clear vision of how we can function as the Lord’s people in a time of contemporary exile. That’s why we have transitioned to “A Biblical Worldview Church.” It’s a vision for how to do life in cultural exile and it empowers you to come together with a game plan that will prepare your family to live in this world rather than just integrate with dominant culture. It’s the local church that can form a vibrant counterculture.
How do we build biblical worldview communities within our condition of internal exile, and under increasingly hostile conditions? Can we live with joy and confidence though marginalized? If you’re caught between a host empire you cannot embrace and a church that has no worldview mission, where do you go?
For much of recent history individuals and Biblical Worldview institutions could plan, execute, and flourish with their visions of a better world. That may no longer be the case in a few years. But don’t despair. For in the midst of the chaos of a crisis comes opportunity. The history of the church tells us that crisis always precedes renewal, and the framework of renewal offers us new ways forward. A Non-Anxious Presence shows how that renewal happens and offers churches and leaders strategic ways to awaken the Church and see our culture changed for Christ.
Our Best Work comes out of Exile
This reminds me of the story of Dick Winters in the mini-series, Band of Brothers. He leads his soldiers in the Battle of the Bulge where he refused to retreat. “I don't like to retreat,” Winters says, and then a series of quick moving scenes closes with a soldier leaving the front line. He pulls winters aside and says ominously, “Looks like you guys are going to be surrounded.” Without hesitation Winters replies, “We're paratroopers, Lieutenant. We're supposed to be surrounded.” (Band of Brothers, Warner Bros. Home Video, 2001, Disc 6, “Who's Who: The Men of Easy Company: Richard Winters”)
My friends, “We’re Christians. We’re supposed to be surrounded.” God placed us in hostile territory not to be overrun by it, but to overcome it in His strength and to influence ungodly people to turn to God. Daniel did it in wicked Babylon. We can do it right here in the United States of America even though many of its citizens are hostile to Biblical worldview values and beliefs.
The question is: How? How can we engage a post-Christian society? How can we influence a culture which is desperate to press you into it’s mold? This is not to say that God isn’t at work in dominant culture. He has his “Daniel’s” strategically placed to do His bidding in the “Babylon’s” of the world. There are others who are being prepared to become “Esthers” (in Persia) and “Jonahs” (in Ninevah) and “Josephs” (in Egypt) – those who bring a biblical worldview to the culture, but within the culture itself.
So our primary job is not to make everything “Christian” in culture. Our job is to live out a Biblical Worldview wherever we find ourselves and bear witness to the truth. But, there’s no room for neutrality. The corrosive soil and polluted air of a secular worldview will have to be breathed by your children. You will face marginalization for living out a Biblical Worldview.
Exiles on Assignment
So, what should be our approach in a post-Christian culture? Jeremiah the prophet gets us started in a letter he wrote to a young exile named Daniel and to a host of others who needed an encouraging word:
Discern (beware of the wrong) voices.
Plan for the future.
Seek the Lord above all.
Sounds like a great approach to a New Year!