‘Exiles on mission’: book recommendation, evangelical focus
I encourage every Christian leader and thoughtful Christian to read Exiles on Mission: How Christians Can Thrive in a Post-Christian World by Paul Williams (Chief Executive of the British and Foreign Bible Society).
This provides a thorough and honest analysis of the profound challenges facing the church todaytogether with a clear and hopeful vision for the next stage. The recommendations are profound and sweeping.
Above all, the book faces the reality that the world has changed; the church in the uk no longer lives in christendomhe now lives in a skeptical post-modern culture, “in exile”, like Daniel and his friends in Babylon.
The implication is that we fundamentally need to adjust our mindset and our approach to how we “do church” if we don’t want to sink into permanent irrelevance. The author speaks of a “strategic crisis”.
One of the refreshing aspects of the book is its frankness. The church faces such a challenge that diplomatic language is abandoned:
“With all the resources available to the church in the West and the incredible history of foreign missions during the 19th and 20th centuries, how did we come to a situation where the church in the West is so disconnected from its own context? missionary and cultural that even committed believers find most Sunday services difficult or irrelevant?” (p3)
Using the language of ‘exile’ and the idea of being ‘ambassadors’, the author provides a helpful perspective on how we can view the role and mission of the church today. He is not pessimistic.
The book is driven by hope and a clear desire to see Christians and churches rediscover their confidence and sense of purpose. Avoiding the temptation to withdraw into our ghetto or dilute our identity to fit into the surrounding culture, our approach must be one of deliberate engagement.
At the center of the book’s argument is the case of Christians take discipleship much more seriously, especially when it comes to how we apply our faith at work.
This is now where most of the mission of the church is, for most Christians, most of the time. This means reinventing what “ministry” and “mission” mean and seize this vocation is not just something for full-time Christian workers, but for everyone:
“There is no hierarchy of vocations or occupations that makes a pastor or a missionary more important to God than a plumber or a marketing manager… God’s purpose is to reconcile all things to Himself in Christ. We should expect the Holy Spirit to anoint and commission ambassadors for service in all spheres of society. (p95)
The church is pretty bad at making disciples, if we’re being honest, and so there’s a lot of work to be done. One of the starting points is to understand what “stories” of the surrounding culture we have – often unwittingly – believed and lived, and then begin to replace them with life- and hope-filled “stories” from the Bible. .
A die The book’s most striking idea is that “all cultures are disciple-making cultures, whether they intend to or not.” (p109)
In other words, we are all followers – of “late modern capitalism” in this case – whether we realize it or not. The challenge for Christians is to renew our mindsets, values and stories and strive to become disciples of Christ instead.
So, on the question of discipleship, our generation needs a greater level of intentionality and ambition if we are to renew the church and restore its relevance in the world:
“If we are to prevent our young people from being drawn into the culture of Western individualism, we must raise our expectations of discipleship.” (p110)
This discipleship means that Christians must find, together, how to intentionally apply our faith in all areas of life, including the marketplace, a particular concern of the Jubilee Center.
The the book deals with the dominant cultural “stories” in six different areas of public life and also offers an alternative Christian “history” in each of them. In the case of business and the marketplace, there is resounding endorsement of the impact that thoughtful, intentional Christians can have through deliberate engagement:
“Christians can affirm the value of work, enterprise and wealth creation without affirming individualism and materialism. This may involve creating social enterprises or seeking to influence businesses to pursue the common good and treat profit as a necessary condition of existence, but not as their primary objective. (p167)
The book provides a sobering assessment of the failures of the church and a bold agenda for the future. There is no quick fix. But the vision of the kind of church we could become is hopeful and appealing. It is worth working for.
The author even finds hope in the Church’s new and more precarious position on the margins of society rather than at its center. It reflects that this:
“Can be good for the church’s humility, purity, and identification with the weak and marginalized… The testimony of the prophets of Israel is that being on the margins in no way precludes speaking to the center.” (p225)
I believe it’s the task of our generation meet this challenge and take discipleship seriously.
The Jubilee Center will serve the church as it seeks to live and work faithfully and constructively in the midst of a market culture often moving in a different direction.
We continue to looks forward to and will work for the renewal of the church and the renewal of our nation.
This was written by Tim Thorbydirector of the Jubilee Center.
This article first appeared on the Jubilee Center website and is republished with permission.