Exiles in a Post-Christian Era
By: Northern Seminary
Christ enacted our exodus story, our most dangerous yet triumphant story, and it is this narrative that should shape our lives as exiles in a post-Christendom era.
On June 17th (2016), Northern Seminary held its inaugural Theology and Mission Lectureship, with Dr. Michael Frost presenting. Frost is the author of more than a dozen books, including the well-known The Shaping of Things to Come (with fellow missiologist Alan Hirsch). I had the privilege of attending the Lectureship, and I came away with pages of notes and ideas that I shared with friends and family for days afterward.
Frost opened with this idea: we Christians are exiles living in a post-Christendom era. As such, we can look to the Jews in exile in the Babylonian empire for how to live as the people of God in this context. Using Walter Brueggeman’s research (and distilling the ideas from Frost’s book Exiles: Living Missional In a Post-Christian Culture), Frost told us the Jewish exiles did four things: 1. They reminded each other of their most dangerous story; 2. They made a set of dangerous promises; 3. They practiced a dangerous form of critique; and 4. They sang dangerous songs.
Frost, a master storyteller, illustrated each of his points: a couple living in East Germany felt they contributed to the re-unification of their country by “singing the wall down”; biblical Daniel was willing to critique the king (though Frost, an Aussie who feels we American Christians tend to be too quick on the draw in this area, pointed out that Daniel only did so when the Lord was clearly prompting him); and Joseph made “dangerous promises” by working for the good of his oppressors, ultimately saving them from starvation.
But his starting point—that we must remember our most dangerous story—stood out most to me. We must go back, as the exiled Jews did, to our exodus. The Jews remembered that God led them out of slavery; we must remember that Jesus became our exodus story, rescuing us from the slavery of sin and confusion and death. Under the noses of the Babylonian king, the exiled Jews told the exodus story to each other over and over; we, too, must be obsessed with the story of our salvation. We, too, must tell of and continue Christ’s actions of rescue and kingdom proclamation.
In Frost’s second lecture he challenged us to model incarnational living even while living in an “excarnate” world. I have read Frost’s book Incarnate: The Body of Christ in an Age of Disengagement and highly recommend it. In both the book and his lecture, Frost asked, How could we, who follow the incarnate God, ever feel like we could follow him in excarnate ways? Do we worship with our bodies and not just our minds? Are we addicted to our screens? Do we live into others’ lives or constantly retreat to private comfort zones?
Frost opened his third lecture with a freeing statement: There is no verse that tells every believer to be an evangelist. However, we all should be surprising our neighbor in “little-Jesus” ways that cause them to ask questions. In Paul’s thinking, Frost said, the life of a believer was to be so intriguing, so strange, so intoxicatingly different that questions would be absolutely normal and unavoidable. The gifted evangelist has his/her specific work of evangelism, but Christians gifted in other ways should still have opportunities to share, but they will come out of the questions others ask them.
Our churches need to be teaching us how to live lives that create questions from others. Then, as we live “questionable” lives together and make our communities open and accepting, the work of Jesus is done—people are transformed. These ideas are not simply theory for Frost. He is a founding member of Small Boat, Big Sea, which calls itself “a collective of people who orient our lives around Jesus.” In other words, a church, but a church which is fostering rhythms and habits that propel its members outward, that help them speak naturally and winsomely about Jesus, that sustain missional practice. Frost has written about these rhythms/habits in his book Surprise the World, but he cautions that his church went through a process of discernment to arrive at these practices. Each church needs to do the same.
I would have been intrigued and excited by all these ideas had I only attended the lectureship and read a couple of Frost’s books, but in the days leading up to the Lectureship I was also at the seminar Frost taught for students in Northern’s MATM program. Only six of us were able to attend the seminar, so we had a lot of give-and-take time with Frost. He ate lunch with us; he hung out with us during breaks; he fleshed out what he was saying, discussed our personal situations and was open about his own weaknesses and failures. As a result, what could have been simply an inspiring day, easily forgotten, has had much greater impact.
I am still discussing, still thinking and praying, still discerning practices—all for the hope of living more like Jesus.
By Jennifer Underwood (student in the Masters in Theology and Mission program)