Sunday, October 7, 2007
Book Review: Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture
There have been an alarming number of reports, articles, books and studies that have called attention to large numbers of committed followers of Jesus that no longer enthused about the institutional church. Many feel guilt or bitterness about this. For some, the bitterness has been destructive to their own lives and relationships with fellow followers of Jesus. In Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture, Michael Frost seeks to offer challenging encouragement to those that have embarked on this journey. His goal is not to heap cynicism on top of the troubled institutional church, but to offer a navigational manual for exiled Jesus-followers in a complex web of cultures and ideologies.
Frost blends current and academically reputable biblical reflection and striking cultural exegesis with a vivid style of prose. Frost offers a juxtaposition of the stereotypical soft, glowy portrait of Jesus with a Jesus that was most certainly edgy and controversial in his counterculturalness. “The stories in the Gospels, far from being soothing bedtime stories for baptized children, are the most dangerous element of the Christian experience. They are radical, daring, unsettling, disturbing, even frightening.” (Frost, Exiles, 11) This understanding of Jesus calls his followers into a life different from the safe, suburban, sedentary drone.
Frost questions many of the assumptions and blindspots that characterize evangelical Christianity. Inaction in the areas of injustice, the environment and the persecuted church illustrate lacuna in the church’s imitation of missio Dei. Frost’s research is impressively diverse as he quotes from alternative news sources, popular media and sundry experts. These are no longer issues that can be ignored, diminished, or put on the back burner but are a vital part of the way of Jesus.
While Frost directs his book towards what he calls “exiles”, there is a strong undercurrent that is critiquing traditional church practice and proposing an ecclesiology that is at once biblical and proactively engages culture. This is where I find Frost to be the most engaging. Years of practical experience, deep and varied study and observation of Jesus communities all over globe give him rich insights and incisive analysis regarding how Jesus-followers should journey together. “My concern is that too many exiles are taking this journey alone.” (Frost, Exiles, 112) In response to this concern, Frost describes ways of gathering creatively and missionally in the midst of “the host empire.”
There are some points for which Frost’s solutions are overly simplified. Globalization, corporate enterprise, and development in the world’s most destitute places are extremely complex issues. While there are more than a few problems with privatization, local enterprise in developing countries suffers due to the insufficiency of public utilities. Terrible acts of oppression and violent hatred are inflicted upon those of different ethnicity, religion, or gender daily. And followers of Jesus need to make sacrifices to reduce the violence and aid the oppressed. However, appealing to our western governments to step in only confirms suspicions from the rest of the world that the west is not finished being imperialistic colonizers. This does not mean that the church should stand by idly, rather seek solutions that do not involve our hegemonic governments.
Even in these weaknesses of the book is the strength that Frost is calling on exiles to put down People magazine and grapple with these issues affecting God’s creation.
Without equivocation I recommend Michael Frost’s Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post Christian Culture. But be ready to be challenged on some of your thinking.