Book Review: Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian World (Jan-Feb 2007)

By Matt Dabbs

by Wade Hodges
January – February, 2007

In the Conversation with Fred, Australian Michael Frost suggests that American Christians could hear his observations as a man from our future. While I’m not sure that Christianity in the United States shares the same trajectory with Christianity in Europe and Australia, I do think we need to listen to Frost as a prophetic (forthtelling, not foretelling) voice.

I’ve spent a great deal of time with The Shaping of Things to Come, which Frost wrote with Alan Hirsch. We’ve studied it as a staff. I’ve been in several discussion groups that have tackled it. And I’ve recommended the book to just about everyone who can read without moving their lips.

Frost’s follow-up solo project, Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture, picks up where Shaping left off and takes us deeper into the life and practices of the Missional Church.

Frost argues that we should rediscover and cultivate our indentity as exiles engaged in the dangerous business of living faithful lives before God in the midst of an empire hostile to our faith.

“The biblical metaphor that best suits our current times and faith situation is that of exile. Just like the Jewish exiles, the church today is grieving its loss and is struggling with humiliation . . . . And here lies the root of the problem of the church today. Victimized by nostalgia and buffeted by fear, the church is focused too much on merely holding the small plot of ground that it currently occupies to confidently reimagine a robust future. The result is a retreat into some fundamentalist us-versus-them model rather than ‘an endlessly cunning, risky process of negotiation.'”

Exiles - The Church Has Left the BuildingThat final phrase is a quote from Walter Brueggemann’s Cadences of Home: Preaching among Exiles, on which the outline of Exiles is based. Building on what Brueggemann says in Cadences, Frost describes exiles as those who hold on to dangerous memories, make dangerous promises, offer dangerous criticism, and sing dangerous songs.

In short, Frost insists that the Christian way of life, shaped by the example of Jesus, is at its best when it’s functioning as a redemptive challenge to the empire.

But before we can challenge the empire, we Christians must first be challenged. We’ve grown complacent in churches propped up by Christendom (which is fading fast) and we’ve too easily fallen into step with the prevailing culture (empire). Frost isn’t going to let us off the hook.

He leans into his role as prophet and fires challenges like Peyton Manning fires touchdown passes.

He challenges our portrait of Jesus—the ultimate exile—whose ministry we’ve made to look far more clean and respectable than it really was in its original context.

He challenges our eating habits.

He challenges our quest to create programmed community in small groups and church services.

He challenges our definitions and descriptions of “church.”

He challenges the way we’ve compartmentalized our lives into separate spheres of sacred and secular. This is one of his favorites. He delivers it well.

He challenges the way most Christians in the West give a free pass to corporations.

He challenges our lack of concern for the environment.

He challenges our failure to take a stand for basic human rights.

He challenges the sappiness of so many of our contemporary worship songs which come off sounding as if they’re being sung to some teenage girl’s boyfriend.

If Exiles were just a book of challenges, we’d grow weary of being punched in the gut by chapter 6. Happily, Frost balances his challenges with a number of helpful correctives.

He calls us to renew the practice of radical hospitality.

He implores us to see our work as a missional enterprise and not just a way to pay the bills.

He suggests resources that will help us become more globally aware and active.

He invites us to develop a more fluid, and yet still contained definition of “church.”

He encourages us to create environments in which communitas can develop instead of trying to build community. This was my favorite part of the book so I’ll unpack it just a bit. Community is the result of people giving themselves to each other for the sake of community. Think of most small groups that you’ve been a part of. Communitas is the bonding that occurs when people undertake a difficult challenge or face a trying ordeal together. Communitas isn’t achieved by focusing on communitas. It only comes when the group is focused on something else bigger than themselves. Communitas thrives in mission’s backwash.

You won’t agree with everything Frost says in Exiles, but you’ll have a hard time not talking about it with other people. For me, that’s one of the measures of a book worth reading.New Wineskins

Wade HodgesWade is a graduate of Abilene Christian University where he received degrees in communication and Christian Ministry. He has been married to Heather since October of 1996. They have two young sons, Caleb and Elijah.

While Wade will preach on just about anything, he especially loves to speak on the topics of faith development, male spirituality, and missional theology. He also likes to tell a story or two when he gets the chance.

His favorite part of sermon preparation is going to the movies.

He served as the Preaching Minister for the Sterling Drive Church of Christ in Bellingham, Washington for six years.

You can read his blog at [www.wadehodges.com].

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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