Cultic Dependence on Exile
Count me among those who do not think the church is experiencing persecution or symbolic "exile." With special emphasis on the later point I disagreed strongly with the language of Carl Trueman on exilic Christianity. To a degree I still do but I'm beginning to see some reasons to accept Trueman's thesis. Let me briefly explain where I draw a fine line and disagree. I am persuaded that the concept of "exilic church" is largely a profound misunderstanding of covenant theology. When the concept is linked to the great examples of God's people being "in exile" due to covenantal unfaithfulness (e.g. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel) it becomes incomprehensible to deem a Christian church in exile.
Exilic events required new covenants in the Old Testament. The people in the wilderness re-heard the covenant before going into the land and experienced a new Red Sea and circumcision under Joshua. The removal of the people from the land and destruction of the temple set up the restorative covenant of Nehemiah. The valuable "newness" of the New Covenant is that God in constituting a covenant people would not leave them nor forsake them. He would not again count their sins against them. Modern hermeneutics have read these ideas through individualistic eyes but they speak about the church. God has promised in the New Covenant to not send Christ's bride into exile. We cannot be unfaithful to such a degree as to deserve exile. So in this way the church can not be in exile.
Now this is all backdrop for the awesome book I am reading from Fortress Press titled Give Me Children or I Shall Die. A full review is coming but in brief the title re-evaluates Biblical texts concerned with children through a more appropriate agrarian culture. This has profound insights for the barrenness passages and education passages. It is with respect to these passages on education that I came across a couple interesting quotes that correlate to the current exile topic. They along with Trueman communicate a truth of cultural exile that we might apply if safely separated from the analogy of the Jewish people,
“In the context of exile, cultural preservation would no longer have been a luxury but instead would have been essential for the survival of Judean communal and cultural identity. Just as the subsistence agricultural family must produce offspring or it will die, the cultural community in exile must produce Judeans or it will die out.”
“Some of the characteristics he lists include: “(1) The propensity to form and maintain a separate community or district in the recipient society; (2) the desire to maintain distinct cultural traits, such as language, values, and religious beliefs; and (3) the propensity to cultivate high degrees of internal solidarity through extended kinship ties, school and religious organizations, and preference for endogamy. The enculturation of the young is valuable in any context, but for refugees, the risk of assimilation imparts added urgency to the task. Enculturation in exile is a primary form of cultural preservation.”
This struck me as profound in light of my denial of the church being in exile. Even though I hold this to be a true theological statement. I have begun to recognize that the church today is in exile culturally. What is worse is that the church is blind to it. It presumes we are still being victorious (because we should be) without doing the sacrificial work of a community in exile. Instead of being aware that the America church is on the verge of complete dismissal, many continue to argue about how to maintain or improve its relevance. This is not the mindset of a church in cultural exile. The church in exile needs to recognize that their kids are being educated, in fact enculturated, in anti-Christian sentiment. Not that it is always antagonistic but it is not Christian enculturation.
So what must a church that should be victorious but is experiencing cultural exile do? We must raise our kids as if our culture depended upon it. The church is not responsible. The public schools certainly will not help. Parents/grandparents and familial units need to treat Christian enculturation as essential to survival even though we know God has promised the church victory.