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Evangelism as Exiles

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Andrew’s much anticipated annual review of books is just a post or two around the corner. If I were to compose a similar list, Elliot Clark’s Evangelism as Exiles would be right at the top of the pile. This is a book all too rare in Christian publishing: deeply biblical, profoundly personal, and exceptionally well-written.

In January we’re planning on teaching through 1 Peter at my church and I picked this book up because it is an exploration of that epistle. I was planning on some background reading to help my sermon preparation – I didn’t expect to be as stirred and challenged as was the case.

Clark explores 1 Peter through the lens of his own experience working in Muslim majority nations and because of that brings a sharpness and clarity to his interpretation and application of 1 Peter. Clark knows what it is like to feel an exile, both through living as a foreigner in another nation and from being a follower of Christ in contexts where very few people are. This experience allows him to read himself deeply into the kind of situation the apostle Peter was addressing when he wrote to the elect exiles in Asia Minor. But this is far from being a book solely for those interested in mission to Muslims – it is brilliantly applied to a western audience (the examples given are American but are equally valid for a British reader). Throughout the book Clark also helpfully weaves in examples from the experience of African-American slaves; how in the midst of their exile a deep and effective spirituality was formed, and what we might learn from that.

If you read through a collection of Negro spirituals, you’ll observe that those beleaguered slaves sang about judgment and damnation in ways that would cause most of us to blush. Their ability to harness the passions of the imprecatory psalms and simultaneously drive them toward an evangelistic appeal is astonishing, if not jarring. In one line they can revel in God’s retribution; in the next they can summon sinners to repent.

Living in exile is hugely challenging. Clark doesn’t shy away from the reality of what that can mean in terms of the hostility and suffering exiles can endure. Neither does he skip over the costly ‘turn the other cheek’ calling of our pilgrimage:

You’re called to show honor to every single person. Not just the people who deserve it. Not just those who earn our respect. Not just the ones who treat us agreeably. Not just the politicians we vote for or the immigrants who are legal. Not just the customers who pay their bills or the employees who do their work. Not just the neighborly neighbors. Not just kind pagans or honest Muslims. Not just the helpful wife or the good father…

…The time is coming, and is here now, when the world won’t listen to our gospel simply because they respect us.

However, they might listen if we respect them.

Ouch.

Actually, there are any number of ‘ouch’ moments in this book. I felt convicted about my lack of courage in evangelism, my ‘over-politeness’ about speaking of Jesus to those who don’t know him, my tendency to complacency and fondness for comfort. This isn’t a book to read if you are not prepared to be challenged – but it really is a book you should read!

Just before reading Evangelism as Exiles I had led a conference titled Living in Exile. I wish I’d read the book before leading the conference. The reality is we are called as exiles. Elliot Clark has written a book that is a terrific guide to that demanding and rewarding path.

 

 

 

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