Winter Is Coming: And We’ll Spend it in Babylon image

Winter Is Coming: And We’ll Spend it in Babylon

In one of the most perceptive pieces I've read in a while Steve McAlpine argues that Christians are facing a time of exile - only we won't be spending it in Athens as many of us thought, but in Babylon.

McAlpine echoes comments made previously on Think by Andrew, but goes further in some of his analysis and predictions. He identifies Exile Stage One,

In case you missed it, Exile Stage One began a few decades or so ago, budding in the sexual revolution of the sixties before building up a head of steam some 20 years ago. Finally some Christians sat down to talk about it 15 or so years ago, and that set the ball, and the publishing companies rolling…In Exile Stage One the prevailing narrative was that the Christian church was being marginalised, Christendom was over, the church needed to come up with better strategies to strip away the dross, and all of this in order to reconnect Jesus with a lost world.

Exile Stage Two is going to be different from what we thought in Stage One, because we made three crucial mistakes:

1. We Assumed Athens not Babylon
For all of the talk about exile, the language of Athens, and the need to find a voice in a culture of competing ideas, was far more prevalent in Exile Stage One conversation than the language of the true city of exile, Babylon. We were exploring ways to deal with the culture being uninterested in us, not despising us…If the primary characteristic of Exile Stage One was supposed to be humility, the primary characteristic of Second Stage Exiles will have to be courage.

2. We Assumed a Neutral Culture Not a Hostile World
So what’s the point? If we assumed neutral culture we assume we can get involved in, and play with, culture without getting infected by it. That we can remain distinct from it, undrawn to its more sickly parts, and more than capable of knowing when to say no to culture’s soft-focus, slow-motion beckoning and effete “Join us! Join us!” plea (Game of Thrones anyone? - Netflix Ed).

Simply put, we assume that we can have more impact on culture than it can have on us. That is dangerously naive thinking. Jesus never said the culture will misunderstand you; he said the world will hate you. He did not say to his disciples, “Display reckless abandon and go out there and change culture”; he said “fear not, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

3. We Loosened Our Language Just When The Cultural Elites Were Tightening Theirs
There is a whole book in this, but suffice to say, many Exile Stage One proponents were busy loosening the bolts on their language wheels at the very time the cultural framework was tightening up theirs. And no prizes for guessing whose wheels have fallen off! Or to use another metaphor: if we fail to appreciate and use the language in our armoury then someone will steal in, take it and use it against us. We’ve cultivated a half generation of Christian literature completely certain about its uncertainty when it comes to terminologies. Meanwhile the cultural framework is more and more certain about its terminologies.

A prime example relates to public ethical matters. A church that has gone all loose on language for the sake of reaching the culture—dropping the categories given to it by its time-tested theology—is suddenly finding its own terminologies and thought-forms used against it, and it is unsure how to respond. When it comes to sexual ethics now, it is not simply that traditional Christianity has “strange” or “weird” or even “interesting” perspectives, but rather “wrong”, “bad”, “unenlightened”, even “sinful” positions. Read the opinion pages.

McAlpine concudes:

That is what we must recover. Second Stage exiles do not place their hope in a city here, be it Athens or Babylon, but seek a city that is to come (Hebrews 13). Second Stage Exiles do not need the approval of the culture, neither do they need to provoke the culture in order to feel good about themselves. No, true exiles can live out their time in exile with confidence, love and hope because they trust in him “who is able to keep [them] from stumbling and to present [them] before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.” (Jude 1:24).

Christian, Second Stage Exile is coming. Are you ready for it?

The whole thing is worth reading, and pondering. You can find it here.

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