In this episode of As in Heaven, hosts Jim Davis and Michael Graham welcome Jake Meador to discuss the merits of having a posture of a “church in exile.” They explore how this exilic posture could help us close the back door of the church and regain our prophetic voice.
Episode time stamps:
- Episode and guest introduction (0:00)
- Moving from empire to exile (4:37)
- Centrality of patience (11:38)
- Role of attention in a digital age (16:53)
- Advantages of living in a state of exile (23:08)
- Learning from others across broader church history (29:41)
- Advice for clergy and business owners in secular workplaces (36:11)
- Relational wisdom in a low-trust environment (43:31)
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Welcome to season three of as in Heaven, we’re getting to the end, this is our second to last episode of the season. And if you’ve been with us, you know that we have taken a deep dive on the great deep churching. About 40 million people have left the church in America over the past 25 years. And we have commissioned the most comprehensive and detailed nationwide quantitative study to understand why they’re leaving, where they’re going, and how we can bring them back. That research, as we have said, will be coming out in our book, the great deed churching in the summer of 2023. And this podcast exists to pull on this thread even more. My name is Jim Davis. I am your host and pastor of Orlando Grace Church, and I’m joined by my co host today, Michael Graham. And our guest today is Jake meter to talk about what it looks like for God’s people to embrace the concept of living in exile. I got to know Jake in season two or round two of the gospel coalition’s good faith debates, and I appreciated the debate between you and Brian Matson on the topic topic of Should Christians support economic regulations intended to protect the environment? So you can look that up and listen to that debate? Jake is the editor in chief of Mir orthodoxy, as well as the author of two really helpful books in search of the common good? And what are Christians for? And I will say beyond that, Mike, and I have just really come to appreciate Jake is a friend, a fellow ministry leader, who he all need friends to be a source of encouragement and sanity in this increasingly confusing and complex time that we live in. And, Jake, you’ve been that to both of us. So thank you for being here. And thanks for all you do.
Thanks for having me on. And thanks for the kind words. Well, as
we, as I said, we I’m excited about our topic today, our conversation, because it’s one of the things that we’ve been thinking and talking more about in the past five years. And that has been the idea of the American church moving from a season of empire and into a season of exile. Now, there’s a lot that I that I think we’re all thankful for the privileges that the Christians in the United States have been given over these past few 100 years. But exile is more the normative state of God’s people, you know, God’s people have explored, have historically exercised influence, as we showed as Christians from the margins, not necessarily necessarily from the seat of power, as we have over the past few 100 years here. And certainly, it’s true in the global East and parts of the Global South, that they extra exercise their influence from the margins. One of the ways I like to describe this, I’ve got a buddy who’s a pastor in New Mexico, he’s of Mexican descent, his family, they are they’re Mexicans. But they they live in New Mexico, they have Mexican descent and they’ve never moved. And his the way he says it is, my people didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us. So at some point, the culture around them just completely changed who they are, their identity didn’t change. But for me, that’s a picture of what is happening to Christians in the United States of America as our culture changes. So evangelicalism have a big decision to make, are we going to work to regain that seat of power in our country? Or are we going to embrace exile? Or is it some something in between there has been a big tug of war between various different Evan Jellicle subgroups vying for dominant strategies and tactics, as the Evan Jellicle Empire continues to decline in its influence over culture and society. Some groups want to grow increasingly strategic to regain that power and influence and others are reluctant to to engage such promote such an approach opting for something different. So I guess that would be a good place to start. Jake. Can you paint for us a picture of the landscape? If, if somebody say has just moved from Canada, and they’re trying to understand the Evan Jellicle? landscape here? What, what are the different groups? What vision is each group promoting for a way forward in the Evan Jellicle faith as we move deeper into the 21st century?
Yeah, that’s a good question. So the context in which we’re figuring these things out is a rapidly changing America, which is part of what’s confusing for a lot of people. The I mean, so my parents were born in the 50s and 60s, and they also have talked about just even my mom’s lived in the same neighborhood, her whole life and kind of stuff. Hello experience, do what you’re talking about. Yeah, just the way that even that small neighborhood in northeast Lincoln has changed in that time. And it’s easy to focus on sexuality and gender stuff that has shifted, because that’s where I think a lot of people feel it the most. But it’s also important to think about the ways that Tech has shifted us. The way it’s changed our daily habits and routines shaped us without us often realizing it. And so there’s a very strong sense of anxiety, I think that comes from all of those changes. And when you think about, well, what’s what’s anxiety, anxiety is often something we experience when we, we don’t know what we’re supposed to do, or what’s going to happen next. Or we don’t recognize where we are anymore. We’re in a new place, and we’re trying to figure things out. It’s ratcheted up if the new place you don’t recognize is actually the place you’ve been living all along. And so that’s the kind of context in which a lot of people are arguing about, what what do we need to do. So obviously, one school that I think a lot of listeners will be familiar with is the kind of it’s not really a way to get into this without getting into the politics kind of the Make America Great, again, movement that really says, yeah, these changes have happened there for the worse. And we need to somehow roll the clock back to a previous era when America was more explicitly Christian in some ways. Certainly the public square in certain ways was more friendly to Christian belief. And we need to get back to that. I personally don’t find that super compelling, not only because I think there’s a lot of moral compromises that have to be made to justify the coalition’s you’re part of if you go that way, I also think and my friend, John is SCOTUS has an essay Ed compact about this. The technological landscape has changed so radically, you can’t just like it’s not as if there’s this box that contains like America’s Christian past inside of it, and we can just open it up and take that out and re access it. The changes to the world are so fundamental due primarily to digital technology, that it’s just not, that’s not going to be possible, then I think you have some other schools. There’s a kind of weird evangelical version of the old, mainline Christianity has to change or die mentality. So we can continue to survive as churches in this new America by revising lots of core teachings of the faith, there was a video that the Episcopal Church put out touting all these new digital liturgies that are supposedly gonna like, save our churches. I don’t really buy that either. I think the claims of Jesus and of Christianity stand over culture. And so if we’re trying to kind of modify those things, according to a cultural norm that we value, then it’s really the cultural norm. That’s the heart of our belief system. And Christianity is kind of an accessory to our own sense of self for and desires for the world. And then I think between those two poles, there are lots of people that are for personal reasons and contextual reasons, kind of pulled in one or the other direction. And yet are not necessarily happy with either of those options. And so they’re trying to figure out what our other options are. And I think that’s a much more it’s a much more kind of contextualized space where you’re paying much more attention to your immediate neighborhood and church context, state context. There’s a lot more prudence involved in figuring that out. And so it’s a group that doesn’t lend itself to slogans, or kind of easy moot, like national level movement organizing, because you’re really trying to nuance one or both sets of claims that the edges are making, to try and figure out how we understand our place in this country, as Christians who have less agency and power than we used to less credibility than we used to in many places. And where our communities themselves are often in flux, because of de churching. Because of technology because of mobility, the mobility of American life and So I think there’s actually quite a lot of people, it’s a little cliche to say like the silent majority. And it’s I don’t know that it’s the majority. But I think there are a lot of people in that kind of space trying to figure out what faithfulness is in their context looks like. And it just takes time, I think when you’re in a kind of gray zone moment, like we are. The old world is kind of winding down this new orders emerging. That applies to coalition’s to, you know, old coalition’s are fracturing and new ones are emerging. And that takes time. So like one of the things I think I’ll come back to later is the centrality of patience, and all of this. And one part of patience, I think, is giving those new coalition’s and relationships and movements time to form. I feel very hopeful about the medium term future. I think, in the short term, we need to practice patience, so that we don’t do foolish things, because we’re trying to rush things that take time. So I think don’t don’t go either of those edge directions, and then patiently in conversation with pastors and friends and your contexts, trying to figure out what what do we need to how do we need to love our neighborhood? How are we present in our neighborhood, in our homes, in our schools, churches, etc. In this changing moment, and it’s just complicated and messy, and it doesn’t lend itself to easy answers. For better or worse.
That’s really, really helpful. Jake, I really liked what you said that phrase, just the centrality of patients, I think the obviously things are continuing to, you know, to fracture in terms of existing orders, and the ways in which the, you know, the coalition’s as they have existed are certainly in flux. And I think the, the impulse there is to want to, well, let’s just speed things up and, you know, run things to their to the radical end, but there is, there’s some real importance to, you know, remaining calm in the middle of that, and the centrality of patience is key. So I think we have to have tolerance, there in the short run, while those things work their course. And we’re able to build from some of those new coalition’s healthier institutions. And I think, you know, in many ways, it feels like we’re in this tug of war, you know, as Jim mentioned, between those who want us to return to some form of Christendom, and those who are willing to embrace more of a posture of exile. And I feel that tension personally, you know, on the one hand, I find various permutations and combinations of Christendom problematic, especially those that are either conversant with or actually forms of Christian nationalism, you know, a basic understanding of church history, especially Europe would reveal the weaknesses of, you know, a Christian nationalism approach, where Church and State are on top of each other. On the other hand, I want to draw, you know, from, you know, some of the cultural approaches of, you know, Herman bobbing, or J. H bobbing, that don’t want to just throw their hands up at the culture, and but have more of a kind of a common good approach that persuades I think, maybe for more from the bottom up, than top down. So I draw a lot of inspiration personally, from the stories of Joseph and Genesis 37, to 50, from Daniel and his time in Babylon, and some of the early church diaspora out of Jerusalem, in terms of how they’re navigating their relationship to a dominant culture, while they are either physically or culturally or both in a form of exile. So all of that is just kind of kind of a long preamble to a two part question. First, what does it look like for us to embrace a form of exile that isn’t isolationist or ascetic in nature, but still seeks the welfare of our context? And then the second part of that is, what inspiration Do you draw from the Bible just in support of such a vision?
Yeah, there’s two different places I kind of want to go in thinking about that. I’ll try to just kind of sum up both of them. So the first thing is Mark Sayers has a framework. He’s a pastor in Australia, for analyzing kind of cultural and movement change over time. And I’m simplifying him condensing, you can hear him kind of spell it out on a couple different podcasts he’s done. But he argues that there are cycles to any kind of movement and the first generation or two are the earth The years, it kind of happens when a group of people get together and they can tell things are really bad. Why are things bad? What can we do to make them not be bad. And so for Christians, these are people that pray that sacrifice a lot to build new things. They try to develop new strategies and ideas about what Christian practice and outreach looks like, in their context. And if they’re successful, you start to see institutions being built seminaries, churches, universities. And I mean, in some cases, you can even see, I think that some of the exile dynamics kind of fade to the background a little bit, in certain cases where they’re extremely successful. What tends to happen, though, it’s in the next phase are the he calls them the traditionalists and the managers. So these folks, they don’t really remember things being bad. They don’t remember the energy of the prayer meetings, they don’t remember the sacrifices that went into building, whatever the thing is that was built. And they tend to just codify whatever the previous generation was doing. And then that becomes the tradition. It’s what we do as a community. And we manage the community to make sure those traditions are honored. And eventually, what happens is those customs and practices and traditions aren’t really responsive to the moment anymore, they often start to kind of lose the heart behind them, and they become kind of a dead Orthodoxy is Francis Shaffers term for it. And say your says, What happens after that is you get the deconstruction generation that is just frustrated by all of it doesn’t like any of it, and they blow everything up. Because Sayers design is they work with dynamite, not scalpels. And so but then what happens is, well, you just did a ton of work with dynamite and a bunch of things blew up. So now things are bad again, and the cycle begins over. So I think that can be a helpful lens for framing some of what we talked about here, I’m just recognizing that we’re probably in the season now of preparation and building and sacrifice. And that’s a pretty common story throughout church history, and we should be comfortable with it. The other thing that came to mind, as I’ve been thinking about attention more lately, just because of the role that attention plays in a digital world, where there is more stuff for you to look at, then you have time as a human being in a 24 hour day to do. And so, as I say, man, it’s like, well, what are the things that Christians look at? What do we pay attention to? I think if you go real simple, the two things were called to pay attention to our God, as we look to Him, with gratitude for what he has done in making us and preserving us, redeeming us. We look to Him with a sense of humility and joy and reverence. And then in response to what he’s done for us, we look at our neighbors. And we attend to our neighbors, I was reading a book by a it’s my favorite 16th century figure Martin boots are and if you read what boots are says about deacons, it’s kind of shocking. So boots here has a clear idea that deacons are there for helping with physical kind of Mercy needs or material struggles that people are having. But the way boots are seems to imagine that Deacon is like he thinks deacons need to know their community well enough to know where they’re where there’s work available for the poor, who really just need a job, and they need some help keeping a job. He also knows how to get money to poor folks who just need money, because they’re not able to work or they’re in a caregiving role or something like that. And he knows how to connect those people to those resources. And so it’s an incredibly high degree of local knowledge that he just assumes a Deacon has to have to be a deacon. And it’s not a legalistic thing. It’s just well, your role is mercy and physical needs. And you can’t fill that role well apart from local knowledge. And so as I think about what it means for churches and local places to be faithful in this context, it seems to be one of the things we should be doing is taking very seriously what it means to attend to our neighbor. Precisely because we’re commanded to love our neighbor Are and loving people is actually always kind of complicated and difficult in all sorts of ways. Not simply because of your own kind of internal sin that you have to repent of, and rely on God to help you sanctify, but also because it’s very easy to intend to love someone and actually hurt them because of a lack of knowledge. And so I think part of what I worry about, with a lot of the hand wringing and fear that people have with exile is that I worry that we’re looking at ourselves in a very kind of navel gazing way. And that’s mostly not like, we have to look at ourselves to some degree, because we needed an art context, and we need to know how to potentially decide what to do. But mostly, I think Christians are called to pay attention to God and their neighbor. And when we spend a lot of time wringing our hands over all of the bad things that are happening, and how marginalized Christians are becoming, et cetera, et cetera. I think a lot of those things aren’t really happening. But I don’t think the way we respond to those things is should look like the way the world responds to it. And so I think we still have a calling to look to our neighbor, to seek ways of loving our neighbors, even in those positions of weakness, and being outside the halls of power. And biblically, I think that the texts that we should be spending a lot of time with my home church actually just preached through the whole book recently, is the book of Daniel. Daniel is a great text for understanding what it looks like to be the people of God recently deprived of a certain position of comfort and power, and thrust into radically new, disorienting contexts where we are extremely vulnerable. My pastor and his sermons would talk about, you’re not on I think he was distinguishing because of the story of Israel, Temple time versus Empire time. But that’s the dynamic we’re dealing with, in many ways, I think, is it’s now much more we’re Daniel, in the people of Israel in Babylon. And it’s just a challenging context, I think you can look at even something as simple as like the story in the first chapter of Daniel, Daniel and his friends don’t fight over everything. They accommodate where they’re able to, they also draw lines where they have to. And I think you can hold both of those things together. And I think that because that’s precisely what Daniel and his friends do throughout the story of that book. So I think that’s the, that would be the text, I would go to a lot to help think through the moment that we’re in.
So I actually really love that you just went to Daniel Walter Brigham, and he has this quote, he says, for Israel, exile did not lead to an abandonment of the faith or utter despair. On the contrary, exile was the impetus that inspired the most creative literature and daring, theological articulations in the Old Testament, so he makes the case that, that exile can be a ground for gospel innovation. And I think in our day, we can, we can, unknowingly largely I’m not trying to be too hard on us but but we can value comfort over fruitfulness. And and what I would like to ask you, could you flesh out for the lay person, some advantages of in terms of fruitfulness of living in a state of exile, maybe blessings that say our Chinese brothers and sisters have that we, that we don’t and I’ll just pull on or that we’ve not naturally and easily experienced? I’ll pull on the Boogerman threat of innovation, just for a moment. I mean, just think at the early church in Acts, they were persecuted, because they were in the beginning of their Zelich season. They because of that, they went you know, they spread around the Empire, they began to share the gospel with with true Gentiles, which was we didn’t see that in the beginning. They were mainly even the exhibit people. They’re mainly sharing with Jews before that. innovatively change Antioch they were first called Christians. So they’re gaining a new identity. I just, I do believe deeply that that Brigman is right. So pull on that thread a little bit, what are what are some blessings in terms of fruitfulness that the Christian Christian has exile might experience that would make the lack of comfort? Worth it?
Yeah. Well, so before anything else, we’re made to know God, to know and love God, the pattern in Scripture, and in church history. And I can even think, in my own life, my parents life. God draws close to us amid suffering and difficulty. And so I would want to actually start there to say that there are unique opportunities to become more completely dependent on God, that are made available to us in the wilderness that aren’t available in places of comfort, which is often why when you look at the story of Scripture, the wilderness is a place of preparation. It’s where God meets with the people he’s calling to do something. And they learn to love Him and see Him more clearly. So that they can do whatever they’re called to do. That’s the story of Moses. Paul goes into Arabia for a few years, we’ve had Passover, that detail, but he mentions it in the book of Galatians, he seems to have a two or three year window between his conversion and when he goes to Jerusalem to meet the apostles. And that time seems to have been spent, I think the text says in Arabia, which is probably kind of the desert region around Damascus. Jesus Himself spends 40 days in the wilderness before beginning his public ministry. Wilderness is often where people meet God. I mean, certainly my parents in life, my dad had a traumatic brain injury and is disabled now in both my parents will say we’ve gained more than we’ve lost in the years since then, primarily through intimacy with God. So I would want to start there. But yes, also, I think, when you are in that position of uncertainty and vulnerability, you do have to think differently about what ministry looks like. And it leads to a lot of fruitfulness as you’re finding new ways of loving your neighbor and reaching out to others. There’s an episode of rebuilders, where Sayers does an interview with an Iranian missionary missionary, who works in Iran, I think he’s from Britain originally. But just the stories of the Iranian church right now, which is the fastest growing church in the world, at the moment. Some of the stuff they have going on is just wild. And it’s so encouraging. So I think people can listen to that and hear what how the Iranian church is thriving under suffering, and under marginalization. There’s also a lot of stuff being put out now by the Center for house church theology on the Chinese church, that a woman named Hannah nation is editing and kind of bringing to the Western Church. So I think we should be spending time with those resources and learning from those churches that continue to grow and thrive, even under FAR more disadvantageous positions than anything we have in America. I mean, there’s stories like that on the, that rebuilders podcast, that I’ll continue, but the story is so wild, this woman gets a Bible. And what she was, is she was a pickpocket. And that was how she supported her family steals a guy’s bag. And the only thing in the bag is a Bible. So she starts reading the Bible. It’s kind of reading her way to faith, and then find some notes in the Bible with I think it was a link to a Zoom meeting. And she used that to get in touch with Christians abroad, that basically discipled her early in her Christian faith. And now she’s using zoom to disciple Iranian Christians in Iran. Which I mean, you think about that use of technology compared to what we know in the States while difference. But yeah, I think those are the kinds of things you have to get creative and you have to think through what do we really care about? What do we really want to accomplish? Because we’re operating under scarcity rather than abundance.
It makes me think I heard a story recently. There’s a church that really has engaged in metal church and and you know, all my cards on the table. I’ve kind of rolled my eyes at that kind of thing, because embodied worship is where we’re moving. I mean, like we were made for, but there was this story about the metal church and they have staff poking people in the room trying to try to get him a conversation into their credit. I do think they’re trying to move them toward embodied worship. And this one person, they keep poking and they never, they can never get a response. And finally, in the metaverse, this, this person lights up a sparkler and writes in the Air China. He couldn’t talk. But this was a way that the Chinese government had yet to figure out how to monitor and sensor. So anyway, that, that it is pretty remarkable the ways that technology where we began and you came back to it remarkable the opportunities that exist, but I want to come back real quick. You mentioned mentioned some people in church history that you found compelling Shaffer boots, or what are some of their voices in church history, kind of the the the high mountain peaks that you’ve found compelling, as you think, people who have been helpful in navigating the complexities that we’re facing today?
Yeah, that church history is a great resource for us to draw on, because these are our fathers and mothers in the faith, and they can teach us much about following Jesus in all kinds of different contexts. One example I was just reading about recently, would be Dietrich Bonhoeffer. So Bonhoeffer comes to America twice in his life. First, he spends a year studying at Union Seminary in New York City in the early 1930s. And then he spends about six months here in 1939. And when he came over the thought had been he might be waiting out the end of the war, over here. And while here, he came to the conclusion that he couldn’t possibly hope to shepherd the German church after the war, if you hadn’t suffered with them during the war. And so you went back and ultimately became a martyr. So while Bonhoeffer was here, he actually had a very difficult time in the US radically different culture from what he was used to growing up as kind of upper class Berliner. But he was utterly dismayed by his experience at Union, he wrote letters to his friends saying things like, there’s no theology here. I never heard the gospel preached here. And that was mostly what he said about the American church when he’s back in Germany. There’s one exception. And that was Abyssinian Baptist Church, black Baptist Church, in the heart of Harlem. He had met a friend, black Christian, who was studying at Union who attended Abyssinian and began going to services that Abyssinian Baptist with him, even taught Sunday school, they are on Sunday afternoon, sometimes while he was over here. And he said, The Gospel is still preached there. And even make some comments. And he’s the like, again, like child of great wealth from Berlin. And so he made some comments about it’s a very different kind of experience of church than what we like Lutherans know, in Berlin, but it’s the faithful preaching of the Word of God. And he loved his time at Abyssinian. And he actually came back to Germany with a collection of records of old spirituals. And so he had those with him at the underground seminary he was running. So it’s kind of this beautiful. I mean, when you factor in the political context of Germany, very subversive example of Christian faith under threat, where you have this Berlin bread, Pastor theologian, who spent about 18 months of his life, probably a little less than that worshiping fairly regularly with black Baptists in America, in Harlem. And he brings that experience back with him, but he even brings the music back with him. And the music of the black church becomes part of the music of this underground seminary he’s running. So I think that’s a wonderful example. But it’s also worth considering the the reason, Bonhoeffer said he never heard the gospel at Union. It’d be easy for evangelicalism to hear that and go, Oh, well, it was a mainline seminary. That’s why he never heard the gospel. But that actually wasn’t Bonhoeffer his critique, but offers critique was that the churches in New York preach about everything except the gospel, because the American church sees itself primarily as American rather than as Christian. And so I don’t think you have to work that hard. Particularly now when we have churches singing hymns called Make America Great Again and public worship, for example, to find contemporary examples of that same kind thing that Bonhoeffer is talking about in the church in America. And so I think there’s a ton to be learned, even just in the US from churches other than the the white Protestant mainline or F angelical congregations. And the black church in America is hundreds of years old. And it’s right there like we there’s a ton we can learn from it. And bottom line. What’s
also interesting is the black church has been a group of Christians who exercise influence from the margins, historically, not the seat of power. So I mean, that, that connects in multiple ways in this topic of living in exile and, and enjoying a fruitful walk with Jesus Christ in in that state. There’s a great story from church history that that is really helpful and applicable. All right, well, I want to say we I feel like we’ve been lowering altitude as we’ve we’ve been progressing, I want to I want to lower it even a little bit more. Let’s say that there are two specific people new to the conversation, one’s clergy, one’s a businessman. In the secular workforce, what specific counsel would you give to each person, respectively, about the things that we shouldn’t be doing or ways that we should be leading now to be increasingly persuasive? In in these complex times?
Yeah. So the temptations that everyone’s going to feel one direction or another, is to either be so nice that you never draw any lines, or it’s going to be to be so belligerent that everything is a fight. And so this, again, goes back to why wisdom and prudence and understanding your local situation is all really important. So there are going to be situations where as pastors, you have to say things that will be unpopular, in your own church locally. You can’t flinch on that, I think there are going to be cases where people in the marketplace are going to face very, very difficult existential questions. And when they strike at the vitals, the term we use in the PCA for kind of core matters of faith, when something strikes at the vitals of the Christian faith, Christian faith winds, whatever the cost is. And yet, that doesn’t mean we have to go around being anxious and jittery and belligerent and loud all the time, either. And so I mean, maybe this is a good example, a friend of mine, he’s a Bible. Not anymore. He was at the time by vocational pastor is an associate pastor in his church, small church, by vocational because they didn’t have the money to pay him a salary. And he was working for a fairly large, I don’t know if they were fortune 500, but they were a good size company. And they were passing some new HR policies that in his conscience, he just felt like I can’t sign this agreement, they’re demanding that I sign. And so I think what would have been really easy to do there is either kind of like, cross your fingers a little bit inside just to keep your life as it is, or to like, loudly make a great display of yourself. And aren’t I taking a courageous stand for conscience, and yada, yada, yada. And in the process, you’re alienating everyone you work with? What he actually did is he went to the human resources department, and he sat down with one of them. And he said, I don’t feel in my conscience that I can sign this agreement. I would, however, be willing to do these compromises that I hope, honor what you care about, that will not violate my conscience. Is that something you are willing to let me do? And actually said yes. And so he was able to keep his job and go on doing what he was doing. But he did it in a way that was honoring to his employer without violating what God has called him to as a Christian. And so I think that’s a good example of what we’re after another. This is just what my pastor said we had a kind of fight here in Lincoln over the past year or so for a fairness ordinance that the city council wants to pass And it’s one of the most radical such ordinances I’ve ever seen. I’m genuine, like, I follow this stuff because of editing Miro. And this one genuinely could like, following the letter of the ordinance criminalized like reading Romans one in a church, because the church is a place of public accommodation, under the language of the ordinance, and speech that created a hostile environment was penalized. So you can’t speak publicly in places public places, in ways that will be hostile to protected groups. So our church was like, Well, we know we’re gonna oppose that. And so like, we had some folks that participated in the petition drive to try and force it to a vote, rather than letting the City Council just pass what they wanted. But the way we went about it was we had a meeting after church on Sunday. So it wasn’t part of public worship, we did it after church, whoever wanted to stay could stay, to hear what we were doing. And we had a lawyer from the church who walked the church through like, this is what the policy is, this is what it could mean. So this is why we’re concerned. And then my pastor stood up, and he kind of things like, you know, hopefully you understand where we’re coming from on this. Now. It is also really important that you understand, we’re still called to love the city of Lincoln, and to love our neighbors. And so he said, it’s possible that people are going to say unkind, untrue things, about you about us about other churches in town, because of this position. If we are doing what we ought to be doing as Christians, then the people who know us, they might disagree with us, but they will know that’s not true. And so that’s ever since we had that Sunday meeting is struck stuck with me as an example of what I think we can do. Like, there’s no reason we have to, like run around with our hair on fire or being belligerent and unpleasant. There’s also no reason we have to just kind of keep our heads down and go along with whatever gets thrown at us. You actually can, like, do what Daniel and his friends do repeatedly in the book of Daniel. But it does take a certain degree of a certain degree of courage, but also a certain degree of virtue and humility, to not try and turn your like, hashtag courageous stand or whatever, into some kind of social media cause or something and get your 15 minutes of fame on Fox or something. So I think it can be done. I think there are lots of Christians that are doing it. But by its very nature, those kinds of responses tend to be quiet. And particularly in a low trust context, like I’ve had the thought, man, if people knew about my pastor, friends, employer and knew their policies and knew he was employed there, would people just assume that he had signed whatever, without bothering to actually find out what’s true. Like that’s part of what’s really hard in a low trust context, is people often don’t take the time to actually find out what’s really going on. They jump on a headline and off. But yeah, I think there’s lots of people doing this kind of stuff. It’s just often it flies under the radar, because it’s not the kind of thing that pops on social media.
Yeah, I think one of the biggest challenges of you know, just a low trust context is it’s just relational wisdom, and knowing what does it look like to express Christian virtue in those things. And I think one of the big challenges, you know, I’ve done some woodworking in built a dining room table for our family here recently. And to do so I had to get a number of different types of grit of sandpaper, you know, he had the 36 grit sandpaper, you put that on the, you know, on the belt sander, and it’s like, okay, you’re gripping and ribbon, you know, and then all the way up to like, you know, say 300 grit sandpaper. And if you put that on your skin, it’s like, oh, this actually kind of feels soft. Right. And so, I think a lot of what the challenge of our moment was, maybe for a long time, you know, we didn’t have to make too many choices of which grit sandpaper that we needed to use in various different situations. And a lot of times, we were just using some of the stuff that was just kind of in the middle of the road. But now there’s a lot more complexity to okay, what type of sandpaper do I need to use in a particular situation, you know, and sometimes the type of sandpaper the that’s needed inside the household of faith and outside the household of faith look different in different situations, you know, to mix metaphors. When I’m at the park. You know, I have two toddlers, you know, I’m not there to parent the other people’s kids. I’m there to parent my own kids. So sometimes, you know, the kind of sandpaper that you’d use maybe on, you know, on your own kids, again, metaphorically here, don’t call Child Protective Services is different than what you’d use, you know, when you when you see another kid, you’re only going to step in as a parent when you know another kids about to, you know, walk off something really hurt, you know, really harm themselves. But then then you have, you know, situations like the one you just painted, where there’s just complexity, where it’s like, okay, actually, we do need to speak here, you know, this is, you know, this is a challenge. And we’re actually we might go to the drawer, you know, it pick a different, you know, I do different path. So, all that to say, you know, it again, I like what you said about just a low trust environment. You know, one of the things that really kind of stood out to us in our data was, you know, a lot of people left the church because the church has failed her own standards, we haven’t followed just the ethical standards that Jesus himself has given us. In other words, their critique of the church was that the church is just not Christ like enough. And so for the last 30, you know, 30 years or so the impulse against Christianity was towards, you know, kind of sitting spectacularly. However, what I’ve seen in the last 10 years of my life, is that the impulse against Christianity has been shifting more towards critiques, that the church is not moral enough. In many ways, I think that that’s actually good news for us. In the sense that I still think that there’s, you know, simultaneously impulse towards sitting spectacularly, particularly around areas of, you know, gender and sexuality, but there’s still this impulse towards, there’s this new impulse towards caring for those who are hurting, and the disenfranchised and the vulnerable. So only Christianity can consistently account for why we should care for the hurting and disenfranchised, and why stunning spectacularly is probably not in the interest of our own flourishing. So all that to say this, how does an exotic posture help us show a low trust in cynical world, that our gospel is not just true, but it’s also good and beautiful. At the same time,
we’ll maybe put it this way. So when a group of people want to do anything together, we have to pay for that thing somehow. The way that it often gets, quote, unquote, paid for in a society of abundance is going to be through cash, or I mean, if it was a big enough thing, it was a political thing through some kind of government action. So in both cases, it basically is a kind of coercive force, acting in the absence of any other reason for people to do something to get their there are other ways of paying for things we want to do together for most of which is probably trust. I’ve used this example elsewhere, but it I think it’s one of the best I know, when my dad, so my dad had a traumatic brain injury. He was in the ICU for almost three weeks. And then he was inpatient at a rehab hospital for six months. And by the end of that six months, it was clear that he’s probably going to be capable of living outside of assisted living facilities, he could probably live at home, if home is handicap accessible. The problem is, my parents house is an old working class railroad town that was built in like 1910. So nothing about it is handicap accessible. So that could have been 10s of 1000s of dollars in work that my parents had to do on their house, just so my dad could come home, or they have to sell the house they lived in for 30 years, which they’ve been wanting to do because they love it. I didn’t want them to have to do it. What ended up happening is a group of friends from their old church, all these kind of like, thrifty, handy. Do It Yourself Midwestern dudes. They show up at my parents house a bunch of times, and over the several months before dad came home. They pulled out the concrete steps that went up onto the porch and they replaced it with a wheelchair ramp. They extended the driveway with concrete so that he would have space to walk out of the van when he got out. And then they went in and they gutted the downstairs bathroom and back porch and rebuilt the whole thing with a wheel in shower, handicap bar by the toilet. All the things you need for handicap accessible bathroom they even put in the heated tiles on the floor because that that bathroom was built later on in the house so there was no insulation under it. So they put in heated floor so that it wouldn’t be cold in the winter. And the only payment that they agreed to accept from my mom was Oreos and Diet Mountain Dew. So my mom had to go to the hardware store to pick up the supplies, the guys knew what she needed. So they give her the list, she go to the hardware store, hardware store, guy would load up the van for, and then she’d drive home and put out a pack of four Oreos and a 12 pack of Diet Mountain Dew, and the guys would show up, and they did all this work for nothing. That is the kind of stuff that can happen when you have relationships of love and trust. And when people don’t need to be paid to do things for each other. And so I think what is really interesting and potentially scary about our context, but could be very helpful for the church is that I think it’s it’s not just that the church is headed into a time of exile. But I think the the world is headed into a time of comparative scarcity, relative to the era we’ve just lived through. We’ve seen that with supply chain issues that we’ve had in the US over the last few years, that probably aren’t going to go away for a variety of reasons. And so I think we’re going to be entering a time of relative scarcity compared to what we’ve known for the past 3040 years. And a lot of the things that people have just paid for, or the government has done, it’s gonna get harder to pay for, it’s gonna get harder for the government to provide that service. And so we’re gonna figure out ways to do things for each other on the basis of trust and affection, or those things just aren’t going to get done. And so if churches can be communities of people bound together by love, who offer themselves to each other, in response to Christ’s call in their life, that’s a powerful witness in a low trust society where lots of things are breaking. So that’s where my brain goes, when you ask.
Yeah, no, I appreciate that. And I want to reiterate, I said this in the beginning, you know, as Christians, we’re not called to seek persecution and exile, we don’t see that. But we see that often. That is the inevitable direction of the world we live in. And so our hope with this episode, and you’ve been so helpful to, to accomplish this is, is that we would be prepared, should we really move into that, and we don’t know what the Lord would do that. I mean, God could do whatever God wants to do. But our call as church leaders is to be prepared and prepare others for whatever season is ahead of us. And and what I as I’ve been thinking through this, and our conversation today is should we embrace some form of exile, we will call we will be sacrificing certain comforts, but there is where God meets us, God provides for us and our walk with Him can can be even sweeter. So I’m, I’m thankful for the work you’ve done on this. I’m thankful for our time together. Here. I’ve hoped the audience has been blessed. I have been blessed by this conversation. So thanks, man. Thanks for joining us. Thanks for being here. It’s been fun. And stick with us for our next and last episode of the season. We are going to be talking with Dr. Erwin it’s and talking about something that has been a core piece of the roadmap for our church and we believe a a core piece of the roadmap for the church, when a church chooses to pursue being both missional and confessional. So that’s what we’re going to flush out next week. That’s where we’re going to land the plane. We’ll see you then. Blessings
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Jim Davis (MDiv, Reformed Theological Seminary) is teaching pastor at Orlando Grace Church (Acts 29), and a Council member of The Gospel Coalition. He is the host of the As in Heaven podcast and coauthor with Michael Graham of The Great Dechurching: Who’s Leaving, Why Are They Going, and What Will It Take to Bring Them Back? (Zondervan, August 2023). He and his wife, Angela, speak for Family Life’s Weekend to Remember marriage getaways. They have four kids. You can follow him on Twitter.
Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy and a contributing editor with Plough. He lives in his hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska, with his wife and four children. Jake is the author of multiple books and his writing has appeared in National Review, First Things, Commonweal, and The University Bookman, among others.