In his book Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture Michael Frost compares the situation of the western church to that of the Israelites living as exiles in Babylon. Christendom has collapsed, and Christians have to learn to live in an empire that is hostile to our ideals. Far from being tragic, the collapse of Christendom may end up being the best thing that ever happened to western Christians as it will force us to take seriously what we believe and why we believe it.
Frost believes that living as exiles in a hostile empire involves four things: keeping dangerous memories, making dangerous promises, making dangerous criticisms, and singing dangerous songs.
To Frost, the dangerous memories that Christians maintain are those that tell the Christian story rather than that of the empire. Frost reminds us that Jesus was "a radical and a subversive"--he challenged the status quo and got into trouble for doing so. Thus, we could say like N.T. Wright that our dangerous story is "Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not." Remembering our story will keep us from buying into the metanarrative of our host empire. Frost challenges us to get outside of the traditional church and into "third places," where we will come into regular contact with those who do not believe.
In addition to dangerous memories, Frost challenges the church to make dangerous promises, namely "We will be authentic," "We will serve a cause greater than ourselves," "We will create missional community," "We will be generous and practice hospitality," and "We will work righteously." Frost rails on the "hyper-reality" of our culture. We are addicted to "reality" TV and internet chat rooms as if these media were actually real. Instead, Frost challenges us to get our heads out of the clouds and be real because the world doesn't need any more shiny happy people. He also encourages as to pursue "communitas" rather than "community." Community is the myth that people can live together in perfect knowledge, understanding, acceptance, and harmony without any kind of struggle. Too many churches seek community and fall short. Instead, Frost urges us to seek communitas--they kind of community that develops out of living a mission. Just like soldiers comes home from war with a heightened sense of community with each other, Christians can develop communitas by challenging the empire and living for Christ together. To develop these "missional communities," Christians must promise to be generous, practice hospitality, and work righteously.
In addition to their dangerous memories and dangerous promises, Frost also urges exiles to make dangerous criticisms of our host empire. Exiles cannot be comfortable in the empire, they have to stand up against it and criticize it for misbehavior. Frost says that we have to point out injustice, especially the economic injustice prevalent in an unbridled worldwide free market economy. As capitalism increases wealth, it also widens the gap between the rich and poor. Exiles need to speak against injustice. Further, they need to speak out against the destruction of the environment. God has charged us to take care of our earth, yet civilization consistently seeks to exploit it. Further, history teaches us that cultures collapse when they reap from the earth more than what is sustainable. Exiles need to criticize the empire that would exploit our earth. Finally, exiles need to criticize the empire for allowing worldwide persecution of God's people.
In addition to their dangerous memories, dangerous promises, and dangerous criticisms, Frost argues that exiles should sing dangerous songs. When you read the songs of the prophets, they don't read like "Jesus is my boyfriend." They are radically subversive. Many of them would have been considered treason by the host empire. Our song is that Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not, and our worship needs to be singing this song.
I loved Frost's book. It's the best one on "doing church" that I have read in a long time. This is probably because I was a missions major in college and this book more or less takes everything that I learned in school and applied it to being a missionary in western culture.
One of the things that frustrated me most about being a part of a large suburban church in Dallas was the perception that everything that we were doing was advancing Christendom rather than Christ. We were more concerned about getting people to join the church than we were that they were following Jesus. I am happy to read about others who are equally as frustrated with McChristianity. We are ready for something new--something radically subversive of the American middle class evangelical system--something that cares about justice and mercy and the kingdom of God.
I love where I am at now. I love that church is low-key. I love that we are about changed lives. I love that we are about getting outside of the walls of our building and making our community a better place. I would love to see us continue to develop the communitas.