Last month Jacob Birch wrote a widely-viewed article at Christianity Today questioning the common use of Jeremiah 29 in the Western church.  In short, Birch complains that the common refrain, “We live in a period of exile” in today’s Western church is an ill-advised framework to understand the church’s relationship to our broader culture.

We can understand the basic thrust of the article.  In essence, Birch states, “It’s really not that bad to be a Christian in the West.  And so, when the Western [and he presumably particularly means the American and Canadian] church starts talking this way, it cheapens people who really have been forced out of their homelands, experienced all sorts of horrors, and suffered mightily.”  Birch raises a valid point.  Those who have fled war, who have been forcibly deported, who will never see their homes again, those who have suffered, deeply – they may rightly take umbrage at comparisons which seem to imply, “Yes, we feel that too.”  No, honestly, we don’t.  We can agree with Birch’s concern at that level.

Yet, we shouldn’t entirely abandon the analogy. We shouldn’t abandon it because the bible itself talks this way.  In fact, in 1 Peter 1.1, Peter calls God’s elect, Christians, exiles in the world:

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. (1 Peter 1:1–2, ESV)

Other English translations render the ESV’s “exiles” as “scattered,” “sojourners,” “strangers,” and the like, so we should be careful to note the potential range of meaning in Peter’s description.  Not every sojourner is an exile, nor are the terms identical, but they do have overlapping ranges of meaning and signification.  In other words, the ESV, though not the only possible translation of the term, is a legitimate and defensible rendering of Peter’s meaning.

And why that designation?  Those who read the New Testament know what it means to be elect, and verse 2 confirms what Peter means – the ones who were chosen in advance by God the Father, sanctified by the Spirit, for obedience to Christ, redeemed in his blood.  Peter writes to Christians scattered through the Roman Empire, choosing imagery that links them to the dispersion and exile of the Judeans following the Babylonian conquest and destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC.

According to Peter, the elect were scattered throughout the world.  Why?  They were scattered because of persecution.  We should be careful not to read that too far – Birch has a point – the persecution wasn’t yet as bad as it could be…or would be.  But Nero was probably already ruling when this letter was written, and it would keep getting worse.  The Christians of the early church faced hardship and persecution – socially, economically, and eventually physically.  And even when these early Christians experienced social and economic persecution, Peter wrote to them as “strangers in the world, scattered – exiled – among the nations.”  They were in the same spot that the Jews in Judah had been centuries before – oppressed, harassed, living in the midst of a pagan culture that mocked all they stood for.

In other words, there’s nothing per se wrong with using the analogy of exile for Western Christians today.  We simply must recognize that this is an analogy, and every analogy can be pushed too far.  Our situation in the Western church is not nearly as bad as what many brothers and sisters around the world face daily, nor should we act like we have it so hard.  Yet, we can still profitably look at and learn from the question of what it means to live as exiles in the world.

And whatever analogy we use, it is fair to say the Western church has moved and is moving towards a minority position in terms of its influence on culture.  Now probably, from what all the statisticians say, the number of people who have really met Jesus, been born again, has not changed terribly much as a percentage of the population.  Instead, the well-documented rise of the “nones” is driving this change.  Christianity in America for a long time managed to live in a position of cultural hegemony, where the mainstream, whether or not it truly believed in Christian orthodoxy, still gave lip service, accepted many of its cultural claims, and voted with it, so to speak.  We must remember that was often a hollow faith, but in many places in the West, including until recently in most of America, it was relatively easy, safe, and even socially helpful to say you were a Christian.

That, certainly, has changed in much of the West, somewhat earlier in Europe, then first in the American Northeast and West, then spreading more broadly to cultural centers across the nation; and we have no reason to think the trend will suddenly cease.  The church is moving towards a position of less cultural influence, and whether we describe that as “occupation” (Birch’s preferred analogy) or “exile” (also valid), that requires rethinking how Christians relate to our world.  And Jeremiah 29 remains not just helpful, but crucial in thinking through the question.

These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. This was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother, the eunuchs, the officials of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen, and the metal workers had departed from Jerusalem. The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. It said: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord. “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” (Jeremiah 29:1–14, ESV)

How did we get here, to this cultural moment?  We might start with how Israel got there.  This is a letter from Jeremiah the prophet, back in Jerusalem, to some of the exiles deported to Babylon, a letter written near the end of the history of Judah as an independent nation.  After Solomon, God’s people split into two separate nations, sometimes allied, often fighting each other.  A couple hundred years later, the northern nation, called Israel, had been wiped out by the Assyrian Empire.  Now, a bit past one hundred years later, the southern nation, called Judah, was in the process of being wiped out by the Babylonian Empire.  The Babylonian judgment happened in three stages, and in each of those three stages the Babylonians deported a portion of Judah’s elite, exiling them, taking them back to Babylon for what basically amounted to a forced reeducation campaign, one that made them into Babylonian civil servants.  Jeremiah 29 occurs in the midst of those three stages.  The prophet Jeremiah, still back in Judah, wrote to God’s people who had been exiled to Babylon.

To understand this situation correctly, we must recognize that Israel ended up in exile because of both injustice AND false worship.  Jeremiah 7:1-7 says – and the OT prophets had been repeating both these themes for centuries – that God had exiled them because of both their religious apostasy and the rampant injustice of their society:

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’ “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.” (Jeremiah 7:1–7, ESV)

One can almost open the preexilic prophets of the Old Testament at random and find these two themes.

First, as to idolatry, this remained a very religious people.  Atheism was a much, much later cultural movement.  Everyone at this time was religious; the only question was which god you followed.  Further, this remained a people who said they were worshiping the Lord.  If you had asked the people themselves, “Have you turned to other gods?” they would have answered, “No, this is how we worship the Lord.”  Of course, God didn’t see it that way.  In his eyes, they were “going after other gods.”  In other words, they had a religion that claimed it was still the worship of the Lord and even formally looked like, at least in many ways, it was the worship of the Lord.  It had the same ceremonies, the same sacrifices, the same patterns, yet it was a false worship of the Lord.  It had much of the form of Yahwism, but in God’s mind it was something else entirely.

Second, as to justice, this remained an incredibly blind people.  Their stated faith and their market and societal ethics simply did not match.  As long as the Temple continued its work, as long as the sacrifices were made, people considered themselves to be good with God, well set, having done their religious duty.  No matter if one then went out and slept with a prostitute, exploited the poor, oppressed the widow, the orphan, or the refugee.  No matter if one’s business practices were technically legal but corrupt.  No matter if one’s faith had no impact once he exited the Temple courts.  Jeremiah critiques, standing in a long line of Old Testament prophets, the worst of legalistic, formalistic religion.

And, we might add, Jeremiah rejects their complacency in the light of all of that.  They cry out, “This is the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord.”  In other words, they cry out, “We’re good, so long as we meet the obligations of the Temple sacrificial system.  We have nothing to worry about.  God will always protect Jerusalem, because he has promised to.”  To which Jeremiah says, “The Temple’s presence will not save you.  Give me a true religion, one that rejects idolatrous religious compromise and one that seeks justice.”

If the Western church has moved into a position that is much more exilic, even if in a very light form, how did we get here?  Interestingly, the two warring halves of the movement formerly known as evangelicalism each concentrate on one or the other of those causes.

One of the two halves often traces the roots of the church’s loss of influence to false worship, particularly to the rise of liberal theology in the early 20th century, which then really flowered with the 60’s and the sexual revolution and then more recent cultural moves on gender and sexuality.  The narrative goes as follows:

When theological liberalism* spread to the United States in the 20th century, it began a broad move away from historic Christian orthodoxy, one that followed an earlier move in Europe.  Churches, while still identifying as Christian churches, ceased emphasizing the traditional basics of Christianity.  Discussions of sin and redemption were considered antiquated; talking about being “washed in the blood of the Lamb” was macabre; Christianity needed to be freed from its old, judgmental emphasis on sin and redemption and redefined into self-actualization, doing good in the world, pursuing social causes.  The push was to say, “You don’t need to worry about all that talk about sin and redemption and blood shed on the cross and substitutionary atonement.  That’s barbaric, old fashioned, and out of touch with a pluralistic society.  Faith really should be about trying to do some good in the world and validating whatever anyone believes.”  The church replaced the gospel of sin and redemption with the social gospel, one that abandoned the historical Christian faith and became, to use Paul’s words, “no gospel at all.”

This stream of thinking sees the mainline church’s turn to the social gospel as the precipitating event that has led us to this current point almost a century later, a retreat from orthodoxy, a claimed Christianity that isn’t really Christianity in any traditional definition of the term.

And we should note the validity of concern here.  In both DC and NYC, the two cities where I spend my time, most churches in those cities for the last 50 years, and arguably 80, have been busy redefining Christianity into something that bears little resemblance to historic Christian teaching.  There have, of course, been voices against that, a continuing church, one might say, but this is where the mainstream did go, and it was false worship.

So, one side of our church sees that historical trend and traces our rapidly-becoming-exilic situation to it.  And we want to recognize that there’s a real element of truth in that narrative.  It was the worship of other gods, so to speak, in the temple of the Lord, and it has left the church in our moment of decline.

At the same time, the other half of the evangelical schism anchors the church’s current lack of cultural influence in a very different place, one that’s also worth biblically noting – in our toleration of injustice.

Injustice, we must admit, is something many Western Christians, have tolerated, certainly by sins of omission and, sadly, even by sins of commission. So just as people in Israel felt free to give in the temple, do the sacrifices, and then go out and exploit the poor and vulnerable, abuse the widow and the orphan, not to care about the ethical implications of their faith, so likewise many of our churches have not cared about the least of these, the poor, the orphan, the widow, the refugee.  The narrative on this side goes as follows:

As mainline churches turned to the social gospel, the evangelical churches acted as if they were staying the course, not changing, but they also changed.  It is almost an inevitable outcome – if you are going along with someone, and they wrongly turn one way, you think you’re continuing as you always had, but in reaction, you actually start drifting the opposite way.  So, seeing the theologically liberal churches abandon orthodoxy for the sake of pursuing social causes, the evangelical church abandoned those social causes, even in cases when those social causes enunciated clearly biblical values.  It was always the province of Christians to care about issues such as justice, race, care for the poor, and many others.

Yet, because these seemed to have distracted churches, sometimes even resulting in the abandonment of historic Christian doctrine (that is, the clear preaching of the reality of sin and the need for redemption from God), causes such as justice, helping the poor, straightening that which was crooked in society – such causes became suspect and were inappropriately abandoned by the church, ceded to the liberals when they should have been claimed by the true church.

In recent years, the mainstream of our culture has “awoken” and started to care more and more about many such issues, especially issues of race, abuse, and unjust systems (as opposed to simply unjust individuals).  So, in a situation in which many of our churches have at a bare minimum sinned by omission (not fighting against injustice) and many by commission (covering up abuse, accepting an over-developed doctrine of the spirituality of the church, etc.), this second half of what used to be called “evangelicalism” says, “Do you want to know why we’re becoming a cultural minority?  Because we haven’t been faithful to what God’s called us to.  Because we haven’t sought justice, loved mercy, or really walked humbly with our God.”

Just as we must recognize the truth in the first narrative, we must also recognize much truth in this second narrative.  Not every agenda pursued by a newly “woke” culture is, of course, biblical.  And even more, the solutions proposed by our culture often create problems.  This is no argument just to accept our culture’s answers to racism, sexism, or any other -ism just “off the shelf.”  But many current cultural concerns, especially those of racism and justice, are biblical concerns.  And, precisely because the church neglected to emphasize doing justice and loving mercy when it could have, because the church tolerated injustice inside itself, because it protected abusers and turned a blind eye to its own racism, well, the church has lost influence culturally now because it has been on the wrong side of at least part of the cultural moment.

So go the two narratives told by the two halves of what used to be called “evangelicalism.”  And does this not start to explain the schism?  When each group hears the other’s explanation of the problem, of how we got here, that explanation sounds not like a valid biblical point, but a recapitulation of the old mistakes.  Those concerned about a loss of orthodoxy due to cultural influence hear the “other side” repeating the folly of the social gospel.  Those concerned about a continuing avoidance of justice hear the “other side” repeating the lack of orthopraxy on many important issues.  Each side hears the other’s implicit solution as a counter-productive double down on precisely the cause of the problem.

What is the result; what is the church’s cultural position today?  For Israel, the result was exile.  They were slaves in Babylon because they had lost on the battlefield.  They had seen their sons and brothers and fathers run through with swords.  They had seen what happens when an ancient army takes a city – men impaled on stakes and left to die in the sun, women raped, babies snatched out of their mothers’ arms and their heads slammed into the ground.  They had seen, not just seen but endured, the horrors of ancient warfare.  Many years back, my wife asked her uncle, who had flown in Vietnam, if he was going to go see Saving Private Ryan.  He replied simply, “No.  I know what war is like.  I don’t need anyone to show me.”  They knew what war was like because they had lived it…and lost it.

If that weren’t enough, Jeremiah’s letter is written to “the surviving elders among the exiles.”  Why the surviving elders?  Because the rest had died on the march.  Remember, they were captive slaves marched nearly a thousand miles by captors who didn’t care much whether they lived or died.  This is a letter to the ones who survived the death march.

Nor was life easy in Babylon for these Jews.  They were a mocked minority, conquered.  No one liked what they stood for.  Babylon was a hyper-sexualized culture, the center of world power and success, therefore both politically and economically influential.  Babylon was polytheistic, but that did not mean accepting the Jews’ religious claim.  Psalm 137:3 summarizes it well, if one will permit an expanded and interpretive paraphrase: “Hey slave.  Come here.  Sing us one of those songs of Jerusalem.  You know those songs about how your God’s kingdom is going to take over the world.  Sing us one of those.  And while you do it, remember that we conquered you.”  They lived amidst a hyper-sexualized culture, a polytheistic society that scored their faith, a society that strove after success at all costs.  They lived a life of hardship and loss, discrimination and mockery of all they were.  For a picture of what they thought about living in Babylon, read Psalm 137.

Does that start to sound familiar?  A hyper-sexualized culture, a society that has become so infatuated with tolerance that it is basically polytheistic, a society that doesn’t appreciate orthodox faith and that is rapidly sliding downhill morally.  This sounds a lot like life in America today as a Christian, does it not?  My two cities of New York and Washington, DC share much with Babylon.  And much with Corinth, and much with Rome.  Nor is this limited to the two I mention, nor to simply big cities, nor to cities of any size.  All cities and towns, indeed all human society, tends toward Vanity Fair.

Peter writes to Christians scattered, so when he invites Christians to consider themselves as exiles, he does not restrict his audience to simply those who live in Rome, Babylon, or any city.  All Christians experience this life, a life in this world but not of it.

So, how do we go forward?  How might the church engage our culture and world in the West?  Jeremiah’s letter gives us at least four crucial ideas: first, that this is God’s work; second, that we should settle in for the long term; third, that our hope remains to go home; and fourth, that we should seek the good of the city. In following what Jeremiah instructed his audience in the sixth century BC, we find a sense of how we ought to live today.

First, we must recognize that this is God’s work.  To say so would have been a terrible admission for the Jews in exile.  After all, their trip to Babylon certainly seemed like it was the Babylonian’s work, didn’t it?  They were the ones who had conquered Judah; they were the ones who had decided to exile a slice of the people; they were the ones who had forced them on a march of 900 miles to Babylon; they were the ones who were now their captors, taunting them and trying to crush their spirits.

Even verse 1 says that Nebuchadnezzar had done it, that he had carried them into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. Yes, but then look at verse 4.  “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon…”  He says it again in v.7: “Where I have carried you into exile.”

So did God do it, or Nebuchadnezzar?  Yes.  God is making it clear that He is the real power behind world events.  Nebuchadnezzar didn’t know that, of course.  He was pretty sure this was his handiwork.  But no ruler – back then or today – can do anything apart from God’s control and God’s permission.  It does not matter if that ruler is Kim Jong-un, Chairman Mao, Joseph Stalin, or any other dictator.  No human ruler, past nor present, can unseat God from his throne and his control of all creation.  God said to Israel through Jeremiah, “Sure, Nebuchadnezzar was the proximate cause of the exile, but I was the ultimate cause.”  Their trip to Babylon was God’s idea, in fact, in their case, God’s punishment on them for centuries of turning their backs on him.

Similarly, then, we must recognize that the decline of Christianity in the West has not taken God by surprise. God has not lost control of the universe, or of our tiny portion of it.  We exist in our current cultural moment because God has put us here, and our situation – whatever our fears – is no less under God’s control than was that of the Judeans in exile.

Second, we must settle in to be here for a while.  Jeremiah instructed the Jews in Babylon to settle in for the long term: “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.”  Crucial to all these instructions is that they will require time.  In other words, “settle in, you’ll be there awhile.”  You’re going to have time to build houses, have kids, and grandkids.  Settle in for the long haul, because your time in exile in Babylon won’t be over soon.”

Yet, there’s much more to this image of having children and building houses than simply marking time.  This is a command.  Do two things: v.5 – build houses and settle down.  Plant gardens.  And then v.6 – have children, and children’s children, and more.  These are not accidental commands.  Instead, they are an echo and a reaffirmation of something very crucial, something pivotal – God’s very purpose for mankind.  Before there was any sin in the world, mankind was made for two great purposes: to fill the earth and to subdue it.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26–28, ESV)

And the Jews would still do that, even when in exile, even when in exile for their sin.  God’s punishment of their sin did not eliminate his good purposes in them, even in exile.

Similarly for the church today in the West, then.  We should settle in; we should expect this cultural situation to last for a while.  False prophets had arisen who told the Jews not to worry, that the exile would end quickly, that God’s wrath was already spent, that they would go home soon.  But God said through Jeremiah, “Don’t you believe them.”  I might add, for the church today, “especially if they give you a date.”

And just like the Jews in exile, we then work and live, labor and raise families.  Work and family are not just the mundane.  They are who we are, who we are made to be, not something we do from Monday-Saturday, while we wait for Sunday – our faith day – to come.  This is the avenue in which we work out our faith.  This is part of the purpose that God gave us when he made us.  And it’s how we honor him.

This means there is great honor in our work, whether that work is a job – in some small piece working for order subduing the chaos, for developing this world into all that it can be – or whether that work is at home, raising children, multiplying the images of God that fill this earth and that please him.  These callings and vocations we have – and all the people in our churches have, from the office to childrearing and everywhere in between, these are glorious callings, not wasted time.

Third, we must remember that our ultimate hope is not this world.  Our hope is to go home.  For the Jews in exile, that meant that God had promised that he would end the exile, that they would go back to Jerusalem.  God promised so in verse 10: “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.” Though they were in exile because of their own sin, God would not leave them that way.  God loves his people and he wants to restore them, and when the people would respond in the future with repentance, he would bring them back.

Similarly, for us, though exile is hard, we are not as those who have no hope.  Quite the opposite.  We will always have our hope – because our ultimate hope in this situation is that someday God will take us home.  The Jews’ hope in Babylon was a return to Jerusalem.  As Christians, we hope, too – that God will end our exile, that we will not live forever as exiles in a world that rejects our faith and our God.  Indeed, our hope is that Jesus will not just ‘take us home,’ but that he will actually bring home to us.

The Bible gives us this image, and it does it in Revelation, chapter 21, verses 1-4:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1–4, ESV)

God never gave up on this world he created, never gave up on the Garden of Eden situation where he would walk with mankind, never gave up on the plan for mankind to be the capstone of all creation.  And we did fall, we did ruin it, so God came – as a man – to redeem all of history and put things back on the rails.  In Jesus Christ, our hope rests.  God will release us from our life as exiles in the world.  We live in light of that hope, that this world is not the best there will be, but that God has something greater.

Finally, fourth, even that the exiles might understand.  We keep carrying out our purpose even as we live in exile.  But then verse 7 is the bombshell “Also…”  “Also, see the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.  Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”  “Seek the peace” – the word there is not just the absence of war.  It is the Hebrew word shalom, the Arabic is salam, not just a lack of conflict, but the good of the place, the flourishing of the place in every way possible – economically, culturally, morally – a full flourishing of human society, a blessed life in the light of God.  And God calls them to seek the good – the peace and prosperity of Babylon.

Remember how hard that would be.  They had been slaughtered by these people.  They lived among mockery.  The last verse of Psalm 137 sums up the feeling of the exiles towards Babylon: blessed is the one who pays you back for what you did to us.  But God says to seek the good of this terrible place where you are, for – verse 7 – if it prospers, you too will prosper.  This is your home now, so seek its good, though you may want not.

To us, then, Jesus says, “Love your enemies.”  That was not an entirely new concept when our Lord spoke it.  God is calling us to live for the good of our Babylon, to seek the good of the place where they are, even though we might rather just withdraw and go home.

And this highlights our changing apologetic task.  Even a decade ago, my non-Christian friends would say something to this effect: “I appreciate so many ways Christianity has done good in the world.  But I just don’t think it’s true.”  I occasionally still hear that, but the discourse I more often hear now is much more aggressive, not that Christianity is good but untrue, instead the claim that Christianity is evil, that it is the oppression and the problem.  We ought not hang on to American exceptionalism, or Southern exceptionalism, or small town exceptionalism, or anything else.  Instead, we must realize that there is a short and closing window to do so much good for our world that our society would say, “I don’t like their theology, but you can’t question that we’re better off for having those Christians here.”

The world we live in has changed, and the faster the church gets our heads around it, the better. And the past two and a half years of a global pandemic have only turbocharged the change.  In a time of rapid, dislocating change, it becomes easy to want to get back to what we lost.  Instead, we must embrace God’s call into what we are.


*Note that this is a theological term in this article.  It is a subject for a different article, but political liberalism and conservatism are not the same phenomenon as theological liberalism and conservatism, and we do well to keep them as separate – even if not completely unrelated – terms in our thinking and analysis.

An ordained minister and the first professor of Reformed Theological Seminary NYC in Manhattan where he serves as Professor of Old Testament and Dean of Students, Bill earned a Ph.D. in Semitic and Egyptian Languages and Literatures at The Catholic University of America. He completed his M.Div. at RTS Orlando and serves as a pastor at McLean Presbyterian Church.

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