“As the dominant culture moves further and further away from traditional Christian beliefs … [it] is causing tremendous fear, uncertainty, and anxiety among many people of faith. . . . ‘We used to be the home team,’ one person said to me. ‘Now we’re the away team.’ The challenge facing Christians in America is to remain deeply engaged in public matters at the same time they hold more lightly to the things of this world . . . to react to the loss of influence not with a clenched fist but with equanimity and calm confidence . . .” Peter Wehner
- Prosperity (shalom) has nothing to do with accumulating possessions or money. It is an internal and external flourishing, an interwovenness inside us and between us.
- Shalom is achieved not by seeking it for ourselves, but for others.
- Total shalom will only be accomplished at the return of the Prince of Shalom. In the meantime, we pray and labor for it to be incrementally realized in the foreign land of this world.
Remember the storyline here is Jeremiah’s letter to the Jewish exiles in Babylon (Jeremiah 29). While they were hoping for a temporary stay, he told them to settle down in the foreign land since they’d be there for a full generation of seventy years. The purpose of their exile in Babylon was both remedial and redemptive. That is, their captivity was supposed to improve them as well as to use them to influence Babylonians. That should sound more than vaguely familiar to us as strangers in a foreign land. We’re here for our own good and the good of those around us.
How we exiles relate to our Babylon is no ancillary theme in Scripture. If not directly, nearly every part of the Bible indirectly addresses how we’re supposed to act in this devil-infested, yet God-permeated world. Historically the Church has employed some substandard strategies for strangers. Let’s call them fortification, exploitation, domination, accommodation, and abdication. In the next post I’ll propose a provocative biblical alternative to these. Until then I’ll keep you in suspense.
To some, living as strangers in the world is all about the spiritual and social safety. Christians of this ilk tend to hunker down in their sheltered Christian bunkers in cozy proximity to their circle of Christian friends and family and wait it out until Jesus comes back. Survival is their highest priority. Babylon is a dangerous place for foreigners, so they construct a cultural wall and hide behind it. They pour into their churches on Sundays, lock the doors, and sell spiritual confections to each other. When it’s over they lock the doors behind them until next week. It’s all quite self-contained. They live in fear of Babylonian cooties and have little to no sense of mission to influence Babylonians toward Jesus. As outcasts in a hostile world they’re on perpetual defense and create a Christian subculture to safeguard them from Babylonian contamination and persecution.
Many cope with our exilic role in a hostile world while complaining about Babylon and retreat from it they use it for their own benefit. They exploit its riches and resources for their own benefit. By some sort of spiritual gymnastics they claim their rightful inheritance of Babylonish prosperity. They mistakenly treat Babylon as their own personal cash cow, reasoning that God put them here to acquire as much of this world’s goods as possible. Hardly distinguishable from their Babylonian captors, they live here by divine right as consumers. They engage with Babylon, not as givers but as takers.
Instead of taking advantage of Babylon or hiding from it in spiritual bunkers, these Christians battle Babylon. They’re on a mission from God to fight the world and take it back in the name of Jesus! In contrast to a subculture or even counterculture, they believe ordered them to construct a “contraculture,” a golden age of prosperity and dominance for Christians in this world. It’s the duty of those who ascribe to so-called “Christian Reconstructionism” or “Dominion Theology” to create a worldwide kingdom wherein Christian values dominate society.
You hear them say things like: “In order to hold back the godless tsunami and be a Christian nation again we must elect enough good Christians in office. In order to advance God’s agenda we need believers to be in charge of government, education, entertainment, and every facet of our culture.”
Unwilling to resist Babylon a lot of people just give in to it. They’ve learned that compromise takes the pressure off. They don’t try to raise the Christian flag over America, they simply wave the white flag of surrender. They just try to blend in, chase the American dream, whatever it takes. They have no sense of being set apart for the glory of God or the good of humanity. They live as much like Babylonians as they possibly can without losing their Christian trademark. They go to church, read the Bible, and give a buck or two in the offering, but they’re not visibly or appreciably distinct from any of their non-christian friends. Only God knows for sure if they’re Christian or Babylonian.
Knowing that Babylon’s days are numbered many exiles abandon any responsibility to improve it while here. “Just wait, they’ll get their due!” they say with a sneer. They’re banking on Jesus coming so soon that there’s no need to bless the world – spiritually, culturally, morally, or environmentally. “It’ll all be burned up, so what’s the point of knocking ourselves out to make improvements here?” They take little to no initiative to advance the influence of our good King in evangelism, social justice, or environmental responsibility. They abdicate their obligation to make Babylon a better place for humans to live in a God-glorifying world. They reason: “Leave it alone. It’s all going to be incinerated soon. Just don’t be left behind when Jesus comes to rescue us from here!”
There’s another way, a biblical, but radical alternative to these substandard strategies for strangers. God gives us his own strategy for living in Babylon without living like Babylonians, tactics to bring as much shalom to Babylon as we can until that day it is replaced by the better place.
Don’t miss next time. We’re finally at the crux of how we exiles are supposed to live. Miss this and it’ll be like missing the punch line of a great joke…