Posted by: Postordinandy | June 2, 2009

Living as Exiles

exiles book coverWe have, as a church community, recently started a course called “Exilio” – written by Mike Frost.

The idea is that, over a 6-month period, we’ll reflect and grow as a community as we think about issues of ‘mission’, culture, theology, action, reflection and the like.

The title (Spanish for Exile) alludes to the situation that the (post)modern church finds itself, and Frost draws on the collected works of Walter Brueggemann – who finds many similarities between contemporary Christian communities and the Jewish Exile in 6th Century (BC) Babylon.

Frost and Brueggemann both refer to the idea that, (particularly in the Western world), culture can be described as “Post-Christendom”, and this sparked an interesting discussion amongst the 10 of us – some of whom found this confusing, while others felt great empathy to the idea.

In a nutshell, Christendom was the time when community and culture was shaped by Christian morals, ethics and assumptions. It was the time when most people were assumed to ‘be’ Christian, unless they specifically identified themselves otherwise. In fairly recent UK history, Christendom was still dominant whenever individuals instinctively ticked the ‘C of E’ box if asked to identify a religious affiliation in a survey, (or “G of E” as one lady identified herself to me when I did some Market Research), even if they never seriously thought about attending a church service or equivalent.

(There are many good websites to go to if you want to go deeper have a look here or here to start).

It is widely accepted that the Christendom era began with the ‘conversion’ of the Roman Emperor Constantine in around 312 AD, and the subsequent legalisation – and eventual preferential treatment, of Christianity within the still expanding Roman Empire. Prior to this, the sect formally known as “The Way” was a persecuted minority group, but with State sponsorship it quickly became an advantage to profess a faith in Christ within the public sphere. Of course, there are still strong ripples of the Christendom effect for us to see. It is hard to imagine an American President being elected on an openly atheistic or non-Christian ticket, and UK politicians are likely to have a similarly pragmatic approach to religious practice.

But the days of Christendom are widely reported to be numbered, or over – depending on who you talk to. Within our wider society, Christianity no longer has the social capital it once did. To many, it has little or no influence or place within the public sphere; the radical atheists like Richard Dawkins see the Christian faith as inherently dangerous, others see it as simply harmless.

Frost uses the helpful illustration of a band of Roman road-builders, trudging through Wales somewhere, who discover that the Empire they are serving, has collapsed. They are left wondering what to do next. Their very identity and purpose has been seemingly taken way from them, and they are left in a strange – perhaps openly hostile – land, no longer so sure what to do next.

Many of us involved in exploring the edges of church and mission find ourselves in what Frost calls a “double exile” situation: we are exiled (don’t quite fit into) from both inherited church culture (which often retains the values and assumptions of Christendom), and the wider (Post-Christendom) world. As we try to understand our world, and what it means to be faithful to Jesus within it, we will make errors of both judgement and practice, have times of clarity as well as confusion, and maybe even begin to grasp how the Christian life should be pursued. And this is much more than learning how to survive in this new Post-Christendom world – its about how to thrive in it!

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Responses

  1. […] part of our engagement with Mike Frost’s Exilio course last year, some of us undertook an online ecological footprint test. It was quite a sobering […]


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