We are returning to our series called, “Evangelism Reader’s Digest,” where we condense and highlight chapters in a thought-provoking book on evangelism that you can digest in 5-10 minutes.
We are beginning our second book, titled “Evangelism As Exiles,” by Elliot Clark. Clark is a graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, served as a missionary in Asia, and writes for groups like The Gospel Coalition and 9Marks.
A word about how we intend to present the book in this series. We readily remove stories that illustrate principles and remove extended biblical exposition for the sake of length. We want to put a quick and sharp focus on useful ideas and discussions so we highlight summary points. We know that OPC readers may not agree with everything in the book. For example, the author uses the word preaching with a broader definition than many in the OPC would. We also recognize that there is much to learn from brothers in other circles and we can focus on the helpful points that we glean from their labors.
Let’s orient you to the book with D.A. Carson’s thoughts from the forward:
“Christian evangelists are not being celebrated in dinner meetings with the local mayor, but are quietly engaging in a one-on-one Bible study with an unbeliever, meeting in a Starbucks. In short, Clark asks, what does evangelism look like once we see ourselves as exiles and sojourners? Where can we find our cues and learn some lessons? Clark draws from his experience living and serving in a Central Asian country, a country that is overwhelmingly Muslim. The West still enjoys more freedoms than Christians in that country do, but the question to ask is obvious: What should we learn about evangelism when we see ourselves as exiles and sojourners?”
Then the author himself reflects on his experiences as a missionary and his goal in the book…
“But embracing exile didn’t come naturally to me. How exactly do you preach the gospel when both you and your message are unwelcome? How do you witness when you have neither a place nor a position? How do you practice evangelism as a stranger and outcast? Or, we might also ask, how did Jesus do it?”
Clark draws much of his biblical work from 1 Peter where Peter calls his readers, “exiles:”
“This was long ago. Before Nero. Before Christianity became criminal in the Roman Empire. Before death sentences and political persecution. Instead, we might categorize the ridicule and social exclusion faced by most of those early believers as only soft persecution. Those Asian Christians lived with some measure of stability and comfort, yet they experienced repeated reviling from family members, neighbors, and coworkers. Friends openly mocked them for their faith, maligning them for their unwillingness to join in debauched parties and sexual escapades (4:4). “Christian” became the cultural byword for idiot or, if they had such a word, bigot. When we read Peter, we might be surprised to see that he labeled such inconveniences and harassments as “fiery trials,” even including in his definition of Christian exile the everyday challenge of having an unbelieving spouse and an unjust master. That’s what suffering looked like for them. And, from such a perspective, it doesn’t take much imagination to see how their situation mirrors our own.”
And how their reality matched up “in union” with Christ…
“Over and over in his letter, Peter compared the identity and experience of his Asian readers to that of the exiled Christ. They too were chosen stones. They too were experiencing rejection and exclusion. Like Christ, they suffered for doing good deeds (2:21). In such cases, Peter challenged them with Jesus’s example of entrusting himself to a faithful Father who judges rightly (2:23), an example they were expected to imitate in the midst of their own unjust suffering.”
Bringing the focus back to us….
“This is a book about evangelism. Such a book will inevitably talk about what the gospel is and why we preach it to others. However, this book will primarily address how we live on mission when we’re strangers and sojourners in our own land. It’s about how we present the gospel and represent Christ when we lose our positions of cultural power and influence, when the world has pushed us to the margins, when those around us oppose the message we’re called to proclaim. It’s about how we live on mission when we’re exiles in our own land: in our workplace, our neighborhood, and even in our own homes.”
As he paints his picture of the book and goal, this hits the reader between the eyes:
“So often now American evangelicals are despondent and hopeless, specifically in light of our fading cultural power and social influence. Our knee-jerk reaction is to bemoan what is lost, to throw up our arms and call foul. As the ground erodes beneath our feet, we tend to fight for our rights in the public square and slam our opponents on social media. We’re fearful about our future. Yet fear of the future isn’t necessarily the problem. We actually don’t seem fearful enough, not nearly as exasperated or concerned about the certain and dreadful end of our unbelieving neighbors as we should be. More and more I see Christians incensed when the world mocks us and our faith. But we seem to have no trouble disparaging others with whom we disagree, whether it’s for their position on the environment or economics, guns or gays. Meanwhile, we unnecessarily disenfranchise unbelievers by becoming ardent apologists for relatively unimportant opinions, such as our preferred diet or sports team. But, at the same time, we somehow lack an authoritative voice on far weightier matters. Few of us would ever risk offending someone by actually proclaiming the good news of Christ. Instead, we’ll only passively or reluctantly share the gospel provided someone else is inclined to listen.”
If there’s one takeaway from this first post and from the intro of this book, it’s almost certainly the paragraph you just read.
Questions For Thought Or Discussion:
1) How much do you resonate with the main sentiment here that we can get wrapped up in fighting for our “rights,” our place at the table in the culture, and how things are going to shape up for us as Christians and the church? These, of course, are not bad concerns at all, but the concern the author highlights is the level of our concern for these things in relation to the neglect of the eternal state of our unbelieving friends and neighbors. What say you?
2) Reflect on these concerns from the perspective of:
a) you as an individual Christian
b) the church you are a part of
c) the broader Reformed world
d) the broader evangelical church
In what ways are your thoughts the same for the different categories? In what ways are they different? Is this one of those concerns that the broader church is more guilty than the Reformed world? Are there any ways the Reformed world is more guilty than the broader church?
A final thought…
So, what’s the answer?…Clark gives us this challenging diagnosis:
“We stand opposed to so much of what we dislike in the world, but then we live much like the world. Our churches mimic the value system of corporate America, promoting our professional ministries with the tools of marketing and amusing ourselves with endless entertainment. Then we’re surprised when the world sees us as phony. So many of us are in love with this present world, yet it seems we’d rather keep the world—or, more accurately, its sinners—at much more than arm’s length. Far too often we’re a happy and hope-filled people as long as our churches are prospering, as long as we have a seat at the cultural and political table. But it’s highly unlikely we’ll invite the world—other races and creeds and lifestyles—around our own kitchen table. We’re of the world but somehow not in it.”
Let’s leave it there…that should serve as a thought-provoking first week in the series.