(This article was originally published at the blog of Reaching and Teaching International Ministries. You should check it out for helpful resources on evangelism and missions.)
As Christianity in the West begins to lose some of its cultural influence, many Christians are wringing their hands in fear or anxiety. These are new waters for those who have grown up where religion has played such a key role within society. In Evangelism as Exiles: Life on Mission as Strangers in Our Own Land, Elliot Clark draws from First Peter, as well as his experience as a church planter in Central Asia, to empower us to live faithfully during these changing times. Clark’s solution to the shifting cultural winds is for the church to reclaim a sense of living as exiles—to live as those who faithfully wait on the return of Christ while living in a land that is not our own. This exilic life that is outlined throughout the book could be broken down into three larger categories.
A God-Fearing Hope
Elliot Clark puts his finger on the truth that keeps many Christians’ mouths shut when gospel opportunities arise: fear of man. For some Christians in the world, it is a fear of physical persecution, but for many of us, the fear that mutes us is one of rejection or shame.
Clark, echoing the teachings of First Peter, rightly argues that the solution is to nourish our future hope of being with Christ in glory. He writes, “We need to hear and believe the promise of our future exaltation in order to overcome the threat of shame and disgrace that would silence our witness” (33). When my thoughts are consumed by the prospect of rejection instead of my hope in Christ, I shy away from proclaiming the gospel. If we want to grow bolder as evangelists, our vision must stretch beyond our years on this earth to the eternity with Christ that awaits us.
Beyond our future hope, our Western church needs to recover a healthy fear of God. Clark points readers to conquer their fear of man with “our fear of God and our fear for (not of) our fellow man” (50). Evangelism as Exiles recounts some of Clark’s experience as a church planter in Central Asia to illustrate examples of men and women boldly living as evangelists when the cost is so high. These anecdotes were an encouragement and a source of conviction as I considered how much more it costs these brothers and sisters to zealously live in a hostile culture.
A Hope-Filled Message
If a future hope is guiding our steps, the message of that hope should saturate our conversations. Clark points out, “While we demonstrate an incredible ability to proclaim the glories of endless earthly trivialities, we somehow stutter and stammer at the opportunity to speak with others about our heavenly hope” (103). As Peter explains to his spiritually-exiled readers, we are saved to proclaim the excellencies of Christ. This call to proclaim is the heart of our calling as Christians.
Those who pursue evangelistic opportunities often err in one of two ways: calling people to repent with a message that lacks grace or talking about grace without ever calling a person to repent. Clark calls readers to winsomely and graciously share the Good News with our neighbors and co-workers, while not neglecting the urgency of calling them to repent.
A Hope-Driven Life
Exiles feel the tension of remaining faithful to their own culture while being immersed in the waters of a foreign culture. The Church is no different as we seek to live out our identity as citizens of the Kingdom while living in the midst of earthly kingdoms. Clark explains that, because of our heavenly citizenship, our lives will have a certain level of otherness. This will inevitably lead to some awkward situations, but it is a necessary aspect of our calling.
Christians are called to live in a manner that is distinct from the prevailing culture. Like catching a whiff of Indian spices as you walk through a German town, our lifestyle should smell and look like another culture. Allowing Jesus’ lordship instead of the popular fads of the day to serve as our moral compass serves as an apologetic for the gospel. Clark explains, “Holiness is not only the result of conversion, it’s also an embodied argument in support of the gospel’s veracity” (115).
Overall, Evangelism as Exiles helpfully points worried Christians to the fact that the potential of marginalization or outright hostility is not a new phenomenon, though it may feel that way to many Christians in the West. This story of faithfulness in exile has been demonstrated throughout church history, and it is experienced by many believers around the world today. The answer is not hand wringing, but boldly living as exiles, and we can only do this when our hope rests, not on influence in earthly kingdoms, but on the coming cosmic King.