Michael Frost – Hendrickson Publishers
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“This book is written for those Christians who find themselves falling into the cracks between contemporary secular Western culture and a quaint, old-fashioned church culture of respectability and conservatism.”
Our situation is much like that of the Jewish exiles in Babylon.
Just as Jerusalem was finally razed in 587BC so Frost says
“Christendom is over and we need to get over it”
We are conscious of the humiliation of God’s people in the eyes of the society amongst whom we now
live. a society where “Christianity is believed by many to have been tried and failed.”
We now find ourselves caught between the temptation to sink roots deep into the foreign
soil of the ‘host empire’ and the desire to retreat into the comfort of a Christian ghetto and spend our energies lamenting or trying to restore the temporal cultural supports of Christendom.
The book is an exhortation to resist the inclinations to assimilation or fruitless
lament for past glories and to embrace a robust, confident Christ-centred faith and lifestyle, lived boldly
together right under the nose of our host culture. Frost divides the book into four sections
Firstly we are called to rediscover DANGEROUS MEMORIES.
Jesus’ example is brought sharply into focus as we see how Christians have often been so intent
on demonstrating Jesus’ divinity that we have stripped him of his real humanity. Thus we end up placing him so far out of our own context and
experience that he no longer presents an achievable model of Christlikeness.
We must follow Jesus example by taking our faith outside of the boundaries of closed religious contexts into the public spaces of our
society and seek to practice his presence in our daily living (c.f. Brother Lawrence).
In the second section Frost calls us to make DANGEROUS PROMISES. To seek authenticity in our relationships within and beyond the community of believers; modeling the transforming power of the gospel in grace, mercy, forgiveness and service.
The sociological idea of communitas is explained in some detail. In simple terms this is the bond
created when groups share in action towards a common purpose. Frost argues that mission is the central and most powerful expression of worship. Christian communitas is created as bands of believers discover and actively pursue God’s grand missional purpose.
Frost gives examples from Sudan & China of how small Christian communities have reproduced
themselves dramatically without buildings, formal organizational structures or trained leadership. Although he does
not believe that formal structures are inherently wrong, he suggests that reliance on them is limiting growth: “We are not fully realizing our
calling to be the church of Jesus Christ as long as we rely on money, buildings and paid experts”
Other dangerous promises we should make include committing ourselves to generosity and hospitality as well as hard work in the host culture particularly in the God inspired realms of creativity/building, naming/renaming, truth-telling and healing.
Thirdly we are invited to engage in DANGEROUS CRITICISM of the ‘host empire’. Daniel remained resolute in his faithfulness to God and yet he thrived in the foreign ungodly society of Babylon. When called to interpret the writing on the wall, he faithfully declared God’s message of judgment on King Belshazzar. Frost calls believers to cry out in exposing the injustices around them. He writes at length about how international corporations and institutions often maintain ich nations’ power and wealth at the expense of poorer countries. Whether one accepts his political analysis or not it makes for very challenging reading.
The next area where exiles are called to speak up is against the damage being caused to the created environment. Once again what he says is challenging and controversial. The final dangerous criticism we must engage in is drawing attention to failure of the ‘host empire’ to recognize Jesus Christ as Lord of all and speaking out about the rights of persecuted believers. The accounts of persecution and abuse of our brothers and sisters is moving though I was somewhat surprised that he focuses on Darfur for one of his case studies since my information is that very few
Christians live in that particular part of Sudan.
Finally in a section entitled DANGEROUS SONGS we are led to think carefully about what constitutes genuine worship. This includes time we spend together as the church but also everything else we do. Frost has his own go at stating man’s purpose: “The chief end of man is to please God.” He has quite a bit to say about what we should and shouldn’t sing and is particularly scathing of ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ type songs and spirituality.
It is very hard to do justice to the scope of this book in a short review. It is certainly a very provocative book. Its calls for radical Christian living and reinvention of the way we do church. I came away from it with a sense of need to respond its challenges and wondering just how our largely acculturated and inward looking churches can be made to sit up and face the challenges of living as exiles.