Christianity in Exile and Christian Higher Education, Pt 2

This is part 2.  You might want to read part 1 first.

Part 1 closed with:

Much has been said recently about how Christianity is in exile in the modern world.  Can Christianity be said to be “in exile” in a country so rife with the trappings of Christianity, so “Christ haunted”?  What does it mean to be “in exile”?  Is there a theology of living “in exile”?  How does exile relate to empire?  

My hypothesis is that Christianity is ALWAYS in exile.  In this world, in this life, if Christianity is not in exile–if it’s perfectly at home in this world, perfectly in harmony with the culture–THEN IT’S NOT CHRISTIANITY.

In exile: poor definitions? Several on the conservative side have written recently about Christianity being “in exile” in the modern, secularistic world.  And others from liberal branches of Christianity have decried that description, seeing it as akin to the way some Christians claim to be persecuted because Hollywood makes fun of them.  (See Carl Trueman’s essay in First Things and Ben Dueholm’s snarky rejoinder in Christian Century for examples of the two sides of this particular spat.)

I argue that both Trueman and Dueholm are thinking not of Christianity but of Christendom.  I follow Malcolm Muggeridge’s  formulation of this distinction (see his magnificent The End of Christendom).  Christianity is the community of the faithful.  Christendom is the necessary but man-made organizations, the necessary human institutions (missions committees! denominations! parachurch organizations!) that Christianity uses to exist and to do the work of the Kingdom in the world.

A church, an individual congregation or a denomination, is at least two things at once.  

1.  On one hand, the church is the people, seeking to be faithful, seeking to follow Jesus together.  That’s Christianity, part of the Kingdom of God.

2.  On the other hand, the church is a human-made legal entity.  It’s incorporated, owns property, pays its workers, deals with the IRS and the state entities that recognize / regulate non-profits and churches.  That’s Christendom: the visible, external, institutions, the apparatus through which Christianity interacts with the kingdoms of this earth.

One of the problems today’s Christians have is that we tend to confuse or conflate the two.  If we think that the organization, the denomination, IS the Church, IS the Kingdom of God, …

When American Christians equate being American, or being Western, with being Christian, we are confusing Christendom with Christianity.

When Christians ANYWHERE equate Christianity with empire, with dominance in a culture–“A Christian America!”, “America is (or used to be) a Christian nation!”–they’re really thinking about Christendom, not Christianity.

So: when I say that Christianity is “in exile,” I mean something different from what Trueman or Dueholm mean.  They are using the term to refer to the influence (or lack of influence) of Christendom, the influence of the institutional, enculturated church.  That’s not what I’m talking about.

Christianity in Exile: In my thinking, Christians live in exile because we do not presume we have the right to force, to demand, to dominate, or to dictate to the world around us how it should be.  We respond to the world as faithful foreigners in it.  If we influence, we influence by faithful witness and christlike service.

The Kingdom to which we belong, which we represent, is separate from and will never be identical to any of the kingdoms of this earth.  It cannot even be grafted into the kingdoms of this earth; attempting to do such is a category mistake.

We belong to a Kingdom whose king said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”  It’s not a human kingdom, nor does it contest with human kingdoms:  “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the powers, the rulers of this darkness.”

Exiles don’t try to remake the country of their sojourn.  Instead, they live like those who have no home here, with faces and hearts always set on another place, “whose builder and maker is God.”

When they seek influence, they influence from the bottom up, by service and prayer and witness, NOT from the top down.

So: Christian Education in Exile?  That’s the next part, I haven’t gotten there yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s