What’s Wrong with the World

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Opening the window in Babylon

This is an interesting article from this summer by Australian pastor Stephen McAlpine, who appears to have been mugged by reality and who is starting to grok the zero-sum game. I haven't read all of the comments, though I did find it mildly amusing to see one reader trying to steer him back onto the reservation, i.e., to get him back to discussing progressive issues like the environment instead of implying anything about those divisive sexual issues.

I have one or two quibbles. I notice that he still feels that he has to deprecate "placarding Parliament," which seems to refer to overt political activism motivated by religious considerations. He needs to get over that. Placarding Parliament (or abortion clinics) has its place. But never mind the quibbles; let's celebrate the fact that someone who was previously not getting it is starting to get it. Herewith, a few good quotations from the post.

The biggest problem the church had, according to Exile Stage One thinking, was that no one was talking about us anymore. And as Oscar Wilde wryly observed, the only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about. So in Exile Stage One the conferences and front-room conversations were busy talking about what it was like not being talked about. We'd been marginalised; locked out of interesting rooms; been abandoned at a rate of knots; discarded. Only a few perceptive people had seen it happening. How many? Well probably no more than in this front room with us, and perhaps a few others who meet at pub church every third Sunday.

And oh, everyone was quoting Lesslie Newbigin, or at least the only line of his they knew about the congregation being the hermeneutic of the gospel or some such. Everyone was discussing what it meant to have Christian convictions, but be post-foundational. Christendom was collapsing, and isn't that a good thing, given all the fighting and crusades and bad stuff priests did? Were we not sick of simply being chaplains to the culture? Time to refresh. Time to do organic/total/on-the-other-side/radical church. For Exile Stage One adherents there was a kind of glee that Christendom was falling. And if it was holding out in some areas such as North America, so what? Who wants to be a Southern Baptist anyway, what with single malt and cigars being so tasty and all?

"There was a kind of glee that Christendom was falling." Gee, whom does that remind me of? Looks like somebody (who, ironically, is a Southern Baptist) is still stuck in exile stage one thinking.

I well remember myself saying “People are not walking past your church and saying, ‘If I never go to church, that’s the one I am never going to.’ No, they don't see it at all.” That’s Athens talk, and assumes that if we can just show a point of connection to the culture then the conversation will flow and we will all get along.

I have changed my mind on this one. In the last five or six years the culture (read: elite framework that drives the culture) is increasingly interested in bringing the church back into the public square. Yes, you heard that right. But not in order to hear it, but rather, in order to flay it, expose its real and alleged abuses and to render it naked and shivering before a jeering crowd. It is Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego standing up before the statue of gold, whilst everyone else is grovelling and going, “Pssst, kneel down for goodness sake!” It is officials conspiring with the king to show that Daniel’s act of praying towards Jerusalem three times per day is not simply an archaic and foolish hope, but a very real threat to the order of the society and the new moral order that will hold it together.

Now the wheels are really starting to turn.

If the primary characteristic of Exile Stage One was supposed to be humility, the primary characteristic of Second Stage Exiles will have to be courage. Courage does not mean bombastic pronouncements to the world, not at all. [That last sentence leads to one of my quibbles. Like placarding, bombastic pronouncements have their place. And they can even be "deep," believe it or not. LM] It has to be much deeper than that. It will mean, upon hearing the king’s command that no one can pray to any god save the king for thirty days, that we go into our rooms with the window open towards Jerusalem and defy that king even as our accusers hunt us down. It means looking the king in his enraged face and saying, even in our God does not rescue us from the flames, we will not serve your gods or bow down to your statue of gold. Unlike Athens, Babylon is not interested in trying to out-think us, merely overpower us. Apologetics and new ways of doing church don’t cut it in Babylon. Only courage under fire will.

Them's fightin' words. And excellent advice. I am struck by the fact that this piece was posted on June 1, well before the Kim Davis uproar, though possibly in anticipation of the decision in Obergefell. I don't know what Stephen McAlpine would say about Kim Davis. Perhaps the remaining squeamishness that led him to pen the few deprecating sentences in the June 1 column would also lead him to tell Davis that she didn't need to defy the king--I mean, the judge. But then again, by that logic, Daniel didn't actually need to open his window, did he? He could have prayed toward Jerusalem with the window closed and avoided being so offensive, right? But McAlpine recognizes the need to open the window in Babylon. McAlpine deserves credit for the fact that his words about courage find so many echoes in so many events that followed so closely upon his column.

Simply put, we assume that we can have more impact on culture than it can have on us. That is dangerously naive thinking. Jesus never said the culture will misunderstand you; he said the world will hate you. He did not say to his disciples, “Display reckless abandon and go out there and change culture”; he said “fear not, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

Indeed. And St. Paul also said, "Flee youthful lusts." So maybe the fundamentalists knew a thing or two about the dangers of the world and the flesh, not to mention the devil.

I have watched too often as burnt out evangelicals who are sick to death with fundamentalist infightings drift first from saying we must get back to the source of the gospel for the sake of the culture, to re-interpreting the gospel in the shape of the world. I have watched as a series of questions that began with “What if we changed the perspective on how we look at this traditional issue?” end up with “Did God really say?". And painful though it is to say, the post-evangelical Sexuality Gospel has simply replaced the Boomer Prosperity Gospel for a generation that idolises the comfort that experience offers, rather than the comfort that money offers.

The result? All too often Exile Stage One became Exit Stage Left. Post-evangelicalism/post-foundationalism took many people down the path of post-Christian, providing a soft landing for those who wanted to jump out of the plane but were afraid of heights.


I observed even yesterday in a social media exchange that a hard secularist was more than happy to use the thought categories of “insider/outsider”, “sinner/saint”, “heresy/truth” “god/devil” in defending his position. Faced with no original language of his own to describe his anathema to the Christian position, he simply said “Don't mind me!”, leaned across and took ours! And here we were being so careful to be seen not to cut anyone with our language.

Neither will a personalised, pietistic “Jesus is my homeboy” theology-lite stand up in the face of a public reshaping of language. Exile Stage One proponents must unlock the armoury door, whet the stone and sharpen the tools of language once more, not in order to slay people, but in order “to contend for the faith once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 1:3).

Yep. And I'm afraid that this means (I don't know for sure if McAlpine realizes this) that within the church we're going to have to be willing to call out heretics and not give them any apparent approval within the church. That is going to be exactly the opposite of being seeker-sensitive, telling everyone that they are welcome, and letting open homosexuals be choir leaders. It's going to step on a lot of toes. When it comes to people who insist on being identified as the opposite gender, it may even mean making them feel unwelcome attending, much less being formal church members.

McAlpine is to be much commended for recognizing that compromise and a softened stance, careful not to offend, are not going to get us anywhere and are likely only to harm our own clarity of thought as Christians.

May his perspective spread widely, and may Christian leaders start to recognize, perhaps even better than McAlpine himself does, what that will mean when the rubber meets the road.

I don't often embed music, much less music this rocky, at W4, and here I am still keeping the main page uncluttered by embedding it on the second page. But I heard this song yesterday and thought it fit perfectly with this post.

Comments (5)

Praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition.

Lydia, you get a Wow-Award for this one!

Wonderful post, Lydia.

Thank you, gents, but the best quotes are (I must confess) McAlpine's. I opened up his post in a saved links folder of mine the other day and said, "What am I waiting for? I need to make this more widely read." This despite his occasional residual waffles.

I like waffles

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