by Lee Beach
InterVarsity Press, 2015.
—Reviewed by Zach Howard, MDiv student, Bethlehem College & Seminary, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The experience of exile—both physical and spiritual—has plagued the people of God throughout history. The recent centuries of Christendom in the West are an anomaly in the global history of the Church and appear to be over. Christianity no longer serves as the lingua franca for Western culture. Instead, Christians in the West feel increasingly marginalized from any cultural or political power and influence. Lee Beach, Canadian pastor and professor of Christian ministry at McMaster Divinity College, thinks such circumstances are good for the Western Church. Exile, he believes, evokes brilliance and daring because it challenges the Church to rediscover and rearticulate the theology and practices of neglected biblical teachings.
After a cursory glance at texts from Isaiah and Jeremiah, Beach begins formulating a theology of exile from the diasporic tales of Esther, Daniel, and Jonah. These tales, says Beach, reveal Yahweh’s presence with Israel on foreign soil and, especially with Jonah, reorient Israel to her missional purpose for the nations. Transitioning to the New Testament, Beach explains that Jesus ministered in an exilic context because Second Temple Jews imagined themselves as exiles in their occupied homeland. Finally, Beach reads 1 Peter as a model of how the Early Church appropriated exilic theology and practices from Old Testament texts.
The book’s second half describes several exilic practices. First, Beach suggests church leaders must generate hope in God’s presence and faithfulness through a prophetic imagination. Second, the Church must think like exiles. This at least means learning how to (1) “accommodate” to the dominant culture without compromising core Christian identity and (2) see the Holy Spirit’s work in unexpected people and places. Following 1 Peter, Beach next calls all Christians to practice holiness as the key exilic identity. Often cast in negative terms, Beach challenges Christians to be holy or “set apart” by living full of love and grace in devoted obedience to God. Finally, he exhorts exiles to place their hope not in a return but in going to their final home. “The end of exile,” Beach concludes, “is eschatological” (p. 134).
Beach bolsters the connections already highlighted by others (like Brueggemann, Frost, and Hart) between exilic identity and the Western Church. His book both exposes the exilic circumstances we are in and provides pastors with resources for training their people to live in those circumstances. Beach could have added to his chorus of stories voices of current pastors and theologians outside the West who work in exilic circumstances. Such experiences would have given greater weight to Beach’s exhortations and also would have embodied what he exhorts us to do: learn from those who have been in exile.
Nevertheless, while Beach writes from the context of the Western Church, he highlights the heritage of the Historic Church’s exilic experiences such that they apply to any Christian community feeling culturally marginalized. Therefore, both the theology and practices of exile this book outlines will serve any Christian community seeking to live well in exile.
Check these titles:
Brueggemann, Walter. 1997. Cadences of Home: Preaching Among Exiles. Louisville, Ken.: Westminster John Knox Press.
Hunter, James Davison. 2010. To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. 1st ed. New York: Oxford University Press.
Smith-Christopher, Daniel L. 2002. A Biblical Theology of Exile. Overtures to Biblical Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress.
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