Exiles: Living missionally in a post-Christian culture – Book Review

Exiles: Living missionally in a post-Christian culture
Author:  Michael Frost
Publisher:  Hendrickson Publishers, 2006
ISBN:  1565636708

Book Review by Revd Darrell Jackson, Tutor in European Studies and Director of the Nova Research Centre, Redcliffe College.

Michael Frost casts Jesus of Nazareth as The Exile, living among those who were his own flesh and blood yet who refused to acknowledge his public ministry. Inspired by the life and mission of Jesus, Frost draws upon Brueggemann’s characterisation of biblical exiles who share dangerous memories, pledge dangerous promises, provide dangerous criticism, and sing dangerous songs. His development of these four themes is compelling and convincing and couples theological reflection with a comprehensive treatment of what living missionally means without descending into prescriptive pragmatism.

Frost is writing for those of us living in a globalised context typified by post-Christendom assumptions, one that wrestles with the consequences of colonial histories, one that seems transfixed by hyper-reality, and one in which large Corporations dominate or manipulate global marketplaces in ways that often mask deep injustices. Frost is most familiar with the English-speaking part of this world and gathers material from the UK, North America, Australia and New Zealand. Few people have the capacity of Castells to summarise and synthesise at a truly global level. However, despite the necessary limitation in scope, little attention is paid to how the Roman Catholic and/or the Orthodox Churches fit into the missional landscape. These beg the question as to whether the contextual and ecclesial phenomena Frost is describing are present beyond the anglophone Protestant world. A more accurate title might have been ‘Living missionally in a post-Protestant anglophone culture’. However, this is a minor quibble and probably reflects a personal frustration that much writing about missional ecclesiology is overly focussed on Protestant developments of it.

At the heart of his missional vision is an interweaving of the ‘third place’, ‘communitas’, and the place of hospitality. The third place is neither the home nor the workplace but a place where individuals are able to socialise and meet others away from inauthentic social spaces dominated by hyper-reality. In such places one can realise the potential of moving beyond the futile search for community and on to its alternative, communitas. This experience of intense interconnectedness is associated with the stress and ordeal of sharing a common missional task, often outside of, or in the face of, the mainstream. The shared liminal experience may then serve to enrich the mainstream. Frost ties this to his own, unsatisfying, experience of searching for community in the emerging churches of the ’80s and ’90s. More important than the search for community is the quest for missional engagement with the world around, motivated by the desire to alleviate the brokenness that is common to all.

I welcomed his rejection of the dualism that sunders the sacred and the secular. I was intrigued to read his dietary advice (though its inclusion certainly boosts his reputation as a writer with a holistic concern!). I was challenged by the need to see and assess ‘Church’ as a four day (or longer) activity. I was grateful for his careful and passionate attention to issues of injustice, his critique of short-term relief, his treatment of persecution and religious freedoms, and his trenchant critique of romantic imagery in worship addressed to Jesus. I appreciated his exposition of the worship of God as (at least) a four-fold activity.

However, I was not persuaded that Frost had moved much beyond a typical aversion to the evangelistic task that is common to many in the various missional church movements. His extended and detailed sections on justice were not quite matched by an equal attention to a missional treatment of how one offers verbal witness to Jesus, and personal faith, in ways that create the space and opportunity for personal, corporate and social transformation. Frost certainly addresses this but I did not have my mind changed that too many emergent church leaders and enthusiasts are practical universalists.

Despite this, Frost writes from an obvious desire to see the people of God become what they are called out of the mainstream to be – exiles. His clear vision and theological perception commends this book to all those who cynically dismiss missional church as overly pragmatic and descriptive and too little concerned with theological reflection. This book is a welcome addition to the increasing volume of literature that addresses these deficiencies.

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