I must confess to mixed feelings about recommendations that we North American Christians see ourselves as a people "in exile." I do not argue with the basic image. I am convinced that exile ought to be a central theme in understanding the calling of the Christian community. My own thinking on this particular point has been strongly influenced by the writings of the late Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder. He convinced me that the most appropriate Old Testament models for political discipleship today are those folks who sought to be faithful to the Lord's will in pagan surroundings: Joseph administering justice in Pharaoh's courts, Daniel pleading the cause of the oppressed before Nebuchadnezzar, Mordecai getting involved in a palace intrigue to save his people from destruction.
But I also know how talk about exile can be an excuse for inaction. In the evangelical environs in which I was raised we made a big deal about being a people in exile, getting ready for the day when we would arrive at our heavenly homeland. This motif was clear in the choruses we sang: "I've got a mansion, just over the hilltop, in that fair land where we'll never grow old"; "Do Lord, O do Lord, O do remember me, way beyond the blue"; "This world is not my home, I'm just a-passing through." None of this provided us with much inspiration to work at social change in the here and now.
In the 1980s, however, as evangelicals assumed a more active role in the public arena, we started to downplay the exile theme. Indeed, when the Ethics and Public Policy Center published a set of scholarly essays in the early 1990s on the significance of evangelical involvement in the Religious New Right, the book bore the title No Longer Exiles. This nicely captured the ...1