In March 2019 The Gospel Coalition published Evangelism as Exiles: Life on Mission as Strangers in Our Own Land by Elliot Clark. The Gospel Coalition does not publish a lot of monographs, so this one caught my attention. I had also been thinking a lot about Paul’s instruction to Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist” (see earlier post). Clark has served a number of years in a central Asian country where Christianity is a very small minority, so he has lived as a stranger. The book is focused on the church in North America in light of its diminished standing in the public square. Often reflecting on his experience in central Asia, Clark encourages us to see ourselves as exiles and strangers in our own land.
The book draws principles from the book if 1 Peter. In the Introduction the author writes:
. . . this book will primarily address how we live on mission when we’re strangers and sojourners in our own land. It’s about how we present the gospel and represent Christ when we lose our positions of cultural influence, when the world has pushed us to the margins, when those around us oppose the message we’re called to proclaim. It’s about how we live on mission when we’re exiles in our own land: in our workplace, our neighborhoods, and even in our homes. (Kindle loc. 184)
After the extended Introduction, the author writes six chapters on the qualities of Christian exiles on mission found in 1 Peter.
Chapter 1: The Hope of Glory encourages us to practice evangelism focusing on our future glory in Christ and trusting in God’s providence in our present situation. Clark pointedly challenges us about our response to changing circumstances:
But when we suffer, if our collective Christian tone is complaint, if we constantly lament our loss of cultural influence or social standing, if we weep and mourn as if Jerusalem has fallen when our chosen political agenda is overlooked, then we expose our true values. Those troubling circumstances have a way of unmasking our highest hopes. Sadly, far too often they reveal our hopes have actually been in the present age and not in the one to come. (Kindle loc. 390)
When we suffer in our evangelism, we are actually more like the early church and our brothers and sisters around the world.
Chapter 2: Fighting Fear with Fear calls us not to allow the fear of man to silence our witness. Rather we are to fear God. After a helpful and challenging discussion of what fear looks like and how it tends to silence our evangelism, Clark concludes the chapter:
That fear of him [God], along with a fear of coming judgment, is a compelling motivation to open our mouths with the gospel. But we do not open our mouths with hate-filled bigotry, with arrogant condescension, or with brimstone on our breath. According to Peter, we fear God and honor everyone else. So as we take the gospel to others, even to our opponents, we’re called to approach them with kindness, gentleness, and respect. (Kindle loc. 721)
Chapter 3: With Respect for All highlights the importance of genuine concern and respect for others in our evangelism. The author encourages praying for people (with their permission) in their presence as a sign of respect and an ice-breaker for gospel conversation.
Chapter 4: Declaring His Praise is one of the most challenging in the book. I am often too hesitant to open my mouth waiting for the “right time.” The chapter begins with quoting 1 Peter 2:9-10 stating clearly that the purpose of our calling is to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” This is calling us to communicate the gospel with authority, urgency, and worship. This involves a willingness to offend (can’t be avoided), a call for a response, and a delight in the gospel. See Kindle loc. 1230f.
Chapter 5: Visibly Different explains that our walk must match our talk. “Gospel declaration is linked to life transformation.” (Kindle loc. 1348). Christians are called out of darkness into light. Our lives should display that light. Clark writes:
Our conduct is critical to our witness as exiles. We must remember that our neighbors are watching. Like Asmin, they all know if our walk matches our talk. Our extended family, friends, coworkers, and children can all see if our faith is real. And one way God has ordained for them to be drawn to Christ is through the visible, observable testimony of our holiness. They need to see we’re different, that we’re like our Father, and that our deeds are good. Only then, as we shine before others, will some of them actually see the light. (Kindle loc. 1512)
Chapter 6: The Good News of Home centers on hospitality for the sake of evangelism. The author writes:
One way sinners enter the kingdom of God is by first entering our kitchen. Some will only come to the table of the Lord after first coming to our dinner table. (Kindle loc. 1604)
In the book’s conclusion Elliot Clark sums up what he tried to communicate in Evangelism as Exiles:
But this book has tried to marry the extraordinary call to evangelism with the ordinary and everyday – with how to relate to a spouse who doesn’t believe; to a neighbor opposed to the Bible; to friends who mock our morality; and even to godless authorities. We’ve done this by considering how we can embody the tension of simultaneously living in hope and fear, humility and authority, holiness and hospitality. (Kindle loc. 1793)
We are exiles and strangers in our own land. That is true of the church throughout the world. Clark gives us some very helpful insights into how we can stay on mission as exiles and strangers. I highly recommend it. It won’t make you comfortable but will equip you to do the work of an evangelist as an exile.