All Christians are to live as sojourners and exiles, blessing the world around us by refusing to conform to its patterns of thought and behavior. As Augustine said, sometimes we must stand against the world for the good of the world. In every age, the world implements strategies of isolation, indoctrination, assimilation, and confusion, and in every age, the church must resist with confidence and courage, trusting that our faithfulness will be a gift to the nations we know will one day bow before the world’s true King.
Many older evangelicals view the USA in ways that resemble Israel in the Old Testament: God has chosen to pour His blessing on this nation and to commission it for His purposes of extending freedom throughout the world.
Many younger evangelicals view the USA in ways that resemble ancient Babylon: we live in a society that is increasingly hostile to God’s truth and God’s people.
Neither framing of our current situation fully captures the reality. The United States is neither Israel nor Babylon, and both frameworks face problems when applied too closely to today’s situation. Still, the metaphor of “exile” remains an apt description of Christians who are sojourners in this world (1 Peter 2:11).
We are exiles in every age, in every country, but perhaps we sense that reality more powerfully in places where Christians are marginalized, with privileges stripped and penalties imposed as a way of pressuring us toward cultural compromise.
I recently edited several Gospel Project sessions from Dr. Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Seminary. His sessions cover the book of Daniel, which describes the time when Jews who were exiled to Babylon showed incredible courage and faithfulness.
Akin lays out four ways in which the Babylonian empire sought to bring the Jewish exiles in line with their pagan ways. These strategies show us how the world, in every era, can pressure Christians to conform.
“The first step in making Babylonians out of the four Hebrew teenagers was isolation from their homeland, family, and friends. The Babylonian strategy was to seize upon their vulnerability once they were separated from all that was familiar. Over time, they would be more likely to abandon their faith and become like the Babylonians.”
Being in exile doesn’t harm the Christian. Not being with God’s people does.
We often assume that younger evangelicals who wander from their faith for a season have encountered intellectual arguments that dismantled their shallow belief system. Argumentation may play a role, but the bigger factor when college students walk away from the faith is that they’ve usually walked away from the Church, the place where God’s Spirit is at work among God’s people.
Isolation from other believers and immersion into a world of false assumptions make it difficult to maintain your Christian convictions.