My Rating – Must read
Level – Quick, easy read
The premise of the book is that the US has changed, we are now a post-Christian nation, and so the question that we currently face is, what do we do about it? He points to a turning point (this moment) in his life, and one he thinks had a larger effect on the nation. To him, things changed after the Pulse nightclub shooting back in 2016. He specifically mentions an NPR interview with a local Orlando pastor, who has asked ‘how do Evangelicals respond to his crisis when it is clear politically that Evangelicals are anti-gay and pro-gun.’ Apparently the pastor had no answer. I suppose you could quibble with the anti-gay statement, but perception can become reality, a notion only made stronger with the 81% support of (self identified) Evangelicals for President Trump.
After the Intro, where he points out how proudly nonreligious Portland is, McKinley spends his first chapter discussing this moment as well as other broader trends in US culture. The following 12 chapters answer his question of what to do now. He compares modern Christians in America to ancient Jews in Babylon. That is to saw, we are exiles, which means that we will not fit nicely in to current norms of society. He challenges us to embrace this notion and spends a few chapters each on things like giving, Sabbath, vocation, and hospitality which on the one hand will will differentiate us even further, but on the other, are all commands from God for us to follow.
I was originally going to rate this book a little lower, but as I wrote the summary, it made me realize how potentially important this book could be; if for nothing else than an intro into thinking about ourselves differently. In the age of political Christianity, where a large number of self described conservatives look solely to government for their source of comfort and strength, McKinley challenges the efficacy of these practices. On page 24 he states, ‘from gay marriage to gun control, these efforts have backfired.’ He goes on to point out the ways in which this is true as well as the lasting impact of the ‘Culture Wars.’ He comes back to this in a later chapter and discusses the fact that our efforts have gone here instead of teaching people the Bible and for this reason, ‘people have put down the Bible, and picked up self-help books.’ He doesn’t discuss this idea too much further but the sad fact is that this has had a double impact as self-help and inward, selfish focus have come back around and are now effecting the church more than the Bible.
A final thought I liked as he challenges political Christianity is in his chapter titled ‘Babylon.’ He discusses empires and the power of nations and reminds us that in the Bible the might nations (Babylon, Assyria, Egypt), where never the good guys. Instead, they were used, by God, to punish his people. This should make every Christian, especially those of us who pursue political power for the sake of Christ, to stop and think for a few moments. I think his challenge to Christian norms of political power might alone be worth reading the book, but if not (or if you are already there) the remainder of the book serves as a valuable intro practices that will help us live out our life in exile.
Many Christians haven’t even heard of some of the practices he touches (mentioned above), and certainly only a few really follow them well. Vocation might be the trickiest topic, especially for a generation who’s idea of career has become so converted. There are many other books to dive deeper into this topic if your interest was piqued. His strongest chapters were on hospitality, some Christians probably fail at most, and Sabbath. Really focusing in on Sabbath and rest and separation is cultural norms is an idea regaining prominence recently; I’ve seen few different books dive a little into it.
My only critique, really, is that the intro was too short. As someone born and raised in the South, I would’ve liked to hear a little more about the life of a Christian on the other end of the spectrum, the Pacific Northwest. Overall, I think it is an interesting, if short, book that hits on some big topics, from our interaction with our current moment, the concept of exile, and reforming some of the ancient practices of God’s people. The breadth of ideas and challenge of this book make it a must read.
*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review