Faith for This Moment, Rick McKinley. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018.
Summary: Explores what it means to live as a Christian in a polarized and secularized society, drawing on the idea of exile in scripture and proposing practices that sustain faithfulness in exile.
Rick McKinley, like many Christians, wrestles with what Christian faithfulness looks like for the church he pastors in Portland, Oregon, amid a secular and highly polarized American society. We can look for who to blame, resort to denial and despair, or recover an idea of understanding our situation upon which Jews and Christians have drawn through the centuries–the idea of exile.
McKinley traces the idea of exile through scripture, from the first exiles from the garden, down through Abraham and Sarah, Israel in Egypt, the Jews in Babylon, and the church scattered through the Roman empire. McKinley lays out the alternatives of how exiles live:
“[T]he way in which the people of God navigated their faithfulness to God in exile was not to burn Babylon or to baptize Babylon but to find distinct ways to bless and resist Babylon.”
He argues that our calling as exiles is both to bless and resist our “Babylons.” We need to recognize both windows of redemption, places where we can engage the culture around issues of shared concern such as the arts or the environment, and windows of opposition, such as our consumer culture. To be people who know where to bless and resist, we need two critical skills–the discipline of repentance and the practice of discernment. In repentance, we acknowledge our indifference to God and to our society and are converted by God to people who begin caring about the things God cares about. Discernment helps us know what faithfulness looks like in particular situations such as becoming a reconciling presence in a polarized society.
McKinley contends faithfulness is empowered and lived out through five critical practices:
- Hearing and obeying–the centering practice that holds the others together.
- Hospitality: overcoming fear to welcome the stranger
- Generosity: repenting consumerism to recognize money and time are gifts and not possessions.
- Sabbath: turning from busyness to embrace rest and relationships
- Vocation: moving from the drudgery of jobs to the holy joy of living out a calling.
McKinley’s vision is for the church as a healing presence in a divided society. He writes:
“The move I am suggesting is what Miroslav Volf called a move from exclusion to embrace. What if we began to envision a nation in which we didn’t simply tolerate our differences but engaged one another around those deeply held convictions? What if we moved beyond polite disagreement to demanding safety for those with whom we disagree and defending the rights of those who hold convictions other than our own? What if we truly believed that each of us bears the image of God and has something to offer the other? What new types of civility might emerge among us? This new kind of relating could create new possibilities of understanding, out of which relationships could be born and change could become tangible.”
Oh, that it were so! Beyond this healing vision, what I like about McKinley’s book is that it both reflects insights of the likes of Volf and Newbigin (I also wonder if he has read Charles Taylor, James K. A. Smith, and other who have wrestled with secularity), and distills the best of these into a readable and practicable book for the rest of us. Others have written about Christians as exiles, and about formative practices, but I have not often seen all this thinking summarized so succinctly and translated into the real-life practice of a church.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.