Living as an Outsider


Brothers and Sisters,

Our recent (Sackville) cluster discussion led us to talk about bold church ministry in these days. Steve Adams referred to an article he had appreciated, and he made some very important points. Pastors, if you want to know what they were, you’ll have to ask someone who was there (I am trying to ‘salt the oats’ so you’ll attend the Supercluster on March 21st). 

He later passed the article on to me and I took the opportunity to read it and now pass it on to you all today. It is written by Patrick Miller, and it describes what happened when his church encountered “negative world.” That is a reference to how Christianity might have once been seen as positive, then later as a neutral thing, and now might be seen as a negative influence in the world. You’ll have to read the article on how Miller’s church partnered with a local film festival for the good of the city and how that played out. It is well worth the time (the article is longer than some we link to here) and he has a number of great points. Aaron Renn even cites this story in his book Life in the Negative World and draws a few lessons from it. (By the way, Stephen McAlpine has his take on the subject here).

There isn’t really a paragraph or two to summarize the whole thing for you and give you a salient point for your week of work and ministry. Rather, I have chosen this quote, near the end of what Patrick Miller writes, to pass along to you this week. He points out that what we look at and what we deduce from that will influence our response to life and ministry in these days:

If we come to believe that we live in a uniquely negative era for Christianity that outstrips the hardship of previous eras, it has a tendency to justify extreme measures in the present that ignore Jesus’s plain teachings in the sermon on the mount. I don’t think Renn falls into this trap—most of his advice is standard transformationalist fare which I agree with!—but I suspect many of his admirers will continue to use the negative world framing to buttress bad ethics.

The idea of a uniquely negative world puts Christians on the defensive. The problem with defenses is that they know what they’re against, not what they’re for. When you believe that you live in an especially dark dispensation, you will be more prone to buy into negative visions, and take on a negative identity (i.e. an identity centered on what you’re opposed to). Again, Renn himself warns about this problem. But it is pervasive: Christians on both sides unite around what they want to burn down, not what they want to build up.

When you realize that Jesus expected his followers to be joyful outsiders in every era—sojourners, pilgrims, exiles—you become much less reactive to the negative world around you. Christians have always lived in negative worlds. Yes, each negative world is different, and it is worth exploring those differences.

But Babylon is always Babylon.

Thankfully, Jesus gave us everything we need to respond wisely. 

May our Lord bless you and keep you.