There are certain books that come along every so often that serve as a knife to the soul and Evangelism as Exiles: Life on Mission as Strangers in our Own Land is one of those books. Not the knife that injures but as a needed scalpel in the hands of a skillful surgeon, exhorting and encouraging us to evangelize.
Elliot Clark in this succinct and powerful book serves the Christian community with a clear call toward a life of evangelism. He writes with the aim to help Christians living in the USA see and realize that we are strangers and exiles in this world. Likewise, evangelism will not occur from the position as a cultural majority but from the place of suffering, exclusion, and bearing reproach for allegiance to Jesus. This position of shame and exile is not something to bemoan but something to rejoice in as believers have throughout the centuries and as brothers and sisters in Christ do throughout the world today.
Clark successfully accomplishes his aim by expositing the book of 1 Peter, using vivid examples from his life experience as a missionary in central Asia and by introducing us to a few present-day Christians in central Asia who are living with boldness in the midst of suffering, exile and hardship. Clark notes that “Christians who have had their hopes and worldly goods stripped from them in this life have the most to teach us about a lasting hope in the next.”
First, Clark walks through the book of 1 Peter drawing out the truth and lessons we as Christians in the 21st century must learn from the Christians who lived in the first century. They were hated by the general public, had their assets stripped from them and lived under the constant threat of persecution and death for their love and allegiance to Jesus. The author clearly explains 1 Peter in a simple and captivating manner by showing that Christians are to be “(1) hope-filled yet (2) fearful in the right-direction. Christians will then be (3) humble and respectful, yet able to speak the Gospel with (4) authority. They will be those who (5) live a holy life, separate from the world, yet (6) incredibly welcoming and loving those in the world.” In a day and age when we live in a land “that is becoming post-Christian, post-truth, and post-tolerant” how Christians respond as a Gospel heralds is of paramount importance because these sufferings and social exclusions are a normal part of biblical Christianity.
“As I have observed, nothing demonstrates gentleness and respect quite like praying for someone else in their presence. It shows care for them. It honors them. In doing so we bless rather than curse. Actually, whenever we pray with unbelievers, we have the dual opportunity to honor them and present the good news. In fact, I think sometimes the best ice-breaker for an evangelistic conversation is to pray.“
Next, Clark draws on his life as a missionary having served in central Asia. He humbly and poignantly addresses current temptations we often struggle with as it relates to evangelism. He addresses the undercurrent of fear and unease as we are perplexed with what the years ahead look like as people conspire against Christ and His church. Having returned to the USA, Clark offers a unique voice to this topic. Often the voice of an outsider offers the most keen observations because they have stepped out of the monotony of a situation and speak into it with greater clarity and focus. For example, with transparent humility from his own life and profound insight he addresses the often-taboo topics related to evangelism, such as; fear in evangelism, the difference between sharing the gospel and proclaiming the gospel, as well as the manner by which Christians go about evangelism. Likewise, he addresses a heart issue we likely all have at times: only wanting to share the Gospel when we know there is a high likelihood the person listening will respond favorably. He tackles these topics with biblical fidelity, clear exhortation, and deep encouragement.
One of the major reasons this book is so helpful is because evangelism is not treated as an event or program but as a call for every Christian to live out the extraordinary call of evangelism in the ordinary and every-day aspects of life in this fallen world as citizens of a kingdom of God. Throughout the book he offers an immense amount of practical help for those who admittedly struggle with evangelism.
“Just as our enduring hope can be a compelling testimony when we suffer, showing respect to our rivals has a way of validating the gospel we preach.”
Finally, the book is full of hope in future glory. This book serves as a needed reminder that this world is not our home. We are exiles in this land on a mission given by the King of Kings to proclaim Him and make disciples. Clark notes, “we need to hear and believe the promise of our future exaltation in order to overcome the threat of shame and disgrace that would silence our witness.” There is nothing like future hope to make us courageous in evangelism. Each and every paragraph is worth reading of this book.
The new school year is a few weeks away. As new relationships form and older relationships deepen this is an excellent book to help those want to live for Jesus become more resolute in their mission to live for the glory of God, to be bold in their proclamation of the kingdom of God, and joyful in the midst of suffering and exile in this present world.
My hope and prayer is that you would purchase 2 copies of this book. Keep 1 copy, give the other copy to someone else. Read Evangelism as Exiles with your Bible opened to 1 Peter, seeing the clear argument Clark is making from the epistle. Meet with someone else to discuss the book, pray through it, and apply it to the end that Jesus would be glorified and that many others would respond to the Gospel message through your life and proclamation of the Good News of Jesus.