The Problem with Exile Theology

There is something very important that is always missing among exile theology proponents: Our children and our children’s children!

What exile theology lacks is a hope in the power of the Holy Spirit to change the culture of nations through the preaching of the gospel. Marxism plans in terms of a long-term future. So does Islam. Exile Theology has no future. What it lacks is a faith in the covenant promises of God. Habakkuk was no exile theologian. He said it well when he wrote, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

 

Exile Theology has captured the American evangelical church including both the baptistic culture (Are We Exiles? The Aquila Report, July 20th) and many amillennial Presbyterians (A Church for Exiles The Aquila Report, July 17th). Their kingdom of God is spiritual and their ultimate hope is escape from life on this earth where the devil is working havoc. The future here on earth is dark and dim. Of course, the church must continue to be a mission people in order to gather in the remainder of God’s elect.

In my opinion, they just need to be more consistent and 1) discourage people from having children, and 2) engage the culture for one purpose only—to increase persecution and therefore hasten the rapture or the second coming. This is what I hear many other Christians saying.

Yes, it is true that each individual will be on this earth for only a short time and then we “fly away” (Psalm 90:10). The Psalmist makes this clear in Psalm 103 where he says, “As for man, his days are like the grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. When the wind has passed over it, it is no more, and its place acknowledges it no longer” (vv.15-16).

However, there is something very important that is always missing among exile theology proponents. What is missing? Our children and our children’s children! In other words what is missing in exile theology is the covenant. The Psalmist in Psalm 103 goes on to say “but” in verse 17, and that is where exile theology shows its weakness. It tends to truncate both the Scriptures and the future. “But the lovingkindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember his precepts to do them” (vv. 17-18).

Life goes on after we die. History does not end with our death. God’s work on earth does not cease when we go to heaven. There is a future on earth in our children and our children’s children. Baptistic and Presbyterian individualism has no future except personal escapism and fighting a battle on earth where God has decreed that we must fail. From their view I am only polishing brass on the Titanic.

Covenantalism is corporate and multi-generational. The promises of God reach far beyond me and my own generation. We don’t want to return to a pre-1960’s America. We expect something much better. It may be generations away, but there is hope that someday before Christ returns, the will of God will be done on earth as it is in heaven (as Christ taught us to pray). The Israelites in Egypt did not see it for 400 years. The persecuted Christian Church in the Roman Empire did not see it for 300 years. The Reformation Church did not arise until the 16th century.

What exile theology lacks is a hope in the power of the Holy Spirit to change the culture of nations through the preaching of the gospel. Marxism plans in terms of a long-term future. So does Islam. Exile Theology has no future. What it lacks is a faith in the covenant promises of God. Habakkuk was no exile theologian. He said it well when he wrote, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

Larry E. Ball is a Honorably Retired Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is now a CPA. He lives in Kingsport, Tennessee.