DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

From “Promised Land’ to “Exile”

Written by: on February 19, 2020

In our call this week we talked about the power of metaphor. Metaphors are not just rhetorical devices, but are visions or pictures by which we align our will. Metaphors capture stories by which we orient our lives. I will suggest here that we (American Evangelicals) need to exchange the metaphor of the promised land for the metaphor of the exile. And par for the course, I will expound on this metaphor for implications in innovation theory.

James Davison Hunter brings the wealth of his Reformed tradition to bear on a set of essays around culture making, culture change and Christianity in his book, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. His largest critique in the book highlights the use of “irony” in his title – so much so, that multiple reviews of his book are entitled “How Not to Change the World.” Bear with the following extended quote as I think this summary captures the essence of Hunter’s book. 

… I have argued throughout this treatise that we need a new language for how the church engages the culture. It is essential, in my view, to abandon altogether talk of “redeeming the culture,” “advancing the kingdom,” “building the kingdom,” “transforming the world,” “reclaiming culture,” “reforming the culture,” and “changing the world.” Christians need to leave such language behind them because it carries too much weight. It implies conquest,  take-over, dominion, which in my view is precisely what God does not call us to pursue…” (280)

Here in To Change the World and elsewhere, Hunter provides some very pointed critique and warnings of

parachurch ministries I’d like to address due to my involvement  in one. He takes Campus Crusade for Christ (my organization) to task for it’s imperial use of language, its slogan “Come help change the world,” and the founder’s view of culture change. The historic Crusades were a “taking back” of the “promised land.” Though the organization has renamed itself “Cru” since the publication of Hunter’s book, the point remains that 50 years of the organization’s existence seem to have a failure recognizing the word “Crusade” and its problematic heritage (Hunter, 326-327). Furthermore, T-shirts are still printed and dispersed to students with the call of “Come help change the world” (Hunter, 4). The language and name together describe a conquest or “taking back” of the campus. Lastly, Hunter’s specific critique of Campus Crusade for Christ ends with a lengthy quote of the late founder, Bill Bright, and a disagreement with his view of culture change. Bright’s view posited that when enough of the population is “won to Christ,” the culture will change (Hunter, 10).


Relying on similar voices (Hauerwas, Yoder, Hunter, and Niebuhr), Cru staff member, Dr. Ron Sanders, agrees largely with Hunter and suggests a shift in metaphor from the promised land to the exile. Hunter’s assessment is largely the problem when culture (and a nation) is viewed as the promised land. Like Puritans using Egyptian language for Egypt and America as the promised land (Sanders, 31), this triumphalistic language has been smuggled into Evangelicalism. More timely, however, is the language of the exile – those in diaspora – “a chosen people scattered among but not absorbed into the nations” (Sanders, 34). He suggests three possibilities for life in exile: a deeper faithfulness to Christ, a production of excellence, and compassion and creativity (42-43).

Hunter, likewise, offers the exilic metaphor for his prescription to engage a “faithful presence from within” (276). He points out the counterintuitive call to link the Jew’s shalom with the shalom of Babylon. Rather than insurrection or assimilation, they were called to something different. Most pointendly, Hunter calls Christians to “enact the shalom of God in the circumstances in which God has placed them and to actively seek it on behalf of others” (278). 

Innovation in the exile, then, might be summarized in one word – incarnational. Living out Hunter’s “faithful presence” in the innovation field is incarnating in the midst of a people, adopting their problems as one’s own, and embodying the call of Jeremiah 29:7 – that the innovator’s success is wholly dependent on the peace and prosperity of this group of people. Distribution and production numbers, fame, profit, even the often noble cause of “changing the world” become eclipsed by this single metric – is this group of people flourishing more as a result of this innovation? Like Ron Sanders, I see a possibility for great compassion, empathy, solidarity and creativity in the exilic metaphor. “Empathy comes with experience,” Sanders writes, “and we develop a deeper compassion when we enter into the situation of the other and truly understand their experience” (43). Instead of focusing on preserving power, he goes on, we can address the “widow, the captive, the orphan, and the poor [who] are categories of people on the margins of society that the Hebrew and Christian Scripture put at the center of God’s concern” (44.) Hunter will say elsewhere, “We need to be creating a refuge of human flourishing for the refugees of our cultureless society” (quoted in Lorish). In short, Christian innovators can steward the power they have in the sphere of influence they find themselves by giving that power away, empowering those with less power, and using all they are and all they have to bring creative solutions to problems big and small so that the means and the ends are consistent with the God of shalom.

Crouch, Andy. How Not to Change the World. Christianity Today. 2010. (accessed February 28th, 2020).

Hunter, James Davison. To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. New York: Oxford, 2010.

Lorish, Philip. Vocation and the Common Good – James Davison Hunter. New City Commons. February 8, 2018. (accessed February 29th, 2020).

Sanders, Ron. After the Election: Prophetic Politics in a Post-Secular Age. Eugene, Oregan: Cascade, 2018.

Smith, James K. A. How (Not) to Change the World. The Other Journal. September 8, 2010. (accessed February 28th, 2020). 


About the Author


Shawn Cramer

6 responses to “From “Promised Land’ to “Exile””

  1. mm Steve Wingate says:

    A point of reference that I learned about Jer. 29:7 which you may have learned about a long time ago is that Jeremiah’s call would mostly benefit the generations to come. I wonder if how we can help others have a long term view instead of a reactionary existence. Are we playing the long game?

  2. mm Darcy Hansen says:

    Incarnational living takes a large measure of self-awareness. I would argue many leaders have little self-awareness, and thus are motivated more by ego than by Spirit. Giving up power and empowering others, even within the church, seems like a natural ask, but as we’ve seen in our past readings, it’s actually a big counter cultural ask (I would even add especially for dominant culture leaders). How do you imagine that happening in your context? Do you experience Cru senior leadership giving up such power and if so, what changes have you seen in your organization as a result?

  3. mm Dylan Branson says:

    The Exilic metaphor is a powerful one. Part of the narrative that’s become entangled into our current expression of Christianity is one of power, so much so that it would require unraveling that narrative before we can even talk of Exile. Exile carries with it a sense of uncertainty, which we try to avoid in most all circumstances. How do we navigate that tension in regards to faith? How many of our leaders today lead from that position of power rather than the position of an Exilic guide? Would we even know how to lead as an exile, or would it inevitably revert back to finding a place of stability in the form of power?

  4. mm Greg Reich says:

    Like the others the exile metaphor is a powerful image. In Jeremiah it is clear that it was God who allowed His people to go into exile. Though it was a harsh lesson for Israel to learn when false prophets were busy predicting the overthrow of Babylon and Jeremiah was contradicting the popular message by telling those in exile to continue on with life. Build houses, plant gardens and seek the welfare of your captures. What would it be like if Christians spent time and work hours assuring the welfare of those who disagree with our message?

  5. mm John McLarty says:

    Is this part of what’s behind some of the culture changes at Cru that you’ve referenced before? How do we get large institutions to shift a philosophy that seemed effective in a previous era to adopt a new understanding of power and purpose for the world we live in now?

Leave a Reply