A good friend recently told me about a talk she'd heard in London, given by Jeff Ventrella, an attorney and executive with the Alliance Defense Fund. Thanks to the kind people at Sovereign Grace Church in Gilbert, Ariz., where Ventrella first gave this talk, I was able to listen to it on a podcast.
Ventrella addressed the issue of how we, as Christians, are to live in this world in a way that wins it to Christ. How are we to live in the midst of a corrupt culture---a culture that codifies evil in the form of abortion, a culture that seems increasingly hostile to Judeo-Christian values such as marriage, a culture that tears away at the values parents teach their children?
We can start by learning from history, specifically the history of the Jews captured and forced to live in exile in Babylon in 597 B.C. Not only was Babylon not their home, it was a pagan culture hardly friendly or remotely suited to devout Jews.
God, through the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 29: 1-14), tells them how to live. He provides instructions for surviving in a culture antithetical to their beliefs:
"Build houses, settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce; marry and have sons and daughters; choose wives for your sons, find husbands for your daughters so that these can bear sons and daughters in their turn; you must increase there and not decrease. Work for the good of the city to which I have exiled you; pray to Yahweh on its behalf, since on its welfare yours depends."
That's the theology lesson, Ventrella said. They, like us, are to look upward, to God, not inward. We are not the solution; God is.
The ethics lesson, according to Ventrella, is that they (like us) shouldn't adopt a squatter mentality. They should put down roots---literally. They, like us, should engage in the culture. They are to get married, to affirm the marital structure there. They're instructed to pray for Babylon, as we should pray for this world, seeking its welfare. As Ventrella put it so eloquently, "We are to focus on building Babylon's good without bowing to Babylon's gods."
The eschatology lesson is that God promises to bring them back in 70 years. The exile is temporary, as our lives in modern-day Babylon are temporary. We have God's promise of eternity.
Just as God instructed the Jewish exiles in Babylon, we, too, are to be engaged in the public square. To win the world for Christ, said Ventrella, we must have the courage to come into conflict with it, not to retreat from it.