MacBride, Tim. To Aliens and Exiles: Preaching the New Testament as Minority-Group Rhetoric in a Post-Christendom World. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2020. pp. 254, $51, hardcover.
Tim MacBride (ThD, Australian College of Theology) serves as Head of the Faculty of Bible and Theology at Morling College in Sydney, Australia. At Morling, MacBride teaches New Testament and Homiletics. Prior to joining the faculty, MacBride pastored a church in Sydney’s south suburbs for twelve years. To Aliens and Exiles is MacBride’s third book on preaching New Testament rhetoric. MacBride’s two previous books on preaching include his doctoral thesis, Preaching the New Testament as Rhetoric (Wipf & Stock, 2014), and Catching the Wave: Preaching the New Testament as Rhetoric (InterVaristy Press, 2016), in which he simplified his doctoral thesis for a non-academic audience. MacBride has also written several articles on preaching and a book on patronage in John’s Gospel.
In To Aliens and Exiles, MacBride offers Christians a lens to understand how to articulate the faith from a minority group position. Such a minority position was the context in which the New Testament was written. Indeed, MacBride posits, Christians have always been a minority. How to instruct the Church to interact with the majority culture is the question of the hour. In the book’s introduction, MacBride highlights three possible trajectories for answering this question: (1) minimize the distance between the Church and the world, (2) take a defensive, us vs. them stance, or (3) become “attractively different” (p. xiii). An “attractively different” community neither conforms to the majority culture nor isolates itself from it. Instead, it retains distinctive doctrinal and ethical boundaries that are simultaneously transparent (allowing outsiders to see what is truly happening) and permeable (encouraging outsiders to join the minority community).
The book is divided into five parts. Part 1 develops the theory behind using NT minority group rhetoric in preaching. With the embrace of social media, Western culture in the Twenty-First Century feels remarkably like the honor and shame cultures of the Mediterranean in the First Century. A person’s “court of reputation” has become collectivist in nature, as Facebook “likes” (and their counterparts on other social media platforms) have become the new social currency. For Christians taking minority doctrinal and social stances, chances for public shaming are on the rise. MacBride, writing from post-Christian Australia, has seen multiple cases of this firsthand. For readers in the US, then, who are just beginning to feel such effects of going against majority opinion, it is as if MacBride is writing from the future (except for the multiple veiled and outright attacks against US President Trump).
Parts 2 through 4 look at NT books specifically. Part 2 considers the General Epistles. According to MacBride, 1 Peter is “the most prototypical example of minority group rhetoric in NT” since it addresses myriad interactions between the minority and majority groups (p. 45). Part 3 analyzes Paul’s epistles, noting how Paul’s subverted language was common in the Roman Empire, adding a Christian interpretation. For example, in his discussion of Philippians, MacBride notes how Paul urged believers to be good citizens of the empire, yet ultimately encouraged them to remember that their citizenship was in heaven. Part 4 discusses the Gospels and Acts. One fascinating point MacBride’s rhetorical analysis reveals is that, whereas Matthew and John appear especially concerned with the fledgling Christian movements minority status, the two-part Luke-Acts emphasizes the group’s permeability among elite and lowly sinners.
The book concludes in Part 5 by considering how one minority group, African Americans, have preached the NT text. Based on conversations with three African American evangelicals – two professors and a pastor – MacBride notes how African American preaching uses its history as a minority to both identify with biblical characters and “experience the text” (p. 220).
To Aliens and Exiles possesses several strengths, although two are especially helpful. First, as noted above, MacBride’s overall idea that Western culture is pushing confessional Christians into a minority position where they will be shamed into conformity is correct. MacBride is clearly familiar with the honor and shame literature, so his is a helpful voice in knowing how such a value system operates. Second, MacBride’s analysis of the NT books in each chapter is thorough and engaging. As a preaching professor familiar with crafting memorable rhetoric, each chapter begins with an anecdote for the reader to recall the big idea.
One weakness is MacBride’s decision not to include any of the Pastoral Epistles. A single footnote describes why this is so, claiming that those letters deal mainly with “in-house” matters and not with Christians’ relations to the outside world (p. 120). Such reasoning is odd since the book’s primary audience is preachers and pastors. Further, if it is the case that minority rhetoric helps members identify doctrinal and ethical boundaries, MacBride could further his argument by including Paul’s instructions for Timothy and Titus’ preaching content. Certainly, MacBride did not have space to include an analysis of all 27 NT books. Nevertheless, a book on preaching that does not address the Pastoral Epistles seems unfinished.
This critique aside, MacBride has done the Church a great service through this book. Since all Christians at some level engage culture, all Christians will find assistance in these pages. Those Christians called to stand before fellow believers and preach God’s words should consider MacBride’s warnings and encouragements. As the global Church moves into a further marginalized, dishonored position, the words of the NT will become strikingly relevant.
Cameron D. Armstrong
International Mission Board