Back into the blogging habit… “The End of Evangelicalism?” book review

Yikes… get away from the ‘ol blog for a couple days and all of a sudden its been a couple weeks.  Time flies.

Following the insanity of Lent and Easter weekend, I’ve had some time to recuperate a bit… which for me means, among other things, catching up on some reading.  My its been a good few weeks : )  As a way of getting back into the routine of writing, here’s a review of one book that I’ve been chewing on of late:

The End of Evangelicalism? Discerning a New Faithfulness for Mission by David Fitch.  Much ink has been spilled in the last five or so years on the so-called demise of evangelicalism, and not all of it has been fair, charitable, or even remotely helpful.  This book is an important exception.  Written by a scholar/pastor/church-planter and self-identified evangelical, this book really helped me put into words some of what I’ve grown uncomfortable with with regards to evangelicalism in the United States.  Creatively utilizing the cultural and political theory of Slavoj Zizek, Fitch’s contention is that evangelicalism has become the sort of cultural equivalent of Caffeine-Free Diet Coke: “a drink that does not fulfill any of the concrete needs of a drink…It plays on the mysterious enjoyment we get out of consuming it as something to enjoy in surplus after we have already quenched our thirst…It is ‘in effect merely an envelope of a void’.”

For Fitch, the disconnect between belief and practice is most evident for evangelicals in three places: our belief in the inerrant Bible, our passion for the “decision for Christ”, and our notion of “the Christian Nation”.  These things have come to “mean very little for how we live our day to day lives…They are ideological banners to which we assent”, which then shape us for the kind of postures in the world that are inimical to mission: arrogance (“we have an inerrant sacred text = we have all the answers”), duplicity (“I made a decision for Jesus = I’m on the right team no matter what I do” // disconnect between salvation and transformation is the idea here), and dispassion (“we have the right political convictions = we don’t need to work hard to live the justice of God in our concrete lives; let the government handle it”).  Fitch believes that these three postures cripple our witness and hinder our effectiveness at living out God’s salvation as the church.

After spending several chapters unpacking these “ideological banners”, Fitch goes on in one final chapter to show what a handful of emerging/missional figures (Peter Rollins with regards to the Scripture question, Brian McLaren with regards to the Salvation question, and Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost with regards to the Church in Society question) are doing to try and move beyond these destructive tendencies, while also critiquing the weaknesses of each of their respective approaches, showing how Rollins’ approach to Scripture, McLaren’s approach to Kingdom, and Frost/Hirsch’s approach to Mission can themselves easily become ideological banners – symbols disconnected from the Incarnate Christ.

It should be stated that Fitch believes in the authority of Scripture, the necessity of conversion, and the call for the church to live publicly in such a way that it makes a difference in society.  What he is critiquing is the way in which those beliefs for evangelicals have turned into IDEOLOGICAL SYMBOLS that mark “us” out as different from “them” and hence have no bearing on how and to what degree the reign of God in Christ is being realized in and through us as the local, gathered People of God in Christ, in fact shaping us away from a full realization of all we’re called to be as the Church.

I have to say that I loved this book.  I felt that it diagnosed what’s wrong without abandoning what’s right… and perhaps most importantly, it put the onus right back where it needs to be: on the church; to be a people joyfully submitted to the Living Christ as he comes to us in Scripture, journeying with Him in deep personal transformation, living out God’s salvation through local, concrete, fully embodied acts of mercy, justice, love, and compassion.  Fitch nails it… and I can’t think of a better description of what I want our community to be.  Well worth the read.

Cheers.

Andrew

2 thoughts on “Back into the blogging habit… “The End of Evangelicalism?” book review

  1. Good stuff, Andrew. I’m thinking about picking this up myself. It seems that a lot of the ways we get off track stem from an avoidance of real discipleship. I can say the same in my more “progressive” context. A “Christian nation” is a way of imposing- not persuading, just as an over-emphasis on social justice can be (though I guess social justice might be closer to the mark). Both short-circuit the calling to bring people to praise and transformation through our lives (Mt. 5:13-16) in favor of regulating behavior. David Wells (if I recall) notices how we have come to talk more about “values” than “virtues.” Values require a momentary decision, but virtue is the long process of having our lives shaped to reflect what we value most highly.

    • Bro I couldn’t have said it better… I think our assumption that secular power is an effective apparatus for bringing about the kingdom (both the right and the left are guilty of this) is what totally cripples us and actually positions us for the wrong kinds of antagonisms (i.e., antagonisms that aren’t inherent to the announcement that Jesus is Lord but are instead partisan/political in nature).

      Thanks for weighing in!

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