Dr. David Fitch has just released a new book entitled The End of Evangelicalism? Discerning a New Faithfulness for Mission: Towards an Evangelical Political Theology from Wipf and Stock publishers. David is a bi-vocational pastor at Life on the Vine and the B.R. Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology at Northern Seminary and blogs at Reclaiming the Mission. In a series of posts, I want to explore Fitch’s argument and discuss his conclusions.
In the book, Fitch examines the political presence of evangelicalism as a church in North America. “Political” however, should not be construed with being a democrat or republican in this context. Rather, the term should be understood in the framework of the Slovenian continental philosopher and critical theorist Slavoj Å½iÅ¾ek.
In the introduction, Fitch expresses a core assumption: “belief plus the practice of that belief shapes a community’s disposition in the world. ‘Belief plus practice’ not only shapes our way of life together, it shapes the ‘kinds of people’ we become.” While noting that this is not a new idea, he suggests that if evangelicals can accept this assumption, they should be asking if their belief and practice shape their communal life in a way it embodies the gospel. If it does not, why not?
This is where political theory can help. “It asks how what we believe about God (theology) orders our life together in the world (politics).” Fitch is seeking to connect the beliefs and practices of evangelicals to the shape that evangelical’s political presence takes in the world for the gospel.
The political presence, again is part of a Å½iÅ¾ekian framework which describes how a group’s presence was formed and shaped and how that presence is expressed in society.
Fitch notes that he will develop a thesis “that evangelicalism has become an ’empty politic’ driven by what we are against instead of what we are for. As a result, we find ourselves often in subtle enjoyments that are perverse. They take the form of ‘You see we were right!’ or ‘I’m glad we’re not them’ As a result, our beliefs have somehow shaped us into something incongruent with the very affirmations we gather to proclaim.” Fitch continues by saying that “our belief and practice have somehow shaped us as a people inhospitable to God’s mission.”
Fitch then extends his thesis. He believes that the three “cardinal” beliefs of evangelicalism – the inerrant Bible, the decision for Christ, and the Christian nation – have shaped evangelicalism in recent history into an “inhospitable politic to the world and God’s mission in it.”
Fitch sees that the evangelical church – as symbolized in many ways by large, consumeristic megachurches – has become an “add-on”, a semblance of something which once meant something real. It is something that we enjoy once all of our immediate needs have been met.
Fitch will not only critic the evangelical church, however. In the end he will propose an alternative politic, what he calls a “politic of fullness”where the Christian’s “everyday way of life is centered (by these beliefs) into a participation in the Incarnate Christ and the life we have with the triune God in the world in and through him.”
Fitch notes that this book is not for everyone, and I would agree. And then disagree. It is not for everyone if they are not willing to work through some of the intricacies of the philosophical framework. This is a book that will take time to read and work through; it is not a two day read unless one has an understanding of Å½iÅ¾ekian philosophy. However, I will contend that the arguments Fitch makes truly need a hearing. Whether one agrees or disagrees with his conclusions, in the end an examination of the lack of congruence between the beliefs of evangelicalism and its practices has validity and those who care about evangelicalism should at least explore his arguments.
In chapter two, Fitch will expound on evangelicalism as a political ideology. We will examine that in the next post.