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 atLife 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 Chapter one, Fitch considers the thought that evangelicalism has entered a crisis. A large majority of youth do not return to church after college. Other changes are occurring culturally as well and so consideration must be made about the future of evangelicalism. Does it have one? Is it imploding as a viable cultural force? How do we respond to the crisis we are in?
Fitch proposes that we look at evangelicalism through the lens a political ideology. And ideology is a “set of beliefs and practices that bind a people together in to a functioning community or – using another word – a politic.” The study of ideology examines the ways a belief system maintains a way of life that orders a group of people towards certain kinds of compliance and motivation.
Doing this offers several advantages, Fitch believes. “It joins the study of theology with the ways of life it forms in a people. We are forced to examine front and center how our beliefs and practices shape us as a people into certain ways of life. We are forced to ask what kinds of people we become in the process. By looking at evangelicalism as an ideology, we can ask about the kind of people evangelicalism produces and whether such people are congruent with the mission of God we seek to participate in. In the end, we also end up examining the evangelical politic (our way of life together) for its ability to provide the basis for our survival amidst the cultural challenges we face.”
We need to do this, evaluating our way of life together, because it is rarely done. We have been more focused on the rightness of our theology or the pragmatics of getting individuals “saved.” At the same, evangelicals have a social problem – our lack of a social presence has impaired our witness for the gospel. Unfortunately, our response to this has been to decry the decline of cultural beliefs, taking a martyr complex, or trying to defend our beliefs apologetically. Rarely do we evaluate how our practices are forming our behaviors and its impact our our cultural malaise.
Fitch hopes to show that “evangelicalism, in reaction to the modernist-fundamentalist controversies, pursued a strategy for survival via a defense based in the autonomous structures of modern reason and politics. In the process, we gave up the true core of our Christian politics – the person and work of Jesus Christ – and set ourselves up for a fall by in essence becoming a form of religious ideology. We in essence emptied our social politic of its core in Jesus Christ for a politics buttressed by the temporary structures of modernity.”