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 Chapter six of David Fitch’s book, he offers ways to recover a politic of fullness within evangelicalism.
I want to wrap up my series on Fitch’s book by looking at the last chapter before the epilogue. Fitch states that instead of adopting Zizek’s ideology, which in the end is a false politic, we need to explore a politic of fullness. This is a “politic that is founded in the triune God’s work in the world – the politic of reconciliation and peace offered in and through the Incarnate Son.”
The church’s politic must be a “participation of a people together in the gift of God the Father that enters the world in the incarnate Christ as the Sent One and is extended into the world via the Holy Spirit.” The politic of the church must be found in the incarnation itself. “Here the transcendent enters the material, the universal enters the particular, the concrete enters into time and space to be the core of God’s politic in the world.” As this happens, a politic is birthed out of participation in the life of the Triune God.
In this, the members of the community are formed by their beliefs and practice into a mutual participation whose core is Christ. This results in a Christian politic that engages the world “as the presence of the Sent One himself into the world.” It is a missional politic that produces a humble presence, faithfulness, and compassion in the world that comes from an “ontological participation in Christ.”
Fitch then moves to describing how the church can recover the three principle characteristics – inerrant scripture, decision for Christ, and the Christian nation – and make them a politic of fullness. Each one of these could use a post itself but I will only explore the summary ideas for each. I will say this is one of the most powerful chapters I have read in a good while. However, I know by the names that will be mentioned, many in evangelicalism will turn away. I challenge you not to turn away but to read and explore Fitch’s reasons and arguments on their own merit. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.
Regarding the recovery of the inerrant scripture, Fitch calls on the writings of Karl Barth, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Kevin Vanhooser, and Christopher Wright. Together, these men force evangelicals to see Scripture’s authority as derived from “the incarnate Christ via participation in his mission in the world…Scripture’s authority is made manifest in our participation in [God’s] mission, indeed our participation in the incarnate Christ.” These theologians challenge evangelicals to “leave behind the Bible as ‘inerrant according to the original autographs’ to instead understand it as ‘our one and true story of God for the whole world – infallible in and through Jesus Christ our Lord.” In other worlds, it’s authority comes from the triune God and we demonstrate that authority as we live (in community) the mission of God and express the whole of scriptures within that mission.
Regarding the recovery of salvation, or the decision for Christ, Fitch draws upon the writings of N.T. Wright, Michael Gorman, John Millbank, and Dallas Willard. Fitch draws on Wright’s understanding of justification in his book with that same title. Fitch notes that what Wright and others in the “New Perspective” camp note is that a shift takes place when we translate justified “by faith in Christ” in Gal 2:16 with the subjective genitive translation – the “faithfulness of Jesus Christ.” It changes the nature of how we are justified. We are now justified not (only) by personal faith alone in Christ but by joining in the faithfulness of Christ in the covenantal work of God in the world. We immediately move from a faith that is my own in Christ to the focus on Christ’s faithfulness to complete the covenant in obedience to the Father and our participation in that. Jesus then becomes the head of a new corporate covenantal people who have been saved – put right with God and each other – as part of the first fruits of the covenantal promise of God to make the world right. As such, we are “invited to enter a salvation already in motion, of which we must become a part.”
Fitch notes some problems with Wright’s argument en total, but believes it is a great place to start. He adds to Wright’s thoughts those of Michael Gorman. Gorman proposes the idea of co-crucifixion with Christ. Salvation is the “transformation of our body-souls into the cruciform shape of Christ himself, which is the very character of God and how he works righteousness throughout the world.” Putting these two together overcomes the evangelical split “between justification and sanctification that made space for the evangelical Master-Signifier of the ‘decision’. We cannot receive justification separate from the daily participation ‘in Christ.'”
In recovering the idea of how the church lives in society, Fitch draws upon the writings of Henri de Lubac, William Cavanaugh and John Howard Yoder. Fitch says that evangelicals have put forth “the church as Christ’s voluntarist army dispersing individuals into the world to do the world of Christ and his mission.” This is insufficient because it has the potential to create another Master-Signifier and it “makes the church’s work in the world something abstract that we fight for outside of ‘us'” The merging of thought from Lubac, Cavanaugh, and Yoder point us “to the church as the social body of his Lordship (His reign) incarnating Christ in the world of God’s missions. They help us see that much more than a democracy, the church is the constitution of a new way of being together in the world. It is the social incarnation of the Sent One, by the Spirit, the foretaste of His Kingdom, which inhabits the world for mission.”