David Fitch, in his new book, The Great Giveaway: Reclaiming the Mission of the Church from Big Business, Parachurch Organizations, Psychotherapy, Consumer Capitalism, and Other Modern Maladies (Baker, 2005), weighs in in a modern genre of literature: evangelicals vs. evangelicalism. I must begin by saying that I’m both attracted to this title, for we must always be vigilant to follow Jesus as completely as possible, and I do think we have capitulated in ways we are unaware of. But, I’m a bit suspicious: we are in this together, so as long as it is “Christian treating Church with respect” I have no problem.
This book is big enough, and suggestive enough, that I’ll do a series on it. If I wear down with it, the book will be abandoned. But, still, there’s a serious line of thinking in this book. His overall intention is to show how modernity has transformed clear gospel teaching into modernistic trends: and he looks at success, evangelism, leadership, the production of experience, preaching, justice, spiritual formation, and moral education. Good topics, these.
Fitch is a pastor in the Christian and Missionary Alliance tradition, and his ancient-future type church is not from where Kris and I live (up here in Libertyville).
His introduction states it all: “The thesis of this book is that evangelicalism has ‘given away’ being the church in North America” (13). Fitch himself is a conflicted evangelical, for he thinks there is too much modernistic ideology and not enough gospel in evangelicalism. His own story leads him to be faithful to evangelicalism while being critical of it.
Here is an arresting comment, and one that I developed in a different way in Embracing Grace: “Because evangelicals articulate salvation in such individualist terms and because modern science and individual reason carry such authority for evangelicals, we do not need the body of Christ for daily victorious Christian existence” (17-18).
For me this is the heart of a major way the gospel is proclaimed in our world: when we’ve got it, we’re done — and what we’ve got is a home in heaven and (it is hoped, but not necessary) a transformed life in the context of a community. I find this underlying gospel damaging, and Fitch appears to have his hands around the same goose’s neck. “And so,” he continues, “for evangelicals, the church in essence is left to be a sideshow to what God is doing for, in, and through individuals” (18). That is, a gospel of individualism instead of a gospel for Eikons.
So, Fitch contends that evangelicalism has no robust ecclesiology, and I agree 100% with him — as long as he permits plenty of evangelicals to agree with him and plenty of evangelicals among the Anglicans and Episcopalians and Orthodox who have all kinds of ecclesiology. (For the record, it is hard for me to think Roman Catholicism can be evangelical, but I know I’m being a purist — for the same would have to apply to the Orthodox. So, let’s have some evangelicals in the RC Church and say that those folk have a robust ecclesiology. Bigger than robust, perhaps.)
Fitch defines some terms, but I think his definitions fall flat for being a trifle long-winded and for too often resorting to time periodizing. It doesn’t help anyone, so I think, to say that “postmodernity” is is the conversations emanating from Derrida, Lyotard, Baudrillard, and Foucault — for most readers want to know the contour of those conversations. Well, I’m being picky — he’s got his mind around these movements and he’s about to show us what is going on.
I’m ready and waiting.