Stina Busman described David Fitch’s project in The End of Evangelicalism as “impressive.” But, that does not imply a wholesale endorsement. David would not want ti that way. Instead, he would invite conversation partners to help refine his constructive way forward for the Church. Here is Part 2 of Busman’s review. You may read Part 1 here.
With that said, there are a number of places that give me pause in Fitch’s work. I will suggest two as I conclude my thoughts here. First, as I read through his critical application of Žižek’s ideas to the evangelical situation, there is a sense of obviousness that emerges for me. For example, while Fitch recognizes that the centrality of the idea of the United States as a Christian Nation is debated now more than ever, he still affirms that this conceptual object is deeply embedded in contemporary evangelicalism. I do not – at some level – doubt this, and yet, I am not sure Fitch’s assertion would be affirmed readily by a younger generation of evangelicals.
While my experience with this demographic is limited (and while I am admittedly part of this younger generation), I rarely hear any of the evangelical college students I teach supporting this concept of a Christian Nation. Instead, many recognize this belief has characterized evangelicalism in the past but do not retain allegiance to this conceptual object. Undeniably, there is an ever-growing body of literature on generational differences within evangelical Christianity, and in many ways this body falls outside the scope of Fitch’s work. Nevertheless, the enduring relevancy of his project is directly related to the younger leadership arising in evangelicalism – not simply the established evangelical torchbearers that Fitch mentions and analyzes. Thus putting Fitch’s work in conversation with Bob Wuthnow’s text After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion, for example, would be an enlightening endeavor.
Another area that gives me pause concerns a certain narrowness that characterizes Fitch’s account of evangelicalism. Undeniably, as it concerns the evangelical tradition, Fitch is writing primarily about the North American, white demographic. For the sake of the integrity of his argument, the specificity is not necessarily without warrant – although this limited description could (and perhaps should) generate some critique, especially as it concerns the future of evangelicalism.
More interestingly, I realized upon reaching the end of the book that women are almost entirely absent from his assessment of evangelicalism. This does not inherently engender a feminist critique of the content of Fitch’s argument – although I suspect, in a more general sense, such a critique could be made as it concerns the historical usage of certain evangelical Master-Signifiers as tools of subjugation and discrimination. Fitch does not address such realities in his discussion of a recovery of the core of evangelicalism. This would, in my estimation, be a helpful corrective to include.
Yet still, I cannot help but wonder why women are absent from Fitch’s work. If one glances through the book’s index, only two women can be found: Miss California (Carrie Prejean) and Jessica Simpson. Two women whose fame is connected to the shapeliness of their bodies, as Fitch clearly notes in the context of his analysis. Granted, evangelicalism as a whole has not always been favorable to women as leaders or full communal/political participants. Ergo an analysis of the history of evangelicalism is more often than not an examination of the ideas and activity of men.
This explanation, though, is not entirely satisfactory in my assessment. Regardless, while the omission remains peculiar, identifying why this absence exists is outside the bounds of this review. Yet, I suspect the omission actually hurts Fitch’s work. In other words, his argument could be enhanced with the inclusion of women. Let me give but a couple examples. In his chapter on “The Christian Nation,” he fails to mention the influential Beverly LaHaye, wife of Tim, and the organization she founded in 1979 “Concerned Women for America” (CWA). While Fitch cannot incorporate all evangelical leadership in making his case, the inclusion of CWA and their cultural impact would expand the breadth of his argument by highlighting a parallel in ideological commitments among women in evangelical churches.
Joyce Meyer is also absent from Fitch’s analysis. Her influence in the evangelical world nationally and globally is undeniable. Granted she has not been embroiled in a sex scandal and thus has not made headlines in the same fashion as other evangelical leaders. Nevertheless, the allocation and usage of her financial resources has come under scrutiny. In the book’s fifth chapter, for example, the subsection “‘The Christian Nation’ and Our ‘Enjoyment’ of Market Capitalism” could be enhanced with the inclusion of commentary on Meyer – for in many ways, her approach to monetary blessings is a quintessential example of a pervasive evangelical attitude toward material wealth.
Despite these questions, Fitch’s book provides valuable insight as we consider the future of evangelicalism. I resonate deeply with the heart of the solution his book proposes: “The way forward…for an evangelical missional politic is to ground our belief and practice in the incarnate reality of the triune God in Christ” (128).