Guest Post(s) – Stina Busman On Fitch’s The End of Evangelicalism

What about the future of Evangelicalism? Recently Trevin Wax suggested in the early days of the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention high profile Evangelicals lent their weight in the effort to stave off liberal drift. Wax thinks it is now time to return the favor. Trevin sees the current situation among Evangelicals to need the now re-invigorated SBC to lend their support and involvement in shoring up what to him is an Evangelical stream that has become too wide.

I have been chewing on Wax’s piece since it came out. The one thing that I believe he misses is explicated in David Fitch‘s, The End of Evangelicalism. Sadly the book may never make it into those circles. We tend to see books by the droves on the same old theme – “if we would do better and try harder, then we could remake, reshape, improve on what we have.”

Willard suggests the notion that, “if at first you don’t succeed try, try again,” has made its way into the church. The error prompts us to do the same things harder rather than step back and see just what it is that keeps us failing. If this practice is prevalent in churches, it is perfected in denominational structures. Maybe the folks over at Lifeway would do well to consider a book study with their research team using Fitch as their subject.

This is a long introduction to another review I am happy to post here at The Edge of the Inside. In fact, my interest in Fitch’s book and his ongoing project seems to fit well with my major interest here on the website – except maybe Cohen Alan.

Stina Busman teaches at Bethel University. A graduate of Bethel, Busman earned her M.Div. from Princeton and is a PhD candidate there. Stina’s expertise is “theology, culture, and ethics.” One of the oft overlooked voices when considering Evangelicalism are those faithful female witnesses to the ongoing activity of God in the world who make great contributions to biblical and theological studies. Stina is among those “young” voices.

As part of the Viral Blogger project for Fitch’s book, we sent a copy to Stina for review. Here is part 1 of Stina Busman’s review of Fitch’s, The End of Evangelicalism.

________________

I finished reading David Fitch’s new book in the context of a similar scenario to the one with which Fitch opens his text – namely, one of those awkward conversations in which one encounters the negative stereotype of evangelicals in this country. Sitting one evening on the sidelines of an Ultimate Frisbee game with a gorgeous mountain backdrop, someone asked me what book I was reading. My response: The End of Evangelicalism? Without hesitation, her reply was an answer to the title’s question: Oh, I hope so.

This young, highly-educated inquirer and I chatted briefly about the premise of the book for a couple minutes, and I found myself explaining that gracious, authentic evangelicals do exist. Really, they do. Yet this moment again stirred in me ambivalence about the usage and retention of the term. Yes, I am a faculty member at an evangelical institution of higher education, have been involved in evangelical communities since I entered this world, and self-identify with evangelicalism. Nevertheless, the term’s co-optation in so many different theological contexts by so many different people leaves me frustrated.

In the first chapter of his book, David Fitch attends to this sentiment of disenchantment but forcefully argues throughout the work for the term’s retention – and more specifically, a recovery of the core of evangelicalism. Although I was hoping for a deeper interaction with those suggesting and predicting the end of evangelicalism, Fitch’s purpose in these initial pages is to survey what has been said and written about the current and future states of the evangelical movement. The foundation he lays here proves to be a solid one for his overall argument for an evangelical recovery. In fact, the first descriptor that comes to mind in response to David Fitch’s new book is this: impressive. While I do have some enduring questions about the text, what Fitch is able to accomplish in the pages of this work is insightful and helpful.

Fitch’s goal, which culminates in the final chapter of the book, is to propose a new faithfulness from within the evangelical tradition that takes seriously the nature of the church’s corporate witness, is understood through a missional lens, and is foremost grounded in the incarnate Christ. The route he takes to accomplish this task is undeniably a curious one. He employs the ideas of Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek to reveal how three of the dominant articulated commitments within evangelicalism (i.e., “the Inerrant Bible,” “the Decision for Christ,” and “the Christian Nation”) have become ideological objects. Specifically, Fitch diagnoses them as Žižekian “Master-Signifiers” – that is, conceptual identifiers to which persons in a group are deeply devoted.

Yet these corporately affirmed abstractions are just that: abstract. They lack definition and carry little specific meaning, thereby allowing individuals who rally around these conceptual objects to apply their own understandings of the terms’ significance to the terms themselves. To be clear, such a critique for Fitch is not a denial of a high view of Scripture, a soteriology grounded in conversion, or the need for the church to be an active presence in the world. Rather Fitch suggests that, in its threefold core, evangelicalism has embraced an “empty politic” marked by arrogance and pretense instead of a “politic of fullness” characterized by humility and hospitality.

In Fitch’s last chapter, he turns away from a Žižekian assessment and attempts to sketch an evangelical missional political theology. The roll of scholars he pulls in to accomplish this task is impressive: Karl Barth, N.T. Wright, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Kevin Vanhoozer, Michael Gorman, John Milbank, John Howard Yoder, and Henri de Lubac – among others. The Epilogue to the book (“The Emerging and Missional Church Movements: Possibilities for a New Faithfulness”) is an important continuation of Fitch’s ideas, yet the work here seemed less nuanced than the rest of the text, thus leaving me with a desire for more clarification in Fitch’s descriptions.

Next, Questions and Suggestions

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.