The End of Evangelicalism? Discerning a New Faithfulness for Mission: Towards an Evangelical Political Theology, David E. Fitch (Cascade Books) $28
Evangelicalism is a political ideology in crisis, says David E. Fitch in his new book, End of Evangelicalism? Posed as a question, however, the title gives us a clue that the author hasn’t quite scheduled the funeral. After all, how useful could 200 pages chronicling the demise of Evangelicalism be? Though some might find morbid pleasure in that pursuit and it has been tried, though in a shorter format, by the late Michael Spencer (aka Internet Monk), what this author is after is a deep questioning and reframing of the evangelical foundations.
To accomplish this, Fitch has brought together an impressive panel of scholars and church leaders, beginning with the Slovenian philosopher and cultural theorist, Slavoj Žižek. By employing the social critical framework found primarily in Žižek’s earlier work, Sublime Object of Ideology, and others, Fitch systematically dismantles the three central Evangelical theological commitments: “the inerrant Bible,” “the decision for Christ,” and “the Christian Nation.”
The book is incredibly well organized and easy to follow, to the point of being repetitive. Fitch begins with a very simplified primer on Žižek’s critical framework, drawing a fine balance between over simplifying Žižek and leaving the average reader bewildered. He then proceeds to apply Žižek’s critique of ideology to the three cherished pillars of Evangelical theology. From time to time he tips his hand to inform, and we have to assume, reassure, the reader that he really is a loyal evangelical, lest we assume that Žižek will have the last word.
One example of how Fitch proceeds will suffice to make the point. Summarizing Žižek, Fitch writes,
The Master-Signifier…weaves the subject into the ideological system by providing sufficient distance from the object for the subject to in essence be shielded from what his or her beliefs might actually demand of them (57).
He then applies this critique to “the inherent Bible” as Master-Signifier:
[The Master-Signifier, in this case “the inerrant Bible”] allows us to believe without believing. Perhaps worse, it allows us to be complicit in systems we know are not righteous while acting as if they are….
In a strange way, “the inerrant Bible” allows us to believe we have the truth while at the same time remaining distant from actually engaging in it as a way of life (ibid).
Fitch, then, devotes the final chapter – a mere 50 pages – to rebuilding in a different way what he, via Žižek, has deconstructed. The task is daunting. To accomplish this he marshals an impressive group of theologians spanning traditions as diverse as Evangelical, Radical Orthodox, and Catholic with the express purpose of framing a Trinitarian, Missional, Political theology. In the end we are presented with a new Evangelicalism, its three cherished theological commitments in tact, but with a different teleology – one focused on the formation of God’s people, socially, into the Body of Christ, “the very extension of “the Sent One’” participating in the missio Dei – the restoration of all things (177).
It is an impressive accomplishment. As Evangelicals readers wrestle with Fitch’s substantial proposals it will remain to be seen whether this new political theology toward God’s mission in the world can be realized. Many will no doubt find Fitch’s list of conversation partners unacceptable. Others will embrace these proposals and forge a new, hopeful future for the church in the world.