Is Evangelicalism Ending? 3

Is Evangelicalism Ending? 3 January 2, 2013

What happens, then, to the doctrine of Scripture if David Fitch is right? What happens to what he calls “the Inerrant Bible” model — the model that speaks a polemical and ideological language game as it flows out of the modernist-fundamentalist debate and speaks against the liberal model? In his new book, The End of Evangelicalism? Discerning a New Faithfulness for Mission: Towards an Evangelical Political Theology (Theopolitical Visions), David Fitch proposes a view of Scripture that is both evangelical and missional.

Fitch’s influences on how to comprehend Scripture in the new model, in a model that gets beyond the ideology of evangelicalism and back into the missional model that Bible seeks to create.

His primary influencers are Karl Barth, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Kevin Vanhoozer and Christopher Wright. I can’t summarize all he says with any particularity, but he gets the Trinitarian and christological emphases from Barth — Scriptures extend the incarnation into the church. Balthasar focuses on Scripture are part of Christ himself (135) and our need to embody Scripture.

Vanhoozer, known for his extension of Balthasar’s “theo-drama” into the Scripture being both revelation and in need of performance as a script in order to be seen and proclaimed. And Chris Wright’s emphasis is that Scripture is designed to serve the mission of God in this world.

But this is where Fitch is headed: “These theologians prod us 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 world — infallible in and through Jesus Christ our Lord'” (138).

Here’s the primary model — and this is my idea — of classic evangelicalism: the order is God, revelation, inspiration, inerrancy, authority … and this model of Scripture becomes the epistemic foundation and the first article of theology. But there is room here to move without denying the value of these concepts to see God as Trinity, God as having a mission, God as revealing God in Christ in definitive and final form, and then Spirit as surrounding all of this and then Church as flowing out of the incarnation and pneumatic guidance and seeing Scripture as the primary — prima scriptura — form of expression. Scripture then is the primary “script” of the mission of God in this world.

This leads in Fitch’s view to a major shift in preaching: from expository preaching (which he sees as modernity and also as part of the ideology) to proclaiming the mission of God in Christ through the Spirit and inviting others into that mission. Bible reading is not just inductive and personal but corporate and narratival.

David Fitch contends the ideology of evangelicalism is rooted in three major “master-signifiers”: the Inerrant Bible, Decision for personal salvation, and the Christian Nation. But he contends this ideological set of factors is losing ground because the antagonisms in culture no longer support the ideas, and furthermore the last fifty years have gradually eroded the “politic” that is needed for the church to be what God wants it to be in America. Obviously, these are strong and bold claims … we’ve looked at the Inerrant Bible idea, so today we turn to Decision. All of this is from David’s new book, The End of Evangelicalism? Discerning a New Faithfulness for Mission: Towards an Evangelical Political Theology (Theopolitical Visions).

Fitch’s big claim is this: the obsession in evangelicalism with making The Decision has cut off Christians from the necessity of personal transformation and from ecclesial robustness. In other words, as long as you’ve had the experience you don’t really have to change and you don’t really have to see your life in the context of a church life.

What happens to evangelism when the gospel message transcends personal transaction and becomes a holistic entrance into the mission of God in this world? [If you examine evangelistic plans, you will see they are shaped by a theology and a salvation theory and an atonement theory and almost never are they sufficiently robust when it comes to calling people to the kind of life the gospel actually calls us to.]

Here Fitch draws on four scholars: Tom Wright’s understanding that justification is more than personal transfer of sins and righteousness because the theme of justification is also about God’s making things right in the world (and not just with me, but surely including me). Second, he examines Michael Gorman’s idea of theosis and shows that justification entails dying to self and being raised to new life personally and corporately — all of which reforms “desire” (David doesn’t develop this much but it’s at work in this chp). We are living out then the new politic of death and resurrection together.

Then he turns to John Millbank’s idea that “gift” entails a life of reciprocity. We are caught up in the Trinitarian life of reciprocity once we are “in Christ.”

All of this leads to this very important claim by David Fitch:

“The call for conversion, however, is no longer ‘Have you made the decision to receive Christ as your personal Savior?’ It is, ‘Have you entered into the salvation begun in Jesus Christ that God is working for the sake of the whole world?'” (150). So the offer is an invitation to enter into the kingdom vision of Jesus, and I’d like (shamelessly) to mention here my newest book: One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow, and I’m encouraged by how many students and campuses are now reading this book.

Finally, he appeals to Dallas Willard’s emphasis on kingdom living that leads to transformation into the mission of God in this world

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