The End of Evangelicalism?: An Interview with David Fitch

Over at The Other Journal is an article (found here) with David Fitch, a pastor and professor in the Chicago area. I’ve been blessed to spend some time with Fitch, as he is heavily involved with the Ecclesia Network. The interview deals with his newest book, The End of Evangelicalism?: Discerning a New Faithfulness for Mission, his use of Slavoj Zizek’s cultural critique and political philosophy, and Rob Bell’s Love Wins among other things.

Below is the first paragraph in the interview, which will hopefully whet your appetite, and curiosity, to give the rest of it a look. Enjoy.

The Other Journal (TOJ): Your newest book, The End of Evangelicalism?, uses the thought of the iconic cultural critic Slavoj Žižek to look critically at the public presence of evangelicals. Your book was released just a couple of days before Rob Bell’s book on heaven and hell, Love Wins, a book that has generated national attention on the evangelical world and its fissures. Let’s say Žižek spent a couple hours reading the blogs on Rob Bell from his detractors—what do you think he would say about the media storm associated with Love Wins?

David E. Fitch (DF): Žižek would probably notice the extreme amount of media activity surrounding the prerelease of Love Wins and the Neo-Reformed response to Bell. He’d suggest that there is almost a perverse enjoyment in John Piper’s saying “farewell Rob Bell?” the kind of enjoyment that says more about us than the person we are targeting. Žižek would perhaps note that in finding a heretic, we found a reason to feel validated in our beliefs, and boy does that make us feel good. Of course, along the same lines, he would take notice of how the publishing world is creating this swirl of activity to ask, who is the church? Is not the church being shaped around these crazy discussions that are generated by publishing empires? Is this not a sign that evangelicalism has become a groupthink that generates no real activity for change in real life? He would note that we are, in essence, having discussions that allow us to be complicit with the ways things are, the status quo.

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Post-Ecclesia National Gathering: Part 2

One of the fundamental qualities of Ecclesia is the importance of being relational. Trainings, conferences, and other events are infused with times of getting to know one another. Intentional periods of discussion around meals supplemented by  impromptu introductions between newly made friends are definitely highlights found within the Network.

While I was at the National Gathering I met people from Los Angeles, Hollywood, Denver, Brooklyn, Chicago, along with people from Iowa, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and New Jersey. Basically, nearly every area of the US was present. This not only enables everyone to get a little synopsis of the life and culture of these areas, but also what God is doing in these areas. The differences in context are certainly there, but the commonalities are rather surprising too. Churches are experimenting with different methods and thoughts; no one is copying each other in an effort to expand the kingdom. Yet, most people are very aware of our common mission: to make disciples.

I truly did enjoy all the random conversations I had with people. I have always been a relational person and feel that everyone has a story to tell. However, there was one conversation I had with my new friend Dave Kludt that sticks out.

I met Dave on Wednesday night as he sitting with my roommates from Denver for dinner. (My new friends Stephen and Jason are pastors at New Denver Church. Check it out.) Dave is an equipper with Kairos Hollywood out in California. (He blogs at Can’t. Catch. My. Breath.) We talked briefly that first evening, but it led to a deeper conversation Thursday during lunch with Dave and his fellow equipper, Audrey.

We discussed a variety of things, but stayed focused on the ideas surrounding what is typically called being bi-vocational. This is, typically within church circles, designated for pastors who get paid by their churches and also have an outside-the-church job. Usually, the nonchurch job takes up the majority of the week’s time. For myself, I work in a Special Education classroom, interim pastor at St. Andrew’s, and lead/partake in a smaller faith community. Dave works at Fuller Seminary while working with a team at Kairos.

The main thing that stuck out during our conversation was the reality of bi-vocationalism. More and more pastors, especially young pastors, come out of seminary, which is typically required by churches, under the load of school loans and looking for pastor jobs. Most churches require an MDiv (Master of Divinity) also known as 3 years of grad school in which you end up with 90-92 credits under your belt. Now since it is 3 years of grad school, most people come out with nearly $30-40,000 in debt. Now don’t forget, this is on top of the debt typically accumulated after 4 years of undergrad work. I have friends who have done both their undergrad and grad work ALL through school loans. For those who don’t know, this means they now owe well over $100,000. That means every month they pay between $1500 and $2000 in school loans. Furthermore, from what I have seen, most churches don’t start young guys with educations and little experience anywhere near enough to balance out their budgets. Needless to say, something has to give.

This isn’t what stuck out, however. Dave told me about his conversations with non-white pastors in California and how being bi-vocational affects them. I had never really thought about it, mainly because I’m a young white dude who grew up in the middle class suburbs, but for many, many non-white pastors being employed by different places has been a reality for quite some time.

We didn’t talk about this much, but Dave’s passing comments really stuck with me. Why is it that most non-white pastors practice a trade that pays the bills while pastoring their church? Why is that our non-white brothers and sisters have been out of their studies and offices meeting people and being influences in their communities while most white pastors have been isolated inside the church walls? Perhaps it is because so many predominantly white churches, especially suburban middle class churches, have had plenty of financial wealth. So much so that they employ multiple pastors with larger paychecks and benefits. (Please don’t hear me saying anything negative about this reality. I’m merely pointing out the bi-vocational situation among white and non-white pastors based on a simple conversation.)

I recently read The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity. It addresses the fact that the Western, especially the American, white church is declining in population while the non-white population is rising. Basically, the underlying premise of the book is the lessons in faith and practice we white Americans can learn from our non-white church family. Such is the case with being bi-vocational. What can we learn from those who have had to be bi-vocational? How can we humbly discuss our struggles and anxieties in ways that can result in them turning into strengths and possibilities? What strategies could we take away from those who have been expanding the kingdom year in and year out in both the pastorate and in public?

There are many other questions that come from this. Hopefully, we can all learn for the benefit of others.

Thanks for the conversation Dave. It was appreciated.

Post-Ecclesia National Gathering: Part 1

I returned from my time at the Ecclesia National Gathering last night despite the somewhat treacherous driving conditions. Overall, it was a great time of meeting new people, reconnecting with some older friends, and learning about spiritual formation. In the next few posts, I’ll give some of the highlights of our time and what they may hold for the future.

As I mentioned in the last post, Todd Hunter and MaryKate Morse were the two main speakers. They opened our time Wednesday afternoon with a general introduction to what spiritual formation entails. A simple definition was given: “Spiritual formation is the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.” This is a great, concise definition with some key elements to being the people of God.

First, it is a process. In many Christian circles the emphasis is on salvation (typically a very reduced version of it: dying and going to heaven someday) and then anything of substance usually tails off. Discipleship and formation aren’t necessarily entered into the equation because it is simply seen as that: an equation. Rather than being seen as a process we enter into through salvation, Christian faith is seen as a decision in which all the benefits of said decision are immediately ours. The reality is that life is the process time in which Christ forms us into his image. It is a lifelong journey.

Second, we aren’t being transformed into just “a better person”, but we are being made into the image of Christ. This is essential for our understanding, not just of New Testament Christianity, but for our understanding of the entire Christian narrative. If we were made in the image of God in the beginning, it was fragmented and broken because of sin, part of the redemption process must be the restoration of this original image-bearing. Along with the image being reformed come the works and original purpose of this image-bearer.

This is the third aspect of our definition: mission. Formation into the image of Christ, thus rendering us into the humans we are supposed to be, naturally leads into mission. We don’t begin our journey into Christ-likeness and then keep it all to ourselves. No, formation into the image of Christ pushed us into the world for the sake of the world. This is (again) linked to knowing, understanding, and embodying the entire narrative of God. Because he is a missionary God we are a missionary people, formed in his likeness for the benefit of others. This is why Todd Hunter says, “Missional without formational will always remain aspirational.” They are two sides of the same coin.

Perhaps this is why we don’t see much missionary activity in local churches. If there is a link between embodying the entire narrative of God and missional/formational concepts, and I think there is, then we must ask if we’re lacking in any of these areas. Do we know the impetus behind our being and doing as Christians? Do we anticipate living fully someday “in heaven” or do we strive for life here and now? Are we intentionally pursuing formation (transformation of our malformation) for the sake of others or are we intent with the way things are? If formation and mission are in constant relational tension, what are we intentionally doing to shape our being and vice versa?

Ecclesia National Gathering

Part of our pastoral team at St. Andrew’s Anglican is the Rev. Sam Coilpillai. Every time I see him and ask him how he is doing he always responds with the same answer: “Doing well by the grace of God.”

Tomorrow I will make my way to the D.C. area in order to attend the Ecclesia National Gathering. And in similar fashion to Sam, I will be attending by the grace of God. I was invited to attend, but didn’t have the money for it. I talked with some generous brothers who have helped me out before, but there weren’t any available resources. So I had decided I wasn’t going to be able to attend.

Then last Tuesday my friend, and director of Ecclesia, informed me of a church in the Network that was going to fully pay for me to go. I had to change some things up in the schedule, but overall, and even though I’m a little sick, it will work out. And all by the grace of God.

Would you please pray for me and everyone else in attendance that we would be attentive to what Jesus has for us? Pray for the speakers, listeners, programmers, and everyone else involved that it would be a few days of growing together for the sake of others. Ecclesia is very relational and intentional about getting people connected. It makes me wonder why God has graciously provided for me. Please pray that it will be a profitable time for all.

Epic Fail Pastors Conference

Last May I had the privilege of attending the Ecclesia Network‘s church planting training. While there I met J.R. Briggs, one of the pastors within the network. He pastors Renew Community in Lansdale, PA, which is just outside of Philly.

J.R. recently posted the fruition of an idea that had been brewing inside of him. The conference landscape in the U.S. is littered with gathering after gathering of “famous” pastors who have “successfully” planted churches or turned their living room Bible studies into their current multiple of thousands congregation. It’s what Ed Stetzer has called “ministry pornography”: hyped up situations that rarely, if ever, actually occur, but make you think that they do.

To help balance out the situation, J.R. has conjured up the resources for the Epic Fail Pastors’ Conference happening this April. The website has all the relevant info. If you’re like me and would like to be part of something that is refreshing and seemingly more realistic, think about attending this conference. If you want some more of the background, check out J.R.’s blog post here. I have a hunch this will be well worth attending.

Web Browsings to Check Out

Here are some interesting links from the week:

1. Within the church planting world there are assessments that people typically go through. Steve Addison wonders about their legitimacy.

2. My main man, N.T. Wright, recently spoke at Duke University. Here is a video of his sermon from their Sunday Service.

3. If you haven’t checked out the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, I seriously urge you to do so. It is taking place in Cape Town, South Africa and is a gathering of Christians from around the world to discuss and explore how to continue to reach the world for Jesus. The things I have seen, heard, and listened to from this time make me incredibly envious of my sister and her husband who were invited to present at the Congress. What an opportunity! Here is the link to some of the videos from the Congress.

4. PBS had a series entitled “God in America”, which they debuted a few weeks ago. If you missed it, here it is again.

5. Have you seen the reality show cast that makes up the race for New York State Governor? Ah yes, the debate that aired this past week was a highlight of much political substance, historical precedents, and sheer idiocy. Here is the link to Syracuse.com’s review of it. Within the article there are links to other state newspapers and agency’s reviews as well.

6. If you happen to run across this and live in the L.A. area, check out the LA 2010 Unconference. My friend JR Woodward is helping put it together. Check out his blog to see the list of speakers.

7. There is a movement afoot. The Spirit is at work. If you live in the Chicago region, check out the Missional Learning Commons on October 29-30. The topics for the time will focus on missional discipleship, missional family, and missional leadership. Check out Ben Sternke’s blog or Dave Fitch’s blog for more info on the event.