Is David Fitch right about the Church’s task?

This morning David Fitch tweeted this:

“The biggest task of today’s church is to undermine in its members the blase unexamined acceptance of secular assumptions for everyday life.”

I have been thinking about it all day. I’m not sure he is right on this one.

Now just to let you know where I am coming from:

When you put that all together, I am just not convinced of Fitch’s assertion. Here is why:

I am increasingly suspicious that secularism is both a consequence and a side effect of Christendom. It is the West’s Frankenstein if you will. We made it. Then it took on a life of its own – a life we don’t like very much and which damages our efforts and injures our cause.  I think we have to start there.

I agree with Fitch that there is a ‘unexamined acceptance” and would go even further and say that it results in an assumption that what we see is the way it is. That our current mechanisms of organization are final forms and that the ‘as-is’ structures come with a large measure of ‘giveness’.  Tripp often applies this capitalism, nation-states and democracy. I would tack on both denominations for the church and militarism for US America.

I am just not so sure that our main task is to undermine. Maybe that is where my hangup comes. I am leery of this approach because it seems like we are defaulting the ground rules in the initial move and framing the task in a conceding first move.

I might be naive here but I am just not sure that the church needs to
A) give that much ground initially
B) frame her task in the negative.
I know it’s just so much one can do with a tweet but … there is something there that gives me caution.

So what is my constructive proposal?  I’m working on it.

I would want to frame it more like Stuart Murray does in the book Post-Christendom  and acknowledge that initial concession was early on with Constantinian Christianity. Then Christendom. Then Modernity.  With those three concessions we admit that the as-is nature of existing frameworks for both church and culture are thoroughly compromised and corrupted.

BECAUSE of that. We abandon the recuperation, rehabilitation, reclamation , and renovation projects (and mentality) all together! (all 4 faces of it).

It’s over man.  Let it go.

THEN we start new and in the positive. The 21st century provides fresh possibilities and opportunities IF ONLY we will let go the idea of getting back to something or getting something back. I know we never start from scratch – we never get back to square one. But …

I don’t want to be the undermining parasite ON the big organism. That is too small a task.  I want to partner with God in the healing of world (Tikkun Olum in Hebrew).  I want to participate in the development cosmic good – until then at least the common good. 

 Help me think this through! 

PostScript: now that I started down this “re” line I can’t stop coming up with words I want to flesh out further!
Restore: no
Re-imagine: yes
Represent: yes
Re-member: sure
Resurrect: ummmm not really
Reflect: probably

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33 comments
Beddard731
Beddard731

no to "restoration of all creation"?

joshuawalters
joshuawalters

Is Fitch right about the Church's task? I say, Yes / Kind of / No. YES: He is right that the church must "undermine" assumptions on the world view level that are antithetical to the Reign of God. The Gospel comes with its own set of world view assumptions, right? Spiritual formation at this level is imperative and will naturally come into conflict with non-Gospel assumptions. KIND OF: The task of the church is not solely to its own members, it is to the "Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, ends of the earth." Fitch's use of "its members" only gets half-way there; the church should challenge anti-Gospel assumptions in the world, not just the church (perhaps he could not fit this into 140 characters). NO: I agree with what you have posted above in the sense that the church's task is not defined negatively or in *contrast* to the a "secular" world. I think the church's task must be defined positively. In my words (borrowing a phrase from Dallas Willard), I say: "The church's biggest task is to show the world that the way of love can be trusted because of the promise that God has made in Jesus the Christ." This is a great and urgent conversation, Bo. Thanks to you and everyone for your wisdom.

phule77
phule77

To what degree is institutionalization a quality we need to plan for and against as humans as we do "church", in a way that does not allow tradition to captivate us?

 

Brennan Manning asks in Ragamuffin Gospel what it would look like if only a small percentage of Christians actually lived like Christ...we know from early accounts that the way they lived was precisely described by the dominant culture, the romans, as undermining them. Shane Claiborne wrote about this at length in "Jesus for President".

 

What if undermining the culture didn't look like normal secular culture, but it didn't look like the institutional church either? Truly, there is much that is secular about the church, precisely because it puts God in a box and defines Him rather than recognizing Him in the wild and pursuing the luring of His Presence into each moment...

MattBarlow
MattBarlow

I agree with you for the most part, Bo. I would add that your admonition of re-imagining is in itself an undermining act, like it or not. Ether way, re-imagining is a good & necessary act at this point (for all the reasons you cited).I'm with you in abandoning - yet there are and always will be certain "constants" that require restoration (one of the verbs you deemed a negative response towards) because they inevitable get buried in time. I would expound upon some of those "constants" but I'm about to go out for the evening...

JasonDaviesKildea
JasonDaviesKildea

I'm all for exposing and addressing 'unexamined acceptance' - this also applies to church dogma. However, I also think that secularisation is an important part of the world we live in right now. It's not the enemy, it's a meeting place - sometimes the only one that some conversations can be had. The problem for me isn't secularisation, it's dualism - which may be one of the unexamined assumptions of secularists and religious people alike. I do like your constructive proposal, Bo. Tikkun Olam is a rich concept worth mining further.

fitchest
fitchest

@HomebrewedXnty @theBoSanders I love you all debating that tweet! Wish I could join in but I have spotty internet/smartphone for a week

csobalvarro
csobalvarro

I see your point. But I think I see David's as well. "Undermine" may well be unnecessarily negative. But I'd propose that a key role for the church is to "question" assumptions, and I think that may be what he's getting at. Jesus did this constantly in showing how the Kingdom of God countered the cultural assumptions of that time. The church appropriately follows this pattern when we attempt to rock people's assumptions that the way things "are" is the way they "must be" and paint pictures of what life in the Kingdom can be now and where that leads. I see that less as undermining perhaps and more as casting vision, or reimagining.

John Contabile
John Contabile

I think we do kick against the goads of secularism, but while we are pushing forward in expressing the Kingdom of God.  In short, I diasgree with Fitch.

What we need to get back is just the basic drive to share what we have been given.  The early church had this and lost it when institutionalization began to set in.  But this is elementary, and shouldn't take a lot of time/money/effort/strategizing to recover.  

Indeed, our primary drive into the 21st Century is to share the love of God with anyone and everyone.  In doing so, secularism will take some hits.

DouglasHagler
DouglasHagler

I would like to undermine the blase, unexamined acceptance of a sacred/secular distinction, personally. I see no good in having one - it isn't any more valuable than the clean/unclean distinction that we impose on each other.

 

Besides, "secularism" has done wonderful things for us, as well as damaging things. Secularism has been at the forefront of fights against totalitarianism, sexism, racism, and many other isms that plague us. The defeat of Christendom (and other religious hegemonies) by "secularism" has been a victory for justice many times.

 

There are many uncritically accepted, anti-Christ views currently held by most in the church (in the US at least). Militarism and capitalism are good examples for those of us in the US. I just don't think secularism is a foe. Quite the opposite, in fact. I think that Christendom, what is left of it, should eagerly embrace secularism. Tear the temple curtain. Let God out of the box. The whole world is sacred precisely to the degree that it is secular, and vice-versa.

Isaac FL
Isaac FL

I'm with you Bo in partner with God in the healing of the world, I explain to myself that the gospel is like the big bang at one point this explosion happens and all sorts of creativeness starts to happen, if the gospel is the end of the rope that doesn't sounds like good news to me, but if it is this moment where new dreams and new possibilities are born and transformed then the options of what can happen are endless. What is the biggest task of the church today, maybe live the dream of God whatever that might be for each one of us. 

adamelo
adamelo

'I can't speak for @fitchest but ‘in its members’ may be the phrase in his statement you are breezing too quickly past?'

Bo,

  It seems to me from your assessment you are reading David's statement like: “The biggest task of today’s church is to undermine the blase unexamined acceptance of secular assumptions for everyday life.” The clause 'in its members' makes his statement micro and personal rather than macro and institutional. I don't believe he is saying it is the job of the church to undermine secularism. To me, he seems to be calling the church to the internal task of undermining (in one another) 'the blase unexamined acceptance of secular assumptions' rather than calling the church to undermine the blase unexamined acceptance of secular assumptions (in society in general). 

 

adamelo
adamelo

.@theBoSanders I can't speak for @fitchest but ‘in its members’ may be the phrase in his statement you are breezing too quickly past?

phule77
phule77

Borrowing a page from Neal Stephenson's "Snowcrash" as well as Rollin's "insurrection", the question seems to be how the church will teach it's children subversiveness (much like their Savior, Sneaky Jesus) so that they can honestly question and change the reality around them, rather than being formed by it.

 

Subversiveness is the power to see things as they are, and to change things, rather than rejecting them wholesale or buying them whole cloth.

 

Generally, on a multi generation scale, the first generation wins the battle, and determines the culture. Their children buy the culture because it's what they're raised with. The grandchildren rebel because they don't even know what the battle was for.

 

Within subversion, the grandchildren learn to question why things are there and find the answers, and determine how those answers work in their world, especially within a paradigm of redemptive, transformative love. Redemption transformation is a hard sell in a world where all of the answers are already known.

jmdeskins
jmdeskins

sorry, to the point B:   "I might be naive here but I am just not sure that the church needs toA) give that much ground initiallyB) frame her task in the negative"

 

For at least as long as I can remember, my denomination, the Disciples of Christ, have framed our belief in the negative: No creed but Christ. 

I have a hard time understanding any of these negative statements in which the church frames itself.  

 

I think you are on to something Bo:  "THEN we start new and in the positive. The 21st century provides fresh possibilities and opportunities IF ONLY we will let go the idea of getting back to something or getting something back. I know we never start from scratch – we never get back to square one."

 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @MattBarlow Your words about re-imagening are very interesting. I will have to think more about your use of the word 'restore' ... I'm still quite hesitant to associate with that motive. It seems too easy to attempt to restore expectations from Christendom or a romantically 'remembered' past.   -Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @JasonDaviesKildea In the next month Tripp and I are scheduled to do 2 TNT podcasts - one on Christology and one on Ecclesiology.  I will bring it up in the second one :)  I promise! -Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @csobalvarro I love your use of the work 'appropriately' (follows Jesus'  pattern) . I would only want to partner that with the word "appropriate' - as in "that culture which we critique/criticize has appropriated that which we seek to proclaim". 

The importance is that the culture we rail against is not ENTIRELY different than us. They celebrate some christian values ... we drive  gas-guzzling SUVs and buy $4 shirts made in China. 

 

The whole "in the world but not of the world" thing is a little muddled in a post-christendom context.   Thoughts?   -Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @John Contabile LOVE it. Love what you are doing here. Love the direction.

 

One clarification: when I said that I was not into recuperation, rehabilitation, reclamation , and renovation  ... I thought about it later and thought 'is there a RE' that I am into? 

 

I came up with Re-envision Re-imagine and Re-connect.  That may sound lame but I mean something by them.  i take it in the "re-present"  sort of imagery.    -Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @DouglasHagler Yow!  You have clearly thought about this before!   Glad you chimed in.  -Bo  

 

 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @Isaac FL It will be interesting now that some folks have come on to say that I missed the "in its members' part of the church's task how what you are saying here would be impacted.  I'm into it... but if they make a good case for 'to its members' that could change the conversation.   -Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @adamelo  Ok ... that is very interesting.  And that certainly does change the scope of my concern. 

 

My only remaining hesitation would be 'is the primary task of the church to its members?'  but that is not exactly what he meant so ...   let me just register my concern and we can call it good :p  -Bo 

fitchest
fitchest

@adamelo @theBoSanders Agree, but am in Fla. at my Mom's place w/ spotty internet. :)

theBoSanders
theBoSanders

@adamelo can you post on Blog why that clause would change my assessment? I'm open to the idea but need more clarification ;) -Bo

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @phule77 Wow.  your articulation of salvation takes this in a WHOLE different direction!  That was fantastic. 

 

I also loved the final line "Redemption transformation is a hard sell in a world where all of the answers are already known."  That may be the true hinge on which this whole conversation turns.  -Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @jmdeskins Now THAT was interesting. I am so glad that you mentioned the DOC creed!  That is something I have run into several times and never known what to do with ;)  -Bo 

JasonDaviesKildea
JasonDaviesKildea

@BoSanders Will look forward to that one. If I can find it, I might also send you a recent conference paper I did that touches on some of these issues.

John Contabile
John Contabile

 @BoSanders Funny you mention the "Re-" theme.  On my blog, I use "Research, Renew, Recast."

 

Quick thought/question for your Ecclesiology TNT (and perhaps I'll shout it out on the Pipe):

Can you address the distinction (whether real, imagined, or some other possibility) between "saved/lost," Christian/non-Christian," "brother/other."  This may be delving into a more Universalist viewpoint, but is it possible to see everyone as our "brother/sister/family" as opposed to only seeing them in this light if they profess Christ?  This is an underlying/deeper theme that I have been thinking through as I listen to the podcasts over the last year or so.

Thanks, Bo!!!

DouglasHagler
DouglasHagler

 @BoSanders I guess I have - I come into this not knowing who David Finch is and not seeing the end of evangelicalism as a bad thing - just a thing. But I have thought a bit about this. I don't have a good term for what I am theologically, and I'm not convinced that a good term would even help, but "Secular Christian" might fit the bill. I feel very strongly that sacred/secular doesn't exist apart from where we impose it, and that 99.99% of the time when we do impose it, it does not serve the common good to say the least.

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @John Contabile That is fantastic stuff. I'll see what I can do with the dualisms ;)  -Bo