“Have you entered into the salvation already begun in Jesus Christ that God is working for the sake of the whole world?” trumps the question “have you made the decision to receive Christ as your personal Savior?” – David Fitch
Fitch admits upfront that he has no intention of denying the authority of Scripture, the substitutionary theory of the atonement, or the evangelistic calling of the church in the world. This seems to be why he’s still an evangelical.
Regarding the issue of Scripture, following the lead of Barth, Hans urs von Balthasar, Kevin Vanhoozer and Christopher Wright (what a lineup!), Fitch contends that, “God cannot be an object of our knowing (our possession). Rather as we enter into a place where we become known by God, then, out of this relationship, we can know God.”[i]
Fitch then cites Yoder and Hauerwas, declaring that “the church must abandon all attempts to secure the gospel through foundational epistemological strategies,” for these are Constantinian strategies.[ii] We cannot hold the Bible over people in a defensive and coercive posture. Rather, we inhabit it in our contexts.
Furthermore, the relationship we have to the Scriptures is not an individualistic one. Instead, to know the authority of Scripture is to come before it in prayer together, in humility and vulnerability, and to participate in its ongoing presence in and proclamation by the church (the congregation founded upon the biblical witness).[iii] When this happens, Christ is incarnated, and the church submits to the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
The goal is to maintain a high view of Scripture while also recovering Christ at the core of what we believe about Scripture – Christ as the center of all revelation. This view and practice replaces then the reading of the “inerrant” Bible as defined by modern science, historiography, etc – which is an arrogant habit that must be broken – though Fitch maintains that we still need skilled and learned exegetes in our midst.
And while Fitch values a mystical retrieval of Scriptures that incorporates discplines like lectio divina, centering prayer, confession, praying the hours, solitude, silence before the text, careful listening, meditation, and so on, he also recognizes the need for reclaiming the extended, vibrant narrative of the Bible as theodrama here and now – in which this life and this world are the stage where God acts and invites human beings to be co-laborers for redemptive purposes.
Next Fitch asks what this perspective on Scripture means for salvation. Relying on N.T. Wright, Michael Gorman, John Milbank and Dallas Willard, Fitch first and foremost undoes the sharp distinction between sanctification and justification that enslaves evangelicals to the decision for Christ as a “Master-Signifier.” “Conversion is still necessary. The whole goal here, however, is not singularly my own forensic pardon as an individual, although that is part of it.”[iv] It is also about becoming members of the covenantal people of God in whom God is at work to fulfill God’s promises. In essence, Fitch is just keeping company with the various “New Perspective” authors, wherein individual salvation is a by-product of God’s plan to reconcile all things (though Fitch explicitly laments that some will refuse the invitation).
This disposes people to faithfulness rather than duplicity. There is no shame or unrealistic expectation for perfection just because we enter into this community. The exposure of our sins is never a surprise, only an opportunity for further growth through healing and renewal – Spirit-enabled theosis, whereby we are made into marturia: witnesses, signs.
Any “post-conservatives” with evangelical roots probably agree that this sounds good and everything, but can evangelicals really do this? And would they still be evangelicals if they did, or would they become something else?
Or, as Tripp asked Dr. Olson, why go to so much trouble? Can’t we just give up the term and come up with a new one, like “emergents” have, or has that failed too?
These are just my questions . . . feel free to bring your own! The next post will touch more on the political features of the church’s calling in Fitch’s depiction.