The “Christian nation” concept is a the third “Master-Signifier” for evangelicals that has made God’s work something to be done and fought for “out there.” This is what has bread dispassion (see also Greg Boyd’s Myth of a Christian Nation). David Fitch wants to expose the Jouissance (Zizek’s term for the kind of enjoyment that holds a people together under the domination of an ideology).
Fitch cites Henri de Lubac asking this question: “Have we become a society of individuals bound together by a form of spectating?” (p. 156) – spectating that makes us invisible in the world . . . Our ability to gather is pretty impressive, Fitch says, and we are helped by video and podcast technologies. The danger, obviously, is the church’s identity is formed prior to engagement with the world, and concentrically, which intensifies its concerns for it’s own subsistence. Inevitably, Jesus is domesticated, and the church becomes imperialistic. Instead, the church’s identity, Fitch argues, must always come into being in the event of mission, which is the encounter with the other through the outpouring of God’s love in Christ into the world (p. 159). In so doing, we inhabit the posture of servants to the world and incarnate compassion while using our different gifts. This is somewhat like Yoder’s on-the-ground politic, where loving the world and refusing conformity are two sides of the same coin (p. 163).
But Fitch stops short of suggesting that we can’t have a material church and agrees with de Lubac – namely, that we should be centered around the Eucharist (as opposed to, say, preaching). This where a “mutual sharing of a new justice in Christ’s reigns – at the Eucharist table. Here we become the justice of God as opposed to individuals who campaign for it as a slogan in the world” (p. 156). Being sure to connect this with actual activity in society though, Fitch notes William Cavanaugh’s illustration of the Chilean base communities in the 1980’s. He draws a line between their resistance to Pinochet’s regime and the potential for citizens of Western liberal democracies to similarly challenge the totalizing structure of capitalism – being “in but not of” – by creating alternative forms of local economics and leaving behind all fears of financial insecurity. So with the emphasis on the renouncing of worldly power, not getting assimilated into the violence of the world, loving adversaries, etc., we are essentially left with an Anabaptist politic.
An objection can always be raised here by those with perhaps a hunger for significant change and justice for the poor and oppressed on this side of the fully realized Kingdom. Should we not vigorously struggle to curtail institutional sin? Indeed, the biggest weakness with this theo-political vision could be that it is either too vague or just not very political – that is unless the term is broadened to mean something less useful. Of course, all worldly political schemes are fragmented and risk becoming ideological, but isn’t the risk still worth taking? Or does this compromise our witness? Which is more important? This debate is not new, however, and the strong pacifist position is certainly a Christian option.
And obviously the more realistic, potential shift that people in the Christian Right camp could make is more likely to be toward something like “The Politics of Jesus” (Yoder) than anything resembling quasi-leftist activism, so this critique might not be completely fair in light of Fitch’s overall project.
The second minor criticism I have would be that Fitch does not consult Zizek’s most recent work where he interacts much more directly with Badiou, and then Christianity itself, with its “perverse core,” reached through a particular reading of St. Paul (The Puppet and the Dwarf, The Fragile Absolute, The Ticklish Subject). Fitch acknowledges this though and confesses that it might be a weakness – and I don’t think this need take away from the merit of his conclusions.
There is much more here, including a good discussion of the missional and emergent church movements in the epilogue. In sum, this book is rich and wise. I think the timing of its release is interesting. If it isn’t too bold to speculate, could we see Fitch as sharing the concerns with Rob Bell in Love Wins, at least in a complementary fashion, with evangelicalism as their common “mission field”? (despite some clear disparities in anticipated scope and size of their audiences). And Fitch has provided excellent commentary on his blog in my view on the recent frenzy surrounding Bell’s book, as well as a penetrating diagnosis of the psychology and ideology of The Gospel Coalition. Fitch is careful and precise. In this regard, I see him doing a great service to evangelicalism, in a sensitive, in-depth way – and with good leadership.