September 28, 2007
The “We’re In, You’re Out” Mentality
The emerging response to evangelicalism’s black and white thinking.
Friend of Ur, David Fitch, is back with a few thoughts about the deficiencies in evangelicalism and the emerging movement’s reaction. But he’s not exactly enamored with the emerging church solution either. Fitch is a pastor at Life on the Vine Christian Community in Long Grove, Illinois, and a professor at Northern Seminary.
Evangelicals of all types are taking notice of the emerging church/missional church and its variations. Its rise to prominence is owed in part to the rejection of the evangelical church by many sons and daughters of Boomer evangelicals. At a recent Up-Rooted gathering, we talked about the real or perceived shortcomings in evangelicalism the emerging church is responding to, and the strengths and weaknesses of that response. Scot McKnight and Wayne Johnson were a part of that discussion, but here is part of my response to the question.
I believe one weakness in evangelicalism that the emerging church is responding to is evangelicalism's excessively rationalist approach to truth and salvation that birthed a stubborn "we're in/you're out" mentality. There has been an impulse in evangelical fundamentalism towards (a) an intolerant judgmental exclusivism, (b) an arrogant, even violent, certainty about what we do know, and (c) a hyper-cognitive gospel that takes the mystery out of everything.
Many of us grew up with this. This was most obvious in the way we made hell the selling point of the gospel. We said if you do A and B, you’ll be pardoned from sin and escape hell. Those who do not do A or B are going to hell. We built an apologetic that defended this to prove to people outside the church they were doomed. It came off arrogant, coercive, unloving, and indeed antithetical to the very nature of the gospel. In a world of democratic pluralism, the gospel's witness became shut off, dispassionate, and downright sectarian. It became impossible to represent such a gospel as "good news."
McLaren talks about this in New Kind of Christian when he says:
If we Christians would take all that energy we put into proving we're right and everyone else is wrong and invested that energy in pursuing and doing good, somehow I think more people would believe we are right. p. 61
If you ask me whether I believe there is a hell, I will tell you yes. To me the reality of hell is evident in the evil and destruction of souls I see here on earth all the time. If you ask me whether I believe that the salvation God has worked through the person and work of Jesus Christ has direct consequences on our eternal destiny as persons, again I will tell you yes. But if you ask me whether this singularly defines what it means to be saved, here is where I would say no. For our eternal life is the end of a life lived in His salvation (Rom 6:22), not the goal in and of itself. And so let's not put the cart before the horse.
The good news is that God has come in Christ inaugurating his salvation in the world. In Christ (and His Kingdom) there is now forgiveness of sins that sets loose grace and forgiveness among us and to the world. In Christ (and His Kingdom) there is reconciliation with God that breeds a new reconciliation among us and to the world (2 Cor 5:18-20). In Christ (and His Kingdom) there is a healing that has begun through the cross among us and to the world. In Christ's Rule there is indeed a new politic, a way of being, living in the life of God made possible in Christ's life, death, and resurrection that takes shape among us and into the world. Behold all things are made new (Rev 21.1.; 2 Cor 5:17). Our calling is nothing more or less than to invite the world into this incredible new life.
The strength and the weakness of the emerging response to evangelicalism' judgmentalism has been the wide embrace of deconstructive theology. Deconstructive philosophy/theology certainly gives us the skills to diagnose our narrowmindedness, ways we have imprisoned God in the rationalized controlling structures of certain Reformed Western systems. But it fails to deliver the truth. It is always "yet to come." It leaves the gospel disembodied. As I have argued elsewhere, there are resources in McIntyre, Yoder, Hauerwas to help us be embodied communities, communities of hospitality, open communities of witness.
In part 2 of his post, David Fitch will discuss the way evangelicalism has separated personal justification and social justice.