The new book by Fitch & Holsclaw is called Prodigal Christianity. It uses Luke’s Prodigal Parables (Luke 15) as a metaphor for Christian ministry in a postmodern world. I attended a conversation about the book at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. The authors presented a brief outline of the text and then took questions from those present. (Yes, I asked a question…)
The book presents 10 Signposts for the Missional Frontier and shares 7 Behaviors the church should engage in as we navigate these signposts. Certain chapters look like they will be very exciting. David Fitch has been part of the missional church conversation for a long time. Like me, he found some really good energy in the early Emergent conversations as well. However, the last several years have seen the Emergent group head off in directions which are no longer satisfying. In so many of those models, the church and the gospel seem to collapse into Postmodernism. There’s no good news and no reason for the church to gather. So Fitch has come back to the Missional term as more descriptive. He believes strongly in the church as the place where the Spirit is most active. The community formed there is God’s agent of change in our world. I couldn’t agree more. Fitch also rejects the extreme neo-reformed overreaction to Emergent and other groups. These folks have locked down the gospel so tightly, they’ve reduced it to a particular view of the atonement which is a fairly recent arrival in church history. The gospel is bigger than this. It’s more than a set of religious beliefs to be argued. It is an experience, a way of life, a vision of justice, an agent of healing, and a transforming journey. For Fitch, this is a journey into what he calls the Far Country. As best I can tell the Far Country is a metaphor for this postmodern, post-Christendom world many North Americans find ourselves in. A world where fewer and fewer people give automatic authority to the Bible, to the Church, or to Christian positions on social issues. Christians have tended to just get absorbed into the Far Country, leaving the gospel behind, or have built enclaves where we hide out from the world until Jesus shows up to beam us up.
I like how Fitch doesn’t want us to accept either one of those. Like the Prodigal God who leaves the 99 sheep, sweeps the whole house, and looks longingly for the return of his son, we can choose to “Go” like Jesus taught us to. But our “going” will look differently since we’re in the Far Country and not 1957 Churched America. I like the questions Fitch is asking at the beginning of this book. I like that Ecclesiology (what we think about the Church) is at the forefront of how he’s doing theology. It’s the lens through which he understands the gospel and how to live it out. So, preaching and the sacraments are central to his theology and missional outlook. I love great theological conversations. But this is a piece that has been absent for some time… I’m excited to dive in, with no imagination that I won’t find lots to disagree with along the way. But the Holy Spirit spoke to me at that gathering that there are some important things in this conversation which will speak directly to me and my church community as we also navigate uncharted territory in our culture…
Fitch is a CMA pastor (Wesleyan denomination similar to my own Nazarenes) teaching at a Baptist Seminary, who has Anabaptist leanings in how he views community, justice, and discernment. Now that’s a lively mix. I’m also a pastor who teaches at a Christian university and enjoys dialogue. I’m intrigued to read on…
The interesting thing about the Bible is that it took a long time to produce. About one thousand years. It has stayed in print for 2 millenia. Sometimes I hear complaints the first time people try to read it. It’s not easy to understand in places. Names hard to pronounce. A lot of history. Deep ideas. Wild stories. You name it. I’ve heard it. But should we really be surprised that something that took so long to produce in its final form would be a challenge?
The wisdom and inspiration of Scripture rose to the top like cream. It took a while. More than one read for most folks. But many kept coming back again and again. And for some, it connected deeply pretty early on. Others found that the effort required to read it was changing them. Their minds still didn’t understand everything, but their character was changing and their hearts were strangely warmed by the process. They considered that proof of inspiration.
I took a lot of Bible courses over the years. I even got the high score on the Old Testament Comprehensive Exam in College. (Almost as cool as that time I got the high score on PacMan in High School!) But I really didn’t start to deeply connect all the dots of the Old Testament until I’d lived with it year after year while trying, failing, succeeding, and growing in the midst of real life. And teaching and co-learning with others along the way.
We’re starting a journey next week called Engage the Word. If you do it (find links here) you will learn a lot. In 40 Days you’ll hit some of the key highlights of God’s story worked out in creation. You’ll still have questions. But that’s great! That’s what gets you to the next level. But what will bump you up a few notches is inviting someone to engage with you around the Word. A church friend? Great. Better? Someone who’s never read it before. Get together once a week with them to talk about the experience. You’ll be amazed at what you’re remembering, sharing, and learning. I promise. Combine this with serving someone else’s needs? Get ready to be rocked! It might just blow the lid off your life. (In a good-finally got the pickle jar open-way, not like the trash can lid blowing down the street way…)
It takes a while. But if there’s any fast-track it’s found in sharing and serving. Let’s get started. Together!