The Great Giveaway: - David Fitch

The Great Giveaway: Reclaiming the Mission of the Church from ..

  • Big Business
  • Parachurch Organizations
  • Psychotherapy
  • Consumer Capitalism
  • and other Modern Maladies
Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005
263 pp

“Because evangelicals articulate salvation in such individualist terms and because modern science and individual reason carry such authority for evangelicals, we do not need the body of Christ for daily victorious Christian existence” (17-18).


While the title tells us one thing, the Introduction offers something intriguing (p 13). On the Intro page the title is restated as, "The Great Giveaway: Toward a Postmodern Evangelical Ecclesiology."

The book is divided into eight chapters as follows:

1. Our Definition of Success:
When Going from Ten to a Thousand Members in FIve Years is the Sign of a Sick Church
2. Evangelism:
Saving Souls Beyond Modernity: How Evangelism can Save the Church and Make it Relevant Again
3. Leadership:
When Evangelical Pastors End Up in Moral Failure: the Missing Link Between the Pastorate and the Virtues
4. The Production of Experience:
Why Worship Takes Practice: Toward a Worship that Forms Truthful Minds and Faithful Experience
5. The Preaching of the Word:
The Myth of Expository Preaching: Why We Must do More than Wear Scrolls on our Foreheads
6. Justice (Our Understanding of)
Practicing Redeemed Economics: Christian Community in but Not of Capitalism
7. Spiritual Formation: Why Therapy Should Never Have Left the Church in the First Place..
8. Moral Education: Evangelicals and the Training of our Children to be Good Americans: The Example of Character Education in the Public Schools

This is one of the outstanding books of the past five years. If you make it past the chapter list, you are going to learn something.

David Fitch has a terrific way of encapsulating some of the issues we face as God’s people. A group of us made this part of our discussion in an intentional manner some weeks ago when we read Robert Bellah’s paper, “Religion and the Shape of National Culture.” More recently a small group of us have begun intentionally meeting together in part because something we believe about the nature of Jesus body impels us to do so. And I personally am taking on this issue through my dissertation on “Presence”.. the relation of ecclesiology to spiritual formation, and the recognition that no can be formed as Christ intended apart from their personal connection to the living, historical body of Christ.

David uses the introduction to do some housekeeping and offer some definitions. He takes on "evangelical," "postmodern," "modernity," and also peripherally defines "Christendom."

Chapter I gets us right into the meat. David presents a critique of the megachurch phenomenon. But the real issue is our secular definitions of success. He writes that, "Our focus on numbers, bigness and large institutions is rooted in two of America's sacred cows: the autonomy of the individual and the necessity to organize for economic efficiency." (33) David warns that when size and efficiency become our goals (gods?) the church misses its calling to be the living body of Christ. He quotes John Howard Yoder,

The church is then not simply the bearer of the message of reconciliation in the way a newspaper or telephone company can bear any message with which it is entrusted. Nor is the church simply the result of a message, as an alumni association is the product of a school or the crowd in the movie theatre is the product of a film. That men and women are called together in a new social wholeness is itself the work of God, which gives meaning to history, from which both personal conversion ((whereby individuals are called into this meaning) and missionary instrumentalities are derived.

This sounds very similar to George Hunsberger in Stormfront, "The daily lived performance by vibrant communities of Christ is the most fundamental testament of the Gospel's force and power."

Fitch closes the first chapter with a proposal for alternate measures: qualitative measures of gospel faithfulness. He closes like this: “evangelicals should seek a vision of the world that is populated with local bodies of Christ, not megachurch centers. Instead of huge religious arenas for private individuals to come eat, shop, and see a religious production, let us pursue a world where one can no sooner go to a Starbucks, a Cineplex movie theatre or a local tavern without also being confronted with an alternative center for life…” (46).

In chapter II Fitch argues that postmodernity challenges the church to become the message (50). First he surveys postmodernity and references a major shift in how postmoderns experience science (as a view, one more lens) and how postmoderns doubt that truth is accessible to the critical individual mind.

Second, Fitch devalues evidentiary apologetics as rooted in another worldview, that of science, instead of the truth of the gospel, the community of faith, and the Scriptures. He also critiques the seeker model for its distortions of the gospel.. methods shape the message.. the key elements being anonymity, the consumerist model, individualism, and a simplistic (shrink wrap) ecclesiology.

Third, as with all these chapters, Fitch suggests practices that restore a biblical evangelism. The gospel must be performed because truth is about character and relationship:

  • hospitality
  • prayer, mercy, justice
  • living community
  • third space evangelism (coffee shops)
  • Worship
  • the rite of baptism

In chapter three Fitch tours through evangelical leadership practice, opening with a quote from Mark on Jesus as the servant (10:42-45). He argues that churches have traded the biblical vision of pastor as servant for the “leader-public speaker-pastor-CEO” (74).

Fitch argues that the structuring of the pastoral role as CEO comes from the business world, and he points his finger at the Hybels and Maxwells of the world (my friends like to say, “Hybelized”). He points to some of the weak thinking around the concept, found in expressions like Maxwell’s “leadership is leadership” wherever it is found. Fitch asks, “is it?” Does pastor = leader? If we make the connection, what do we gain and what do we lose? (One could argue that in the west we have many leaders, but few pastors, many managers, but few fathers.. many gatherings, but few churches).

Fitch harks back to the opening of the book, contending that the CEO model is rooted in sociology - the study of data so as to predict outcomes and thus offer control (ie. success as culturally defined by the abc’s) ,the implication that leaders can control outcomes through technique. This recalls the larger criticism of our technological systems in such writers as Jacques Ellul (The Technological Society, The Presence of the Kingdom) and more recently to the critique of command and control concepts by leadership coaches such as Peter Senge and Margaret Wheatley (in particular A Simpler Way). I thought this section would have been made stronger through the use of Ellul. Fitch quotes Yoder, “if we claim to justify the actions we take by the effects they promise, we shall be led to pride in the abuse of power in those cases when it seems we can reach our goals by the means of our own disposal…” (77).

Fitch shows how evangelicals use Jesus to prove their leadership theory. He questions Hybels “bulding a kingdom dream team” and “Jesus had a three year strategic plan.” Fitch notes that the word “leader” is avoided in the New Testament, and instead a new word is used: diaconia. Words that suggest a relationship between ruler and ruled were unusable in the new community. Jesus commanded his disciples to avoid any titles of the secular authorities. Jesus wanted his followers to avoid any association with the structures and methods of the dominant culture and instead find a new order: the order of servanthood (81) Moreover, “servanthood” is not a new model for effectiveness — it is an end, not a means, and it inverts traditional power.

Again I am brought back to Elluls’ thought, and in particular his chapter on “The End and the Means” in The Presence of the Kingdom. Noting that we are not in a conflict with flesh and blood, he argues that there is no dissociation possible between end and means. He writes that, “When Jesus Christ is present the Kingdom of God has come upon us. This formula expresses very precisely the relation between the end and the means. Jesus in His incarnation appears as God’s means, for the salvation of man and for the establishment of God’s kingdom, and where Jesus Christ is, there also is this salvation and this kingdom” (79).

Fitch spends quite some time addressing moral failure (see Sally Morgenthaler) and argues that our current system invigorates moral failure. Then he contends that pastors need to reimagine leadership and he suggests these practices:

  • 1. reinvigorate ordination and use rogue ordinations
  • 2. seminaries should be places for spiritual formation
  • 3. form confessional groups for pastors
  • 4. nurture emerging leaders and bi-vocational clergy
  • 5. establish multiple leadership
  • 6. grow authentic leaders

The question that lingers is the relationship between service and authority. I wish Fitch had addressed this one..

Chapter four of The Great Giveaway takes on corporate worship as the production of experience. What is the “worship” service really about? Is it about the generation of experience or is it about formation and my participation in the Christian story? What should it be about?Fitch describes two sorts of worship environments in evangelical churches: the lecture hall and the rock concert (theatre?). The first setting is designed to stimulate thinking and personal reflection, and the latter is designed to produce feeling.

The “lecture hall” setting deals with humans in a modern and Enlightenment fashion: individuals are capable of acquiring truths through propositions and words, and this will somehow lead to transformation. Postmodernity, however, has wormed away at the process and in the new culture Christians are pummeled with images and symbol constantly. All of these things form perception, form values, shape thought and feeling. The hour long sermon or lecture does not form us, and cannot adequately respond to the powerful enculturation which the current generation experiences in a variety of settings day by day.

The “rock concert” and pep-rally setting is questioned because it is not generally shaped by a theology grounded in holiness, while at the same time the forces of culture industries act as technologies of desire (103). Meanwhile, in postmodernitythere is no innate human experience and emotions are interpreted experience. Self and emotion are socially constructed based on power interests in a given culture (they want you to make the feeling connection between success and the girl and the new car!). Moroever, self-expression does not lead naturally to worship of God and can feed the illusion that self is at the center.

“Evangelicals go to church on Sunday yet are unaffected we either sit passively in a lecture hall taking notes for later use or we indulge in a rock concert /pep rally that titillates our emotions but leaves little to order our selves into the glory of God. Neither traditional nor charismatic forms of evangelical worship are sufficient to orient persons God’s glory amidst the secular cultures of desire.” (105)

Fitch calls for immersive worship: a worship when the self is immersed in God’s goodness and glory so that the self is formed by the truth of God’s reality. “Only when self is immersed can it be shaped into a reality beyond itself… both traditional and charismatic forms of evangelical worship thwart the immersion because they put self at the center of worship.”

“Traditional evangelical worship targets the mind of each individual as the center from which each worshiper digests teaching and makes decisions as to what he or she agrees with concerned the pastor’s sermon. In the same way, contemporary worship targets the individual’s emotions and experience as the center from which God engages and meets the worshiper in the service. In both cases the Holy Spirit’s involvement with this process is assumed. Yet in both cases, the worship service isolates the self at the center of worship in relationship to God. Sitting in the pew, the self is separate from God and is essentially stiill in control. Therefore, our worship cannot form the self …” (105)

Immersive worship involves:

  • 1. Removing self from center: liturgical necessity.
  • 2. Utilizes art: truth as beauty
  • 3. Forms the Church: lex orandi, lex credendi (law of prayer, law of faith)
  • 4. Involves the Alive Body: it becomes a cultural-linguistic mode of revelation

This approach transcends doctrinal orthodoxy and emotional expression to shape a holistic worship. Fitch argues that this approach will embody and incarnate the truth of God’s revelation.

What can be done?

  • 1. Remove self from the center: restore liturgy and make it accessible
  • 2. Pattern worship after call and response
  • 3. Revive the church calendar
  • 4. Reinvigorate the Eucharist
  • 5. Use candles and other tactile symbols
  • 6. Use the visual arts
  • 7. Sing substantive music
  • 8. Envision the meeting place as an art gallery

1. Immersive worship removes the self from the center of worship: The Liturgical Necessity

Liturgy by definition is immersive. The worshipper participates in the word and out of that relation is determined by it. The songs sung or words spoken are given in response to God and not how one is feeling at the moment.

We participate through the Scriptures and the Table. Liturgical worship invites the worshipped into a worship that was going on before the worshipper arrived and will continue after he or she is gone. (Heb.12:22-23). Liturgy cannot therefore be self-generated, only participated in. We become part of a people.

The worshipper is not left in his or her modern objectivity to make a decision as to whether he or she “got something” from worship..rather a true immersion occurs out of which flows a transformed subjectivity, a faithful experience of God, and the gift of (a stable) self in Christ.

2. Immersive worship requires art: Truth as beauty

For immersion to take place, truth must be entered into physically and visually as well as (but not only) intellectually. Immersive worship therefore requires art. Apart from the physical encounter with art, propositional sentences can be interiorized by the worshipper for his or her own agenda. Furthermore, truth must live in the physicality of a people. Art provides the context by which words take on flesh in people’s lives and displays of beauty. Through art we embrace that knowing God is more than an intellecutal engagement. To know God is to also see His beauty. Until we see this art will be merely an illustration for the sermon.

Fitch references radical Orthodoxy and the need for harmony in proportion and form. Art can help us reorder the imagination, pointing us through a visible work to a reality that transcends it. Moroever, art in the sanctuary witnesses against the implosions of nihilism and subjectivism. Postmoderns don’t argue with art, and we must learn to “worship the Lord in the beauty of Holiness.” Art, ritual and symbols immerse the worshipper into the world of Scripture and produce a culture of experience that parades the Lordship of Jesus.

3. Immersive worship is formative: Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi

Our experience is formed somewhere.. if not in ekklesia, then elsewhere. According to Lindbeck, there are no precritical, inner experiences universally common to which our words merely refer. Instead, it is necessary to have the linguistic or symbolic means to express or ritualize such an experience first. Experience therefore requires immersion.

Immersive worship leads into participating in God’s already preexisting reality through language, ritual, and symbol as revealed in history through Scripture. By do soing it births true experience of God that can only come at the behest of God when we have been faithful in worship. This makes it possible to experience joy, sadness, celebration and hope birthed out of who God is and what he has done. As opposed to contemporary worship, which often begins by coming to God with our self-expression, liturgy demands that we first be confronted by God and then respond. Liturgical practice recaptures the substance of the ancient doctrine lex orandi, lex credendi (the law of prayer, the law of belief), which teaches us that one must first learn to pray in the way of Christ to fully comprehend and experience belief in the way of Christ. In other words, worship takes practice.

4. Immersive worship is what happens via the alive body, not a lecture hall or a pep rally

Both truth and experience are important. But true worship requires an alive body that we can be immersed into. Only the church as an alive body that carries on an organic life in language, symbol, art and ritual can sufficiently produce a faithful experience of the God of Jesus Christ.

Lindbeck explained that doctrine functions in one of three ways: as propositions, as expressive-experiential articulation, or as cultural-linguistic grammars. The lecture hall views doctrines as verifiable propositions while the feel-good pep rally sees doctrines as the articulation of experiences. The former locates truth in spoken or written words while the latter locates truth in immediate experience. In the cultural-linguistic mode, doctrines of God function as comprehensive interpretive schemes “usually embodied in myths or narratives.. which structure human experience and understanding of self and world” (113). Lindbeck’s model argues for designing worship as an enculturated living place of God where our personal character is formed into the specific culture of Christ in order to know truthfully and experience God in worship. Fitch, 107-113

Fitch on Scripture..

“I believe each local Body of Christ is the fertile ground for the forming of our imaginations through the interpretation of Scripture. Here in community we learn the virtues necessary to interpret Scripture for the local challenges of the Christian life. Stephen Fowl, calls these communities “vigilant communities” in his book Engaging Scripture. He says faithful interpretation requires vigilant communities that engage in regular practices of truth telling, forgiveness and reconciliation (ch. 3). Humility and the skill of listening are prerequisite for anyone being transformed by Scripture. These are the tools for the reshaping of imagination by the Holy Spirit. Humility and listening (i.e. patience) can only be learned in communities who practice worship and mission in ways that foster these basic Christian skills. Without becoming vigilant communities, I fear we all fall into modernist temptation, to believe that Scripture is perspicuous (to me), its meaning is automatically self evident to each individual (as long as they agree with me), and I know Scripture (well enough to justify my life to myself): the ultimate denial of the hermeneutic task.”

More: Excerpt from chapter 6, "Christian Community In but not Of Capitalism"

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• © 2005 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated on September 9, 2006