Three Compelling (Theological) Questions – for the Shaping of the Local Church into Mission.

Recently I was asked the question, how does theology shape the church? The implication was that theology is irrelevant to the life of a church. To which I responded “There’s a theology that drives every church. Theology is shaping every church whether we know it or not.” Next came the question: if you went into a church how would you begin to direct its theology so as to shape its missional presence in the neighborhood? I suggested there’s three questions that every pastor/equipper should be able to answer. They then should be capable of leading their churches in answering these questions in a way that shapes our practice of life with God together. For me, these are the questions that fund the social imaginary of a community by the Holy Spirit by which we enter into His life and mission. The three questions are the How, What and Where questions

1.)  How does God Reveal Himself?

2.)  What is the gospel?

3.)  Where is the Kingdom?

How we answer these questions as a people, how we are led into the answers through the discipling/preaching/teaching ministries of the church, shape a community’s disposition in the world.

The way we have answered these questions in the past within my own tradition (evangelicalism) has been largely

1.) The Inerrant Bible,

2.) The Decision for Christ, and

3.) The Christian Nation -in last thirty years – and dispensationalism in the thirty years prior to that (the kingdom is in the future).

Admittedly I need to fill out these ideas. Yet I’ve become convinced that these three answers have become problematic for today’s church not only because a.) they don’t really answer the cultural questions we face anymore, but more importantly, b.) these answers shape us as communities over against mission.  In other words, these ways of articulating these beliefs – and the practices that coincide – have shaped us as an arrogant, duplicitous, dispassionate social presence in the world.

In my forthcoming book (I hear it’s coming in 2 weeks – I’ll have a free sample on this site in about two weeks hopefully) The End of Evangelicalism?: Discerning a New Faithfulness for Mission (Cascade Books – Theopolitical Visions Series) I try to show how these three beliefs of evangelicalism were forged as a defense. They have shaped us in antagonistic ways. I argue they worked well in a former time to meet the cultural challenges evangelicals faced – as largely typified by the modernist-fundamentalist controversies. But now, many years later, they are working against us.

I contend we need new ways to uphold a high view of Scripture’s authority, to teach/ initiate conversion into life in Christ and to understand the church’s engagement with society for God’s salvation in the world.

Here’s how I pose the answers to these three questions in The End of Evangelicalism?

1.) From Inerrant Bible to: Our One and True Story of God for the whole world – infallible in and through Jesus Christ Our Lord.

2.) From the question “have you made the decision to receive Christ as your personal Savior?” to: have you entered into the salvation already begun in Jesus Christ that God is working for the sake of the whole world?

3.) From the church as Christ’s army dispersing individuals into the world to fight for the Christian Nation to: the church as the social body of His Lordship (His Reign) incarnating Christ into the world.

I contend these three ways of speaking about these beliefs (and then practicing them) shape us for a hospitable, authentic, compassionate witness to Christ in the world. For what it’s worth, I still subscribe to the Bible’s inerrancy (qualifications needed) and of course I still believe in the decision to receive Christ’s pardon and make Him Lord. (I haven’t quite been able to swallow the Christian Nation thing, although I’ve tried wink, wink). Each of these beliefs is enhanced and deepened through this new articulation and practice.  All of this is explored in significant depth in the upcoming book The End of Evangelicalism? And I’ll be pleased to be giving 2 lectures on these subjects at Ambrose University college in two weeks in Calgary, Alberta. The lectures are entitled “The Future of Evangelicalism in N. America’s Post Christendom: Forging a New Faithfulness. Lecture 1: Reshaping Our Doctrine and Practice For Mission. Lecture 2 The Dangers and Hopes of the Emergent/Missional Church Movement.

If you’re nearby, join me!! Eh?

In the meantime, how have you, your church, led you through these three questions?

Posted in End of Evangelicalism?, Missional Theology, Uncategorized
16 comments on “Three Compelling (Theological) Questions – for the Shaping of the Local Church into Mission.
  1. GordonG says:

    I really like where you're going here, and look forward to the release of the book. You mention the 2 lectures in Calgary – are these going to be available via the web? I'm afraid Australia is too far to travel from, even to listen to you!

    Shalom

  2. culturalawakening says:

    As I have "entered" the missional discussion, I have really wrestled with the question of the church. What is the church? Who is she? What is she about? Who is she for? So many questions have challenged my ecclesiology. Would you be able to recommend any other resources to guide through this process? I will be looking to grab your book as well.

  3. Will says:

    @cultural…buy David's first book, The Great Giveaway
    David, why don't you plan a funeral service for evangelicalism. I think many would attend. I would.

  4. lon says:

    I like where you're going. I'm still very uneasy about reducing anything down to a sentence – though i understand the need for definition and being concise – don't you ever feel like you're still missing something? maybe that's just me.

    Anyhow, really looking forward to the next book!

  5. Nathan says:

    Just started following this blog so I can't say I'm up on mission lingo but it seems these would be the general answers for me.
    1.) How does God Reveal Himself? God reveals herself in scripture, in and through us, and in and through others. (Herself is just to be ornery)

    2.) What is the gospel? It's love incarnate

    3.) Where is the Kingdom? It's near…

    Peace,
    Nathan

  6. hollidaysjohn says:

    Do you know if or when your new book will be available in the UK?

  7. tommyab says:

    sounds very interesting

  8. David Fitch says:

    To Gordon G … I expect the lectures will be available for download at Ambrose's website. If they allow, I might post them here, or at Northern's site.
    On the questions concerning the book's availability, I'll be posting its arrival, with some free samplings on this web. It will be available at Cascade's website as well as Amazon etc…

  9. Greg says:

    David,

    Thanks for the post. The idea of us being defensive in our posture stoked my Super Bowl saturated brain. I took your idea and added some football related analogies to it to delve into it a bit more.
    http://holinessreeducation.com/2011/02/03/going-o

    Thanks for the thoughts. I can't wait for the book. Will it be in Kindle form?

  10. Alan Cross says:

    My systematic theology in seminary was taught by Dr. Stanley Nelson at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. He used a Believer's Church theology and he walked us through the history of the church to show us how different theological positions developed. Then, we compared them with scripture and what the church thought about the issues throughout its history. What I learned from that is that much of our theology developed as a reaction to an actual or perceived attack. Usually, when you are reacting against something, you are only seeing part of the issue – the part under assault. So, much of our theological perspective is limited by the debate that formed it – unless, you recognize the argument. Then, he would lead us through history and Scripture up to the present day so that we could see a broader perspective. He placed himself in the Anabaptist tradition and we read guys like Hauerwas and Willimon and their critique of Constantinian Christianity. I was in one of Dr. Nelson's last classes before he retired, but his perspective really shaped me.

  11. Alan Cross says:

    I say all that (had to break this up into 2 comments – what is this, Facebook?) because I learned from him that when you engage in reactionary theology, you usually end up in some kind of error. And, I think we do it all the time. We can even do it as we pursue a missional expression of the church. If we are reacting against the contemporary church or the seeker church or the post-Christian culture, we will end up with major blindspots. But, if we can see that God is introducing His Kingdom into the world and we are to respond to what He is doing, then we will have a positive theology instead of a reactionary one. Deconstruction and critique is helpful when you are breaking free from something, but you can't stay there. God is the lifegiver and He is positively acting upon the world. The best theology finds its impetus in that reality, in my opinion.

    It sounds like that is the direction of your book and I look forward to reading it. That perspective is rare.

  12. David,

    Thank you for these thoughts. I've been off the blog-grid for a minute and now catching up to alot of things you have been writing. I have to say that I'm overjoyed by your words here. What you have written here lets me know that I'm not going crazy. Our community, Mission House in Salisbury, NC, Have been plugging our way through the gospels asking ourselves these same questions. We are now reading the gospel of Mark and currently asking ourselves, as we hold our community before us in prayer and loving service, this question: what is the gospel for our neighborhood? And the livable answers have been amazing as we continue to live into the gospel story for our community. Keep writing bro. You are an awesome for folks in the trenches. Thank you.

    Ant

  13. len says:

    How does God reveal Godself? In and through Jesus, and in and through the church as a new social reality, a sign, foretaste and servant of the kingdom. I love William Cavanaugh's shorthand – "we are God's body language." And none of this to divorce the Spirit from the Word.

  14. David Fitch says:

    Anthony … good to hear from you … and blessings on your labors … We're studying through Mark ourselves at our community … we've found Boring's commentary a big help in seeing the revealing of Jesus and His Kingdom that mark is leading us into …
    Blessings … and Len … Bill Cavanagh .. good stuff ..
    DF

  15. David says:

    Without trying to offend, this view of evangelicalism seems rather narrow… which makes the rest of the conversation seem like a swing in the wind. It is almost like these 3 points of evangelicalism were fabricated in order to offer an alternative. Yet, the workable truth probably lands between the two extremes that have been submitted. But then, the true church throughout history usually lands in the middle of the extremes.

  16. David Fitch says:

    David, for sure this short post is open to your charge (this is a narrow version of evangelicalism) … this is the continuous debate as to what is evangelicalism. I defend this version historically based in Bebbington, Noll etc. in the book … thanks for the comment.

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David Fitch
Betty R. Lindner Professor of Theology
Northern Seminary
DMin in Missional Leadership
Prodigal Christianity
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