When We Form Our Lives Around What We Are Against – Announcing “The End of Evangelicalism?”

The Idea of an Empty Politic and Evangelicalism

Most of us know the feeling of exhilaration when we are part of a large group united against a common enemy. There’s a certain energy elicited. This was evident for instance in United States after 9-11. All of a sudden, after the terrorist attacks on NY, all of America put aside our differences and united against our common enemy. It was exhilarating. There was a certain “high” we felt as we all had something to live for. It is always easier to unite a community around a common enemy than cultivate goals we will work together for through whatever the future may bring. I’m not saying this to criticize the country’s political reaction to 9-11. I’m just illustrating a fact of politics – it’s incredibly easy to organize a people against a common enemy.

This dynamic however has a shelf life. We cannot lead a community this way without constantly keeping the threat of the enemy preeminent. If we somehow don’t have enemies then we must invent them or else the community will fall apart. This kind of politic works off an antagonistic energy which eventually devours itself. The continual enmity is fatiguing. It does not give life. This way of organizing life together is what I call an “empty politic.” It has nothing at its core to hold us together. We are held together NOT by who we are or what we are for but by what we are against.

American politics is full of this dynamic. I fear in these last few decades that evangelicalism is showing signs of behaving in these same ways. I fear the church of my upbringing, the church that I love – evangelicalism – has become “an empty politic.” As a result our very way of life in Christ is threatened.

In my new book, the End of Evangelicalism?, I explore how evangelicalism has morphed into an “empty politic.” I try to show, through the work of a political cultural theorist Slavoj Žižek, how this is killing us. I propose that we need to return to a life together “in Christ” where He is at the center. Our life together (i.e. our politic) needs to return to a simple participation in the life of Christ and the Triune work of God in the world.

I believe that local churches are shaped by theology and practice. We are shaped by what we believe about the gospel, the kingdom and how God reveals Himself and the ways we practice these beliefs together. Yet often we have taught our beliefs and practiced them as the means to differentiate ourselves from those who don’t believe. We learn our theology by who(or what) we are against. And so strangely, we define ourselves over against “the liberals,” or “the gay or lesbian communities” or “those who seek to bring down our culture – the Christian Nation.” We end up separating ourselves from the world making enemies instead of living our lives together for the world in God’s Mission.

I contend we need to articulate these same beliefs and practices so that we are gathered into and out of our relationship with God through the Son. For in Him our life together becomes full and overflowing with His life for the world. We become a “politic of fullness.” We are created anew as a people “for the world” participating in His mission. This I call a politic of fullness after Ephesians 4:13. Here we gather seeking  “the unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” This is what The End of Evangelicalism? is about.

Are you prepared to lead a community theologically into a way of life together that gives God’s life to the world?

In your hands is one of the sharpest and informed evaluations of the state of evangelicalism. Read it slowly. Ponder it. Plot a better evangelicalism.

Scot McKnight



I’m pleased to announce the early release of End of Evangelicalism

I hope my book The End of Evangelicalism? Discerning a New Faithfulness for Mission helps lay the groundwork for leading a church theologically into the life “in Christ” for the world: what I describe as “a politic of fullness.” Here’s the book’s webpage. You’ll find a free pdf download of the introduction. The book is not for the faint of heart. It is not a book written specifically for a popular audience. I worked at making the material accessible! Nonetheless there’s some intense political theory in this book alongside some intense theology. I’m just being honest!! So read the introduction before you buy the book. You’ll get an idea from the intro as to whether this book is for you. You’ll find on the webpage we’re offering it for the first 100 days here at a 40% discount. You’ll find updated reviews on the webpage as they come in. You’ll find blurbs like the one Scot McKnight offers above. If you’re interested in reviewing the book, and you have a blog that gets decent traffic, I have a limited number of free copies to be sent out by publisher for review. Let me know!

As always, I’m open for comments on what I’m putting forth here. Let me know if you connect with the issue of this book. In the meantime, I pray this book serves the Kingdom God is bringing in. Check out the page!! It will be updated often. and thanks for being a regular visitor to this blog!


Posted in End of Evangelicalism?, Evangelicalism, Missional Theology
7 comments on “When We Form Our Lives Around What We Are Against – Announcing “The End of Evangelicalism?”
  1. david says:

    Looking forward to engaging it. I'm planning on blogging through it as I read.

    I have to say, that i was let down at the ambrose lectures. Ending with cautions against other popular voices in this post-evangelical world didn't seem to be the best way forward. I would have preferred to have the night end with your re-imagining a better way forward (which i feel you rushed through in order to get to the warnings)

    looking forward to engaging!

    • David Fitch says:

      It just shows how much of a conservative right wing evangelical I really am eh? No, I think I did rush that 2nd lecture … but I always think I got something accomplished when both sides find things to disagree with (as the questions after the lecture revealed)

      Blessings!!! look forward to your thoughts!

  2. andrewsporch says:

    My soul resounds with a hearty Amen David. Can't wait to read it… Thanks for all you do.

  3. Robert Martin says:

    I have an Eastern Orthodox friend who posted something not that long ago about Protestantism in the US… that the very concept of protesting against something that never existed in the US is something that is tearing the church apart in our context. It sounds to me like you're making the same observation… our history comes from protesting against establishment churches…but in the US we don't really HAVE that and so we look for other enemies and end up turning on ourselves.

    Even my "home" tradition of Mennonites has gone that route. From the beginning, Anabaptism wasn't as much about protesting "against" as much as living for Christ. But in recent decades I hear a lot of stuff from my denomination about being "against" American imperialism, against war, against injustice… And not a lot about what we're living for… Sure, the belief is still there… but we don't speak it… and when we don't speak it, we don't live it….

  4. Rick Cruse says:

    Open systems versus closed. Some ranchers keep track of their stock by building fences, others – in bigger and harsher contexts – do the same thing by digging wells, no fence needed. Cows go to water when they get thirsty. Have we built evangelical fences because we've never truly experienced Jesus as living water and/or because we've never truly been thirsty?

    • This looks a LOT like some of the same language and imagery that Greg Boyd uses… Calling churches to view Christ as the center with people on a journey/trajectory towards Christ versus creating boundaries to define who is "in" and who is "out". Thanks for this great analogy!

  5. Just received my copy today. Reading your introduction I see a similarity between your account of Zizek on "empty politic" and MacIntyre's "fragment" account of morality in After Virtue. Since MacIntyre's account spurred me in my own work, I think I'll need to consider Zizek.

    Also, coincidentally, my latest blog post dealt with the issue of "resistance to assimilation" by the Pharisees and the Evangelical tradition. Though inspired by a comment on W.R. Ward, I think it goes the same direction you are.

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  1. [...] Bell’s Love Wins has contributed to a renewed interest in theories regarding the break-up / end / split / erosion / crack-up of evangelicalism. The links I just provided are merely the latest [...]

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