Friday, April 17, 2020
Book Reveiw of The Church of Us vs. Them by David E. Fitch
The Church of Us vs. Them: Freedom from a Faith that Feeds on Making Enemies
by David E. Fitch
Reviewed by Clint Walker
Stanley Haurwas is quoted as saying, "I say I’m a pacifist because I am a violent son of a bitch." It is one of my favorite quotes from the highly quotable Hauerwas, and it is even better if it is quoted in its larger context. What he is saying, as I read it, is that the strongest core of his theological convictions are the truths that challenge and convict him the most, and call him into a deeper journey of Christlikeness.
I think if a person caught David Fitch in a candid moment, perhaps while drinking some wine and smoking cigars and swapping stories about fellow practicioners in the missional church movement, he might say something similar to Haurwas as it pertains to the content of The Church of Us vs. Them. Having spent his formative years in the Canadian industrial town of Hamilton, Ontario, Fitch's earthy vocabulary paired with his wiry physique reflect the scrappy nature of that blue-collar town. This book is a more accessible explanation of his thesis in The End of Evangelicalism? where Fitch challenges his readers to not get drawn in to the ideological antagonism that permeates both our political lives and our ecclesiastical enclaves. In both teaching and living these truths, it becomes easy to see how Fitch's naturally contentious temprament is mitigated by his conviction that God calls us to reconciliation and to embody God's gracious presence.
The Church of Us vs. Them calls us to a place beyond making enemies by making its readers aware of how ideology functions. Drawing closely upon the philosophical work of Slavoj Zizek, he presents examples of how groups of people lift up symbols, place upon those symbols their tribalistic ideology in such a way to where the object being argued over becomes emptied of its original meaning through how it is weaponized in social discourse.
One example Fitch used to make his point about enemy making and moving beyond enemy making is how we use the language of being "biblical". For most of church history, with some notable exceptions, the authority of Scripture could be assumed. As our culture has changed, and people's assumptions about truth have changed, Christian leaders have weaponized their understanding of Scripture of authority to create groups of "insiders" and "outsiders".
This is not the only way that the church resorts to idealogical tribalism. There are a number of practices and symbols that should unite believers that have been transformed by Christians, especially those seeking power, to create an "us" vs. "them" divisions among neighbors, friends, and siblings in Christ.
The position of this book is that we need to step aside from the antagonisms that divide Christian believers and neighbors by getting to know each other, listen to each other, and love one another by being present with each other and truly listening and understanding God and each other together. It is a lot harder to call someone an enemy when you have shared your table with them, and they have helped you reconstruct your deck after last windstorm blew over part of your tree on it.
I recommend this book highly. Even though it is a "dumbed down" version of another book, it is still challenging to both understand and apply the call that The Church of Us vs Them sets before us. It is not an easy promting from Fitch toward a deeper journey of discipleship, but it is an important one.
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