Thursday, December 5, 2013

David Fitch "Christian Nation"

Here is the chapter on the "Christian Nation" from Dave Fitch's book The End of Evangelicalism?

He is focusing on the problem of the merger of Evangelical faith with political ideology. The idea of a Christian Nation is one of the "master signifiers," in his view, that serves as a unifying symbol for the conservative Evangelical political ideology. (Fitch is theologically conservative). His overall point is that by tying Evangelical faith to a political ideology (and even a  political party) which is now in trouble in the public sphere, as the ideology falls on hard times, Evangelical faith falls with it. Especially among the emerging generation of young adults.

I hope this does not sound too harsh, but this particular issue reminds of Jesus' words in Matthew 23:


13 “I’ve had it with you! You’re hopeless, you religion scholars, you Pharisees! Frauds! Your lives are roadblocks to God’s kingdom. You refuse to enter, and won’t let anyone else in either.
(emphasis mine)
If you would rather download the PDF file and read it, you can access it on my Scrbd account


  1. Thanks, Joseph, for posting this. Here are some thoughts.

    I agree with many of his main points, but feel that he sometimes takes his arguments too far and overgeneralizes in his judgments on American Christians.

    We are not a Christian nation. In fact, no nation can be called Christian. Christians are citizens of a heavenly kingdom, and the church is to represent that kingdom (however imperfectly) in the earth.

    However, the Bible does show us certain principles regarding how we should live, and some governments align more closely than others with some of those principles, regarding justice and righteousness.

    The problem arises when we align our Christian identity with fighting for those principles in the public square. Jesus calls us to live by those principles, and by His Spirit, not to fight with others over them.

    I agree with much that he says about "evangelical capitalism." Capitalism is not a Christian system. I think he takes it too far, however, in his criticism of the generosity of American Christians. The fact that Americans give more to charity than any other nations is, I believe, a work of the grace of God, even if some of that giving is imperfectly utilized and some is given for impure motives. Yes, Christians can use their giving, as Fitch says, to insulate themselves from the poor. But God has also placed various gifts within the body of Christ, including both giving and mercy, and those gifts can function together to accomplish God's purpose in the earth.

    So, I agree with his main point that the Christian witness of the church has been hurt by aligning the church with a political platform and focusing too much of our energy on fighting for laws that we agree with. But I think his zeal for that point causes him to paint some very broad-brush judgments on the church in America.

    I acknowledge, in saying these things, that we do not easily see how much we have been influenced in our thinking by our surrounding culture. But my intent is to bring some balance to his commentary.


  2. Great comments Dan! It is possible that you might see his argument in a slightly different light if you had a chance to read his explanatory introduction or the other chapters, but yes, he may be pressing his argument too far. I need to let the rest of the gang know that I created this new post and that you have commented. Thanks for taking the time to read it.

  3. I haven't read the book, so am responding to the general conversation, and to Dan and Joe's comments above. One can't sell too many books by proposing a balanced, careful, well-modulated, this-is-really-complex kind of approach. Something controversial and inflammatory is always better. This is harsher than I intend (esp. since I haven't read Fitch)--my point is that it just ain't easy for us to agree on what might constitute a truly "Biblical" economic or political structure. Capitalism both raises millions from poverty, and plunges other millions into it; is socialism a better answer? Is the church's primary job to articulate that fully "Biblical approach to economics," or to call to account whatever economic system we find ourselves in to account before the Lord? Even Israel at its best/highest (and when would that be: David? Solomon? Josiah? Moses? Samuel?) never found itself outside prophetic rebuke and critique. As Churchill said about democracy, when it comes to economics, capitalism is the worst of the options--until you consider all the others. It might be that the Scripture wasn't given to us in order to give us the one, perfect, true political or economic way of doing things. Scripture can well speak authoritatively to all of life without needing to present a one-size-fits-all-cultures approach to questions of politics, economics, etc.

  4. Yup. I know that my comments above were based just on reading one chapter of Fitch's work -- and a pretty quick read, at that. I've noticed that he's written a more recent book called "Prodigal Christianity" that seems to focus more on proposing a way forward, rather than critiquing the church. Sounds interesting...

  5. I just want to clarify from his intro chapter, that he is careful to affirm that his desire is not to critique the church. His intention is to analyze a specific political ideology that has been adopted by a portion of the church that he himself is part of, namely, the Evangelical church. He feels that by tying its wagon to a political ideology, Evangelicals will fall or rise with that ideology, and currently they are falling.
    I might have to reread the chapter to remember what Dan is referring about capitalism, but based on vague recollection, I think he was pointing the difference between charity and structural reform in a way similar to giving a man a fish, versus teaching him to fish, but do not hold me to that. I have it on kindle and will go back and take another look at it.

  6. The history at the beginning of the chapter is interesting. And I heartily agree with some of his statements about George W. Bush's presidency. Though I supported Bush, I was very concerned about the themes of his second inaugural address, where he spoke of the US bringing the light of democracy to the world. To me, that is a faulty mission -- wrongly conceived and doomed to failure. And it certainly smacks of empire to the rest of the world. And, as Fitch points out, his language (and other aspects of his presidency) link those statements to our society's perceptions of the Evangelical Church.

  7. I have not read Fitch nor this chapter, but my concern for some time has been (and I echo the comment about Bush's ideology of democracy being messianic) that the U.S. generally assumes that our form of democracy and capitalism is a wonderful panacea that we generously impose, uh, offer the rest to the world. It makes me wonder if we are even looking at the state of affairs of our own political and economical system. I would not wish what we have on others...unless in the sense of the Winston Churchill comment Brian referenced. Here at home the issue of becoming political, distinguished from being prophetic influencers, has been a danger since the Moral Majority days and continues to become more deeply entrenched. It seems to me that it is not only happening on the right with politically conservative Evangelicals identifying with Republicans. There seems to be a pretty strong current of "progressive" evangelicals, perhaps more quietly, supporting the Democrats.

  8. ideology of messianic democracy...

  9. I'm a reader of First Things magazine (RJ Neuhaus, founder; a generally conservative Catholic perspective, but amazing what turns up in their pages). Their editor, RR Reno, contends that, despite all the flaws and shortcomings of hitching its wagon to the Republican star, believing Christians (Catholics) don't have much choice in the current political landscape. To support the Dems is to support a whole bunch of things that we shouldn't be supporting. I only mention this as a counterpoint to Fitch's entirely reasonable critique of Evangelicalism being too deeply allied with one party: where else are we to go?
    Of course, it looks increasingly like the Repubs are becoming more and more similar to the Dems anyway--US politics always tends toward "the middle" even though that middle proves to be a constantly moving target.

  10. really? You think that U.S. politics is tending toward the middle? That has not been my observation. It seems that the two parties are moving apart toward the extremes ... I will need to read Reno. I have enjoyed some of his past articles, but this one sounds like it has some ethical bias in it. Of course, if one's moral and ethical system is built around tradition, family values and sexual restraint, one would lean toward the Repubs. However, one could be also Christian and give greater priority to social justice, equality and concern for poverty, which are also strongly biblical themes, and find that one has no other option but to support the Dems. In fact, I have Christian friends who feel just exactly like that. They wonder how any true Christian could ever bow the knee to the god of Mammon (read Wall St.) and be a Republican.

    I will read Reno's article.

  11. What about the abortion issue? That's where I hang up regarding the Christian left's or progressives' indentification with the Dems. Another irony is that statistics show that dems give a much smaller % of their income to charity than do repubs

  12. Issues of social justice and equality are perceived differently by different people, depending on their world view, upbringing, experience, etc. A watershed issue for many Christians, including Catholics, is abortion, as John Meadows has mentioned. If you see an embryo as a living person, then justice and equality for that person means not aborting him or her.

    The trend in our society is toward seeing social justice and equality as a matter of the government stepping in to redistribute wealth (and creating large bureaucracies to do so). This has been Democratic policy for a long time, and the Republicans are trending that way, too, which is one area that Brian may be referring to in pointing to similarities among the parties.

    Others believe that issues of poverty can be helped much more by other parts of society, rather than government -- by individuals and organizations, such as churches. These require less bureaucracy and more relational involvement.

    The original intent (supposedly) of government involvement was to provide a safety net for those who had no other way to survive. Now, we have a complex bureaucracy with so many overlapping programs (and so much waste) that no one can even track it all.

    The perception of the Republican Party as linked to big business and, therefore, money has some historical validity, but today there is certainly just as much money influence behind the Democratic Party. I think that the media (which is overwhelmingly Democratic) has helped to maintain that perception.

    I'm not defending the Republican Party as a whole. Much of the drama on both sides seems to be mostly about power, rather than about truth and justice. But many of those who vote Republican do so not to bow to Mammon but for the reasons I've mentioned above.

  13. yes, I understand your point and agree with it Dan (and with John). We could analyze both parties positions to see which platform we identify with more. But I think what Fitch is getting at is something more specific than whether Republicans have a more suitable and scripture set of positions than the other party.
    His concern is that conservatives evangelicals have developed a "political ideology" in the name of faith, with causes them to overwhelmingly identify with one particular party. The problem is that this political ideology is often mistaken for an issue of faith.
    Perhaps that one chapter does not do justice to his line of thinking. In the book, he is careful to clarify that having a "Christian" left-leaning or liberal ideology is just a problematic as the conservative ideology, but it represents a much smaller percentage of evangelicals. Confusing ideology with faith is problematic in either direction, Left or Right.
    I hope that is help for our discussion .... is anyone else reading along? Check in and say "hi" so we know you are lurking .... :-)

    1. Yes, we had wandered off from the original focus of the post. I was responding to your earlier comment about the differing perspectives.

      The issue of identifying what is essential to the faith and what is not has caused problems for centuries.

  14. The confession that "Jesus is Lord!" must address both abortion and poverty, both marriage and militarism, both sexuality and hunger. Jim Wallis of Sojourners has been attempting to do this, but still sounds (to me) like a typical progressive offering some lip service to conservative concerns. But I think he's trying for a more comprehensive posture, one that seeks to break out of the traditional conservative/liberal split. Is abortion a more fundamental issue than poverty (conservatives Yes, liberals No). We should also look at issues/areas, often unacknowledged, where libs and cons actually agree in ways that show that each/both are actually complicit with the same principalities: consumerism might be such an area.

    Jospeh, to your point questioning whether US politics tneds to happen "in the middle," I would say that, over the longer haul, that is typically what happens, but we are clearly currently in a time of great polarization. The longer-term resolution will likely not be that one side or the other "wins," but that both sides eventually meet somewhere in the vast, muddled middle. Of course, that middle does tend to move over time: the "middle" in 1813 looks very different from the "middle" of 1913 or 2013.

  15. i think there are more basic things at stake than the tenor of this argument, which is why i've refrained from entering. i think a general question would be, given that justice is an aspect of righteousness, and that the self-assured heart is far from god's--can an american be a christian?
    or is the eye of the needle just too small?

    what's at stake in our fucked up world is so much more profound than a right and left issue--and looking at the world through right and left diculturalism, if you will, is a distraction from the fundamental issues of justice vs. evil that pervade.

    american christians are overwhelmingly as american as they are christian, and so can an american be a just individual? can an american abstract their mind from the wealth of propaganda that's been our daily bread and see why our global and historical neighbors think american exceptionalism is murder-apologetics, or see why our neighbors understand our national wealth to come at the expense of slave labor globally, or why our neighbors see our acceptance of status quo as mercilessness?
    can americans see any of that, or do they just talk about embryo status and corporate gains tax? an american tends to be, in terms of global, historical consciousness, irrelevant, to say nothing of the lack of moral awareness of the system of which we are a part, and what role our national attitudes play in it.

    can a person so luxuriously clueless have a part in god's struggle for justice, the divine struggle of being close to the lowly? (i think yes but i'm lawlessly interested in compassion)
    my point is you argue about the wrong things, because you listen to the wrong people.
    there is safety in a multitude of counselors, so go ask the prisoners at guantanamo bay or peasants in pakistan or afghanistan what they think about global power and justice, and also ask them where god resides, and realize that god is speaking through their answers. be humbled and cry, realize we've been born into the evil side of history and power, and realize that the innocent blood that's on the hands of american-ness is incalculable.

    we need to ask for new eyes to see and new ears to hear. we need to beat our chests--about our political views, included--and, not even having the courage to look up to heaven, say, lord have mercy on me a sinner.

    i don't have a suggested solution, either, just wanted to contribute a broadening of the topic of concern. there are, to me, fundamental questions about whether, for example, capitalism can be just, or if it can be congruent with a christian lifestyle, but what's difficult about having that discussion with americans is that, because media arose quite intentionally out of the need to produce consent in order for a democracy to still be direct-able, there are views about capitalism and 'justice' and individualism that pass for rational and humane within the united states population, that, in wider or more basic contexts, would be seen as compassion-less nonsense.

    which brings me back to my initial point. given that your average american christian can't even progress very far down this conversation, because s/he is american, (which tends to have as necessary parts of its equation a commitment to the liberal model and the idea that it's produced reasonably good things historically and globally) i'm not sure how possible christianity can be, then.
    what's always needed at such points of contention and halt, then, and i'm sure we all agree, is profound repentance, a breaking of the heart. it seems to be the one thing capable of some undoing. garments rent, boats burned, a heap of tears on the shore.
    and can americans do that? sometimes. and every idol will have its testing. but a practical truth might be that those in power, americans for example, aren't use to such humiliating acts, and so might qualify them or delineate their reach. let's hope for otherwise.
    to the god of fire.

    1. Just catching up on my reading and saw this. Really thought-provoking, guys. Thanks!

      "Can an American be a Christian?"