Faithful Presence: Hunter, Fitch and Being Church

In his significant, ironically entitled work, To Change the World, James Davison Hunter offers the following diagnosis of the current cultural moment in which the church finds itself in the United States:

“The problem for Christians—to restate the broader issue once more—is not that their faith is weak or inadequate.  In contemporary America, Christians have faith in God and, by and large, they believe and hold fast to the central truths of the Christian tradition.  But while they have faith, they have also been formed by the larger post-Christian culture, a culture whose habits of life less and less resemble anything like the vision of human flourishing provided by the life of Christ and witness of scripture.  The problem, in other words, is that Christians have not been formed ‘in all wisdom’ that they might rise to the demands of faithfulness in such a time as ours, ‘bearing fruit in every good work.’”1

The church must, Davison insists, discover a proper post-Constantinian way of engaging the world that neither seeks to impose its agenda upon others (as has been the approach of both the Christian Right and the Christian Left), nor is negatively defined by its reaction against Constantinianism (as Davison suggests is the case with the neo-Anabaptists).2  In other words, the church must abandon its attempts to “change the world” and give itself over to the shaping of an embodied and corporate way of life that allows for the church to exercise a ministry of faithful presence amidst its current cultural exile.

In his new book, Faithful Presence: Seven Disciples that Shape the Church for Mission, missional practitioner and theologian David Fitch attempts to supplement Hunter’s account by providing a thickened presentation of practices that form a people who are capable of being faithfully present in the world.3  While the intent of Fitch’s book is to respond to the challenge posed by Hunter, in terms of content it could be considered to resemble a cross between John Howard Yoder’s Body Politics: Five Practices of the Christian Community Before the Watching World and Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives.  Fitch also draws upon his wealth of experience as a pastor to present a compelling vision of the church alive and attentive to the presence of the risen Lord in its midst and therefore enabled and empowered to discern the presence of the risen Lord in the world.  While Fitch is certainly advancing a significant and worthwhile theological argument, this is not a book simply for theological specialists.  Rather, it is for the whole people of God.  Pastors, church planters, small group leaders, elders, deacons, in short, anyone who has an investment in the life and mission of the local church could profit from engaging with Faithful Presence.

For those in the Toronto-area, David Fitch will be the keynote speaker at an upcoming conference at Bayview Glen Alliance Church entitled “Kingdom Come: Awakening to a Gospel-Centred Life” on November 11 and 12.  I will also be leading a breakout at the conference entitled, “‘It’s the End of the World as We Know It’: Paul, the Kingdom, and Living between the Times.”  You can find more information about the conference here.

  1. James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 227.
  2. I have my doubts as to whether the “neo-Anabaptists” are nearly as uniform a group as Davison suggests.  Furthermore, his reading of Stanley Hauerwas, whom he groups with the Anabaptists, seems rather caricatured.
  3. David E. Fitch, Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines that Shape the Church for Mission (Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2016.)

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