01 May 2013

Book Review: Prodigal Christianity by Fitch & Holsclaw

As a missional practioner, I am always looking for help, real help. Pioneering communities in a very Post-Christian context is a daunting task. What I'm not looking for is the commodity of Missional. So I was deeply delighted to discover that this book was anything but a "product".  Prodigal Christianity by David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw is saturated in their tangible work of forging ahead and beyond the exhausted conservative, liberal, and even emergent brands of Christianity.  

In this context where old lines are blurred and new challenges are being posed, its hard to orient your whereabouts. I continually ask these questions on my search “Has anyone else been here before?” “Can this be done?” “Is there a way forward?”.  Prodigal Christianity seems to be listening in on my haunting questions and humbly submits keen responses. At the heart of Prodigal Christianity is a deep wrestling with how to be the missional presence of Jesus as the last vestiges of Christendom's influence crumble. This is no easy task and David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw do not give simple steps.  Instead they give signposts that are drenched in their own pastoral practice. These signposts point beyond worn paths and attempt to contour a new one. Even though there is a freshness to their “Signposts” the authors do not claim to have discovered the next new thing. Hovering over this book are their gleanings from the Anabaptist expression. These are crazy times and much of the political polarization and religious institutionalism we now face are not all together new. Sometimes we need to dig deep into our past to make out the future. I don’t want to get all epic on you but this book potentially could be considered a Missional-Anabaptist Magnum Opus, if there is such a possibility.  
On the outset what I love the most about this work is it’s accessibility. In many ways I sense the missional conversation is a bit bottle-necked by its desire for academic credibility. Prodigal Christianity is not academically weak by any stretch but it is certainly written to move us beyond the ruminating space of our minds. The book feels like you're walking through the streets of a Post-Christian city and along the way you begin to gather up all kinds of contextual questions. Fitch and Holsclaw gradually assemble Ten Signposts to cause us to pause, look around, discern, converse and then step into the future. Those Ten signposts are: Post-Christendom, Missio Dei, Incarnation, Witness, Scripture, Gospel, Church, Sexuality, Justice and the Good News.  For as systematic as the table of contents appear, the book reads like an engaging conversation through this strange new world.

The New World
Post-Christianity is the best place to start when talking about the missional frontier. Much has been pontificated on about Post-Christendom, but in the introduction and first chapter Post-Christendom is explored through the lens of their own journeys as missionary pastors in the West. This is important. Post-Christianity is felt. It is not just a study of social anthropology. Something is very different on the ground. When I speak of Post-Christendom I often get “yeah whatever” but when I talk about how it smashes up against my real ongoing life people begin to say “hey I’ve felt that too”. Fitch and Holsclaw do not take a combative approach to the reality that “God is fading in the social conscience”. They apply a gracious discipline to navigating through the clutter.  Some of the primary clutter is the shrapnel from the neo-reformed/conservative movement and the emergent/progressive/postmodern movement. This takes serious carefulness to address these passionate tribes. It is unavoidable, but along the way they do step on some landmines.  Opening up the comparisons and labels however, is necessary for understanding the story we are in.  My own journey through these encampments was foundational for picking up needed items but eventually I realized they were not substantial enough for me to live on.  Prodigal Christianity provides a template for a more nourishing means beyond.

My favorite signpost out of the ten is the Missio Dei. I personally bump into the sentiments in this chapter the most regularly. Fitch and Holsclaw push to the surface the lack of consensus on what the word god means. They do not ignore that the air is thick with communication that "God seems to repress intellectual growth and that God has been used to guilt people into medieval moralism". They are sympathetic to these thoughts. As is the rhythm of every chapter, they explore what the more conservative responses have been, then the more progressive responses and then they work through a more discerning remedy that moves beyond the left or the right. 

I could certainty do a blog-post on each signpost in Prodigal Christianity which would make David Fitch and Geoff Holscaw very happy, but I won’t because I get bored easily.  Anyhow this book is a gentle but searing way forward for those who love the church.  For those who have experienced discomfort with the fundamentalism projected from both conservatives and progressives, this book will draw you in. When facing pluralism, our poverty stricken neighborhoods, the political heat of sexuality we need to find some sense of bearings in our missional immersion. Don’t be fooled, this Prodigal way is not a four lane highway. Over the years I’ve known it to be marginal and full of tension. Working my way through the book, for as breath-taking as it is at points, it also feels a bit frightening. Frightening in the sense of; who on earth wants to be misunderstood so violently as they move past entrenched Liberalism and Conservatism? That's why I think the authors are onto something significant. 

We need to be rigorous about gathering discernment as we inhabit our neighborhoods. One of the treasured items I would toss into my backpack would be Prodigal Christianity. In many conversations, pastors ask me for a book that describes the Missional-Anabaptist expression. Well, I’ve already handed out a few copies so I think I found my answer. 

Purchase the book here> Prodigal Christianity

1 comment:

  1. "who on earth wants to be misunderstood so violently as they move past entrenched Liberalism and Conservatism?"

    Yikes! Caught my attention in a big way! I keep hearing that I need to read this book...