David Fitch / Geoff Holsclaw – Prodigal Christianity [Feature Review]

May 24, 2013

 

[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”1118203267″ locale=”us” height=”110″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51C8Gjes%2BxL._SL110_.jpg” width=”74″]Page 3: David Fitch / Geoff Holsclaw – Prodigal Christianity

 
 

But there is a further problem in making the church as the extension of the incarnation the cornerstone for understanding mission—there is one way in particular that “we” are not like Jesus: unlike the rest of us, Jesus requires no transformation. One of the most salient features of Prodigal Christianity is the concept of mutual transformation. It is the idea that each of us meets one another on a level playing field, because we can trust that God is always already at work in our lives and in the lives of those we encounter. Thus, we have no need to approach relationships with predetermined outcomes in mind, for we can receive the other with an open hand and open mind, willing to be transformed through that encounter, together. This kind of mutual transformation is not something that can be (easily) attributed to Jesus, however, since the transformation we find in Christ is not mutual, but wholly unilateral. In so closely aligning the work of the church with the extension of the incarnation, this key difference can be (and in this case is) lost. Failure to properly differentiate between Jesus and his church results in a church that not only extends Jesus, but also extends this same unilateral power to transform. This has tragic consequences.

 

Throughout the book Fitch and Holsclaw highlight how we can serve the poor through friendship rather than programs. While this is a helpful move in the right direction, it fails to go all the way down to a place of real mutuality. Never do they write about solidarity with the poor, nor do they discuss the ways such friendships call their own social location as middle-class white men into question. In fact, they fail to provide any concrete examples of the ways the poor might be agents of transformation for the church at all. Mutual transformation, it appears, only goes one way. In the most egregious example, they write, “God works for his righteousness through everyday relationships. The person who has slept in her car for three years learns how to work, think about a home, and think about relationships by being with people who do these things in everyday life. And when we who have jobs let hurting people into our lives, we see things about everyday life we never would have seen apart from these friends. It’s a mutual relationship” (141). If the church is Jesus extended, then it makes sense that the poor are saved by becoming like those already within the church. In this case, the kingdom breaks in as a homeless woman is assimilated into the culture of the middle-class.

 

The poor, though, are not the only ones to benefit from such prodigality. Fitch and Holsclaw also devote a chapter to exploring how such mutual transformation brings renewal to matters of sexuality. In a video they posted to Facebook, Fitch noted that this chapter (“Prodigal Relationships”) is the most important in the book. I assume this is because chapter 8 is where they understand themselves to have very clearly surpassed the positions of Neo-Reformers and Emergents. Here they articulate a vision for redeeming sexual brokenness through a posture that is both welcoming and mutually transforming. This posture moves beyond seeing sexual issues from a distance, toward a commitment “to love another, listen to one another, and submit to one another through the work of the Spirit and the word of the Scriptures” (122). It is prodigal as it begins from a place where none of wear labels because each is broken; therefore, we gather to discern God’s voice as we learn to become friends, realizing that we are all called to something bigger than our sexuality: “This kind of ‘welcoming and mutually transforming’ space . . . will be marked by the way we live humbly and hospitably among all people, including LGBTQ people. Once we are ‘with’ people, we can invite those seeking sexual redemption to join us in repentance and renewal of all desire (not just sexual ones)” (124).

 

This is a very promising approach to dealing holistically with the pressing sexual issues of our day. But if you’ve been paying attention, you should be suspicious that what you see is not what you get. Once again, mutual transformation turns out to be code for the unilateral movement of “you becoming like me.” As the chapter progresses, Fitch and Holsclaw reveal that the mutual transformation of sexual brokenness is limited to “deep patterns of behavioral abuse, patterns of objectifying and being objectified, pedophilia, and pornography” (126). In other words, though we’re not all that interested in being transformed by your LGBTQ-ness, we’d be happy for you to help us not watch porn. In the context of Prodigal Christianity, talking about sexual brokenness becomes a way not to talk about same-sex relationships. In fact, they make this point explicit: “This is not a heterosexual or an LGBTQ issue” (126).

 
 

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67 responses to David Fitch / Geoff Holsclaw – Prodigal Christianity [Feature Review]

  1. Reading over the review, I come away with one thing: the Christian Amondson does not believe it is possible for a Jesus follower to act as Jesus would act. Page 3 of the review spends a lot of time discussing how Christians are NOT like Jesus and, therefore, cannot truly act like Jesus.

    Additionally, the he doesn’t seem to think that Jesus can shine through a person and so sees the “incarnational” view of things as more “you becoming like me” rather than “we becoming like Christ”.

    You see, Anabaptism has a fundamental believe that yes, it IS possible for a person to live like Jesus through transformation. Fitch and Holsclaw write from that perspective.

    I think this guy doesn’t see how the witness of a life lived works in proclaiming the gospel. Seems he is too stuck on proclamation by words and critiques the anabaptist view as being a faith of works (which it is not… it is faith demonstrated through what we do).

  2. Uhh, there is no place in this review where Christian suggests not acting like Jesus. Just sayin.

    • True, he doesn’t say “don’t act like Jesus”… but he implies that the methodology presented by Fitch and Holsclaw is impossible because Jesus didn’t need to be transformed, we do. So, inevitably, the methodology presented will fail.

      That is a standard critique of the Anabaptist witness of “faithful presence”, of living out a Jesus centered life, integrating (incarnating) with others, and by doing so transforming the world around us while we, too, are being transformed.

      So… you are correct, he doesn’t say that… and I didn’t say he said that. But the implication of the critique given is that the incarnational missiology presented is doomed to fail… and yet, I have yet to see it fail when I’ve seen it practiced faithfully.

      • He’s not saying such proposals are failing. They are quite visibly succeeding at producing happy middle class churches that aren’t substantially different from the evangelical status quo.

      • One set of examples in a book does not a pattern make. I know of other communities doing what Fitch and Holsclaw define that aren’t making nice happy middle class churches… for that matter, the context in which they are operating in Life on the Vine isn’t your standard middle class church.

        They are telling of their experiences in their context where they are….other folks following the same sign posts might incarnate differently. To incarnage into a middle-class neighborhood, you’re going to look one way… in a lower-class ghetto, differently, and so forth.

        Halden, have you read the book yet?

        You see, the book is not intended to be read as “you do these things that we are doing and you’re doing it right”… and the authors state so up front. It is more of a descriptive, “Here’s some general ideas, 10 of them, to tell you you’re going in the right direction” And none of those sign posts specifically describes being “happy middle class” but, in fact, one of them talks about being incarnational as Jesus was incarnated… to go in to a place discerned to be on God’s mission and be where they are, as they are… So… in a poor neighborhood, we wouldn’t be having big-screen TV football parties… it would look a LOT different.

      • No, I wasn’t commenting on the book as such, just on your mischaracterizations of the review.

        Have you actually read any books on anabaptism?

        Also, I really like “incarnage”. I’m gonna use that.

      • heh… bad typo.

        Oh, boy… have I read any books on Anabaptism? Oh, boy…

        I am a Mennonite. I blog at a blog titled “Abnormal Anabaptist”. I administer a website called MennoNerds and help moderate a Google+ hangout called “Anabaptist Alliance”.

        So… yeah, I guess you can say I’ve read books on Anabaptism. 😉

      • That honestly has been the best comment thread I have read in a while

        I’ve said in at least one place that I do not consider Hauerwas an Anabaptist. Neo-Anabaptist certainly. I mean by this that one does not understand Anabapism by reading Yoder I Hauerwas. Anabaptism itself is much more centered in radical communities. Neo-Anabaptists are more comfortable in their magesterial traditions with a hint of yoder in their theology.

      • disqus_dRD6Jgs2KM May 24, 2013 at 10:50 pm

        Josh, I get that Yoder and Hauerwas are not the typical Anabaptists, but is “being more comfortable in their magisterial traditions” really the best differentiation? Surely we know some folks from within Anabaptist traditions who might consider themselves “neo-Anabaptist.”

      • First, I’m tryin to not define the line between historical Anabaptists and Neo-Anabaptists. I don’t want to continue the sectarin mantra that if one is not Mennonite or Brethren he or she is not Anabaptist. At the same time I find it striking that there are people like Hauerwas who are deemed Anabaptist simply because of their bibliography but continue as Anglicans or Lutherans. Now in terms of Anabaptist self identifying as Neo-Anabaptist I tend to think they are catching something else- such as the Post-liberalism of Hauerwas.

      • Christian Amondson May 26, 2013 at 2:00 am

        I don’t know how super helpful it would be to narrow down an agreeable definition of what anabaptist is. I do tend to agree with Josh that its more about the community and how we are a body politic together in non-hierarchical and full bodies ways. That is, how we become a people together, and allow that to go all the way down. There are elements in PC that can be likened to this, but there are others, like extending the incarnation language and the focus on eucharist that strike me as much more catholic. I know the authors are very influenced by HWS and company, which is fine! But I think that HWS is not really anabaptist either. He likes to call himself a high church mennonite, but he’s really a Anglican on the way to Rome. Peter Dula had a great essay that teased these distinction out in helpful ways. Primarily to say, that HWS is really only interested in the peaceableness (pacifism for lack of a better word) that he finds with anabaptists. But ultimately is much more concerned with the “practices” and “tradition” of the high churches.

        So I would want to think that what separates an anabaptist vision is that it places true mutual transformation ahead of the practices of the church, or that it orders the practices upon those which build a community that is given to a deep and mutual abiding with one another. The table is thus secondary to the work of real reconciliation and forgiveness, which is extremely hard stuff. That is the stuff that gets you killed!

        Now, let the debates on this point ensue!

      • Christian Amondson May 26, 2013 at 2:01 am

        Is starting websites, blogs, and chat groups the same as reading books?

      • Christian Amondson May 27, 2013 at 12:46 am

        “Christian Amondson does not believe it is possible for a Jesus follower to act as Jesus would act.”
        –Robert Martin

  3. As someone who lives, writes and teaches from a place on the discipleship spectrum completely outside the entire argument that this book and the reviewer are engaging, I find this whole enterprising fascinating, in a wheel-spinning sort of way.

    I’ve, frankly, never “got” what “missional” or “emerging/emergent” are all about. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been an “evangelical” and my formation has been in Catholic/mainline Protestant writers for the most part. But so much of this argument seems simply to be trendy, postmodern, pop culture way of trying to make discipleship more fashionable in a social media world. Perhaps that’s cynical of me. But what are any of these people saying that hasn’t been dealt with by classic writers like Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day on the Catholic side, or Deitrich Bonhoffer and Martin Luther King, Jr., on the Protestant side?

    I’m willing and happy to be shown that I’m missing some essential point that all this “debate” is seeking to address.

    • I would suggest you read the indicated book then.

      I agree, there is that trendy, postmodern, pop culture in some regions of the missional conversation. But from what I’ve read so far in this book (about 2/3 done and loving it), they are trying to cut through the crap of the popculture, attractional stuff as well as avoid some of the propositional junk from other areas and to faithfully seek a way forward into the post-modern/post-Christendom world we find ourselves in. And yes, we are there… some regions of the USA more so than others but its spreading and the church (meaning the community of followers of Jesus) needs to rethink what we have been doing and what we are doing now and figure out what NEEDS to change… and yes, things do need to change in the way we are the “church” in our neighborhoods, cities, and areas…

    • Let me add that men like John Howard Yoder, Stanley HauerWas, etc., are not nearly as wide read….and that is a travesty as these men, Anabaptist in their orientation, have much to offer to the church today…

    • Christian Amondson May 24, 2013 at 4:57 pm

      Hey Wes! I think that you’re questions are spot on. It seems like an in-house semantic argument, and they would do well to try to use other interlocutors to measure themselves against if they really want to be doing something else. Robert clearly likes the book a lot, which is great. But it’s about as anabaptist a book as it is radical. Which is to say, it’s not.

  4. Let’s take each of the criticisms offered in turn:

    1. That this isn’t really different from standard Emergent fare: It seems to me that the extensive quoting the authors offer in the book gives us substantive evidence on the elements you mention, the Kingdom of God and Christology. To move from what seems like a caricature of their work in your review to actual engagement with their work, you would need to offer something more than “I’m not really sure what McClaren believes” or asking us “to imagine that Pagitt/Jones wouldn’t disagree.” Without anything more then mere conjecture to substantiate it, your points fall flat. In essence you are accusing the authors of failing to understand their interlocutors and misrepresenting them while at the same time in actuality committing that act yourself.

    2. The idea of the church extending the incarnation and the relation of the Kingdom and church are admittedly complex issues and something I returned to again and again to understand what Fitch and Hosclaw were getting at; it makes me particularly nervous to over identify the church and Christ not because of the issue you’ve chosen to tackle, but because it creates issues in relation to sin and the church.

    I think what you’ve missed here is the fact that even in the quote you utilize to portray their position on the church extending the incarnation there is some sense of differentiation between the church and the incarnate Christ. These are never simply collapsed into one another. I will admit this might have been made clearer at points, but using the word “extension” doesn’t necessarily mean what you’ve pressed it to mean, a one to one correlation. If I put an “extension” on my house there is some sense in which it is the same as the house itself, but another sense in which it can and must be differentiated from the original house. I would argue the authors have created a sense of seperation, but could have made it clearer.

    In terms of the kingdom of God depending on our work there is again a nuance that I think you are missing: God is at work in the world, but until the church, the citizens of the Kingdom participate in that work it cannot be defined as “kingdom” work. We don’t necessarily bring the kingdom into being with our work, but as the church we reveal where God is at work in the world by participating in that work. Fitch has recently blogged on this and made it even clearer than it was in the book. (Personally I would look at texts such as Matthew 13 and argue that the kingdom language can be used in one sense about the whole world as God’s place of rule and more specifically of the church as the place where this rule is acknowledged and citizens are found. Thus the definition depends on the context of the usage and there is a sense in which the kingdom is the whole world and a sense in which the church is closely equated with the kingdom and the instrument that reveals it to those who are yet to be Christ followers )

    3. If the prior points are cleared up then your third point becomes superfluous in many ways. The church is not synonymous with Christ meaning that there really is a sense in which we are mutually transformed in our engagement with others.

    I sense there is an underlying issue with the fact that these guys self-identify as Anabaptist and that they are middle class and therefore they are missing the Anabaptist point and continuing a posture of imperialism. Maybe I’m missing something there, but that is my general sense. I too am middle-class and self-identify as a neo-Anabaptist. Being middle class doesn’t mean that I am supporting the powers and principalities or that I don’t understand Anabaptism. There are a number of ways the Anabaptist vision has been fleshed out historically (Schleitheim Confession, other early Anabaptist origin documents that show the movement to be polygenetic, Bender’s vision, Weaver’s view, and Stuart Murray’s writings in “The Naked Anabaptist), meaning that today there are a wide variety of ways which it is still lived out. Within these myriad varieties “simplicity” is a key tenet, but simplicity works itself out different for different people and I could argue but won’t that simplicity, in an Anabaptist way, is achievable by middle class Christians.

    To turn the review on head, I actually sense a posture of imperialism in your attitude: you’ve sought to force what you believe to be Fitch and Hosclaw’s motivations in their relations with those who are not yet followers of Christ onto them. The whole review seems to be predicated on the fact that because they are middle class men there is nothing they can receive from others and therefore they are simply pressing their own white male, NA Christian views on people while receiving nothing. You seem to subtly accuse them and most evangelicals of imperialism in their nurturing and developing relationships with people. Another caricature and beyond that an accusation of false motivation for mission.

    Could it not be that these guys and other evangelicals actually love people from a pure heart and want to see them connect with their Creator with a deeper way and aren’t simply utilizing a hip and cool technique? Your closing statements move from speaking about ideas to questioning the authors’ very character and motivation. And you impose your own views on them; is this not attempting to make them like you in a (not so) subtle way?

  5. Christian,

    Thank you very much for your thoughtful review. I’m honored that you closely read our book and took the time to offer critical thoughts (many of our critics seem not to have read past the introduction).

    I just have two responses for now (both coming from the top of page 3).

    First, you say that “Jesus requires no transformation,” and use this to indicate that our stance of mutual transformation is exactly not an “extention of the Incarnation”. I want to say two things about this. One, Hebrews seems to claim a transformation in Jesus, that he learned something by taking on humanity and living as a human. For instance:

    Heb. 5: 7-9, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”

    Two, isn’t the Incarnation itself the paradigm of “mutual transformation”? As Iranaeus says, “God become humans so that humans could become like God.” Dave and I are looking at the entire shape of Jesus’ life as the Incarnate One. You say Jesus’ transformation is wholy unilateral as a claim against us, but I just don’t see that in the texts of Scripture (unless you are reading from a hyper-Reformed perspective, which leads me to my second point).

    Secondly, you seem to function according to Tillich’s “Protestant Principle” (which many do, whether they are correlationists or not). The Protestant Principle, which the Neo-Reformed in there own way use, is that God/Christ is nothing like the church and should never be identified with the church b/c God is wholly different (you say “unilateral”). The Neo-Reformed use this principle to claim that the Kingdom of God is in the future (or in heaven); the Emergent/Progressives use this principle to claim that Kingdom of God is outside the church (in justice/liberation/etc). But in both cases the church is never thought to extend or express God/Jesus/Kingdom.

    So, using this Protestant Principle (and I realize you don’t state this but this seems to be your governing assumption) you says we fail “to properly differentiate between Jesus and his church” (a failure often attributed to Anabaptist/Holiness theology, so I guess we are in good company). Indeed, your review seem to emanate from the theological perspective that excludes Anabaptist/Holiness/Wesleyan theology that actually believe that the church can, should, and sometimes does live like Jesus in all fullness, and that “sin” is not normative for the church and its life and witness. This is the perspective Dave and I are coming from, which we lay out extensively in the early chapters of the book.

    When it comes to the Evangelical/Progressive conversation mostly usually only think of Calvinism and it Baptist expressions and its repudiations (the Progressives), never understanding that other options exist (i.e. Anabaptist/Holiness/Wesleyan). It is for this reason (a commitment to a “Protestant Principle” which can express itself as either Neo-Reformed or Progressive) that I think you mischaracterize Dave and I as merely another “re-branded, centrist” Evangelicalism. I think this misunderstands the diversity within Evangelicalism, therefore misunderstands how we are proposing a non-Calvinistic yet Evangelical (which is Anabaptist/Holiness/Wesleyan) alternative.

    And for what it is worth, Dave and I see “Prodigal Christianity” as contributing to the larger conversation gathering as “Missio Alliance” (or as I like to call it, all the “Other” Evangelicals (https://www.facebook.com/missioalliance)

    • Both of these issues take us into metaphysics and ontology which as good Anabaptists we should probably avoid. But I do have a few questions for you Geoff.

      I agree that there is some sense in which Jesus grows and is transformed; NT Wright is great on that very point. Is this the sort of transformation you are pointing to?

      When you say that the church “extends” the incarnation, would you agree with what I’ve sketched below? If not, how would you flesh it out?

  6. Christian,

    Thank you very much for your thoughtful review. I’m honored that you closely read our book and took the time to offer critical thoughts (many of our critics seem not to have read past the introduction).

    I just have two responses for now (both coming from the top of page 3).

    First, you say that “Jesus requires no transformation,” and use this to indicate that our stance of mutual transformation is exactly not an “extention of the Incarnation”. I want to say two things about this. One, Hebrews seems to claim a transformation in Jesus, that he learned something by taking on humanity and living as a human. For instance:

    Heb. 5: 7-9, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”

    Two, isn’t the Incarnation itself the paradigm of “mutual transformation”? As Iranaeus says, “God become humans so that humans could become like God.” Dave and I are looking at the entire shape of Jesus’ life as the Incarnate One. You say Jesus’ transformation is wholy unilateral as a claim against us, but I just don’t see that in the texts of Scripture (unless you are reading from a hyper-Reformed perspective, which leads me to my second point).

    Secondly, you seem to function according to Tillich’s “Protestant Principle” (which many do, whether they are correlationists or not). The Protestant Principle, which the Neo-Reformed in there own way use, is that God/Christ is nothing like the church and should never be identified with the church b/c God is wholly different (you say “unilateral”). The Neo-Reformed use this principle to claim that the Kingdom of God is in the future (or in heaven); the Emergent/Progressives use this principle to claim that Kingdom of God is outside the church (in justice/liberation/etc). But in both cases the church is never thought to extend or express God/Jesus/Kingdom.

    So, using this Protestant Principle (and I realize you don’t state this but this seems to be your governing assumption) you says we fail “to properly differentiate between Jesus and his church” (a failure often attributed to Anabaptist/Holiness theology, so I guess we are in good company). Indeed, your review seem to emanate from the theological perspective that excludes Anabaptist/Holiness/Wesleyan theology that actually believe that the church can, should, and sometimes does live like Jesus in all fullness, and that “sin” is not normative for the church and its life and witness. This is the perspective Dave and I are coming from, which we lay out extensively in the early chapters of the book

    When it comes to the Evangelical/Progressive conversation mostly usually only think of Calvinism and it Baptist expressions and its repudiations, never understanding that other options exist (i.e. Anabaptist/Holiness/Wesleyan). It is for this reason (a commitment to a “Protestant Principle” which can express itself as either Neo-Reformed or Progressive) that I think you mischaracterize Dave and I as merely another Evangelicalism. But for me, this just means you don’t understand the diversity within Evangelicalism, nor how we are proposing a non-Calvinistic yet Evangelical (which is Anabaptist/Holiness/Wesleyan) alternative.

    And for what it is worth, Dave and I see “Prodigal Christianity” as contributing to the larger conversation gathering as “Missio Alliance” (or as I like to call it, all the “Other” Evangelicals (https://www.facebook.com/missioalliance)

    • Christian Amondson May 26, 2013 at 2:15 pm

      The Rebel Alliance! I like that.

      Again, I have no problem with the perspective you lay out here. I don’t even have problems with the claims you guys make, I just don’t think you follow through on them.

      And the only thing I would disagree with (other than that you “extensively” lay out the Anabaptist/Holiness/Wesleyan perspective in the early chapters, which you don’t cause you never use these labels nor unpack these specific ideas) is that sin still would not be a normative part of the community. Sin is a part of the body, always. If it weren’t then reconciliation and forgiveness would not need to be central practices.

  7. Perhaps we should look at Nouwen’s interpretation of the prodigal parable as an insight into who we are in the story.

  8. Anyone who has read me elsewhere knows I refuse the church-kingdom
    identification. I would have thought a reader like Christian would have
    had a broader awareness before makes these kind of critiques. But,
    admittedly, there is a move here in the book off Catholic ecclesiology
    that, when combined with Anabaptist ecclesiology, rips apart any
    possibility for imperialist colonialist posture without losing the
    reality that we are “sent.” But the common mistake made by modern
    Niebuhrian protestants is to be phobic about any connection at all
    between the church and the Kingdom, which I also reject. To me,
    Christian Almondson appears to be falling into this kind of
    ekklesiaphobia. Nonetheless his review is helpful in that it does point
    to a few common critiques of the book from the “progressive” side which I
    would very much enjoy exploring. I’d like the opportunity to show how
    Almondson’s own received church/culture assumptions and epistemological
    commitments have done to our book what many of my evangelical
    fundamentalist friends have also done (from the other side) and in the
    process the point of the entire book has been entirely missed. Blessings!!

    • David,

      I enjoyed your book and think your pushback here is warranted.

      A question though, one that this reviewer did surface: what about the limitations of your position on the church as an extension of the incarnation. Many have criticized this position in the past. Two examples:

      (1) Roman Catholic theology moved away from this position at Vatican II (it was predominant after V1), partly because it over-institutionalized the church. V2 favoured instead a sacramental view of the church as God’s presence. Given Catholic theologies of the Eucharist, perhaps this leads us back to the church as an extension of the Incarnation anyway. So, the question arises, do you take the limitations of the ‘extension’ view into account? How might your own understanding of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist inform your view?

      (2) Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s early work (over-)stressed the identification of Christ with church (the church is ‘Christ-existing-as-community). But, Bonhoeffer came to abandon this phrase as his christology developed . . . notably from 1932-33 onward. He never abandons an incarnational model of church, but also insists on Christ’s transcendence. The church simply as an extension of the incarnation seems to miss this dialectic.

      (3) O.K. One more question: Some (Pentecostals and others) have suggested that the church is better understood as an extension of Pentecost, rather than an extension of the incarnation. What do you make of that?

      Thanks!

    • Christian Amondson May 26, 2013 at 2:06 pm

      Hey David, I’d be keen to hear from you about “Almondson’s own received church/culture assumptions and epistemological commitments.” Like, seriously, this would be fun to read. Oh, and that isn’t how my name is spelled, but you can call me almondson if you want; it will be like an inside joke or nickname : )

      • Christian Amondson May 26, 2013 at 2:07 pm

        Oh, and I would be very eager to hear what it is that you think the purpose of the book was that I completely missed.

  9. Ouch! Well I haven’t read the book and I can’t claim to be an expert on anabaptism (neo, evangelical, hyper-reformed, or whatever, so y’all will have to sort that out). But I know Brother Amondson and if he says the book is crap that’s good enough for me (my Roman Catholicism makes me susceptible to authoritive personalities, plus I know Amondson and doctrinal disputes like this one come and go, but personal relationships and loyalty trump doctrinal hairsplitting). Oh, I’m not as bothered by Fish and Coleslaws inconsistentcies as Amondson is, heck, insisting on too much rigorous consistency has often led to some pretty big body counts by incarnagical Christians. Still, if your going to write a whole book about something I reckon it’s worth double checking your personal B.S. meter to see where your thesis is at odds with examples and arguments before peddling your ideas on Amazon (better yet, next time let the excellent editors at Wipf and Stock have a crack at it first–and this is an unsolicited comercial).

    Geoffh, David, I’m sure y’all are fine fellows and are (probably) going to heaven and I wish you well on your ‘faith journey’ (do folks still say that? I’m kinds out of loop these days). Heck, my own Pope just more or less said that even the un-believing good-deed-doers are saved as much as good Catholics! (but if I was Francis I’d watch my back and I wouldn’t eat or drink anything given to me by a Dominican!). However, I’m not going to read your book mostly because I just don’t have the time, or energy, (and probably the smarts) to engage with every protestant dust-up that comes along as y’all try and figure out just how thin you can slice the already sliced prosciutto and still wrap it around a piece of cantaloupe. I will say this though, the neologism “incarnage,” alone was worth the read of the review and comments (and did y’all invent “ekklesiaphobia,” too? That one sounds familiar to my RC ear, I’ll bet some abused altar boy came up with that). Now to be honest I have sort of a….critical opinion of “evangelicals,” as a whole, for a variety of reasons. Yet I have a hunch that your book may very well add something positive to evangelicalism, or at least the potential good may outweigh any potential harm (after Ronald Reagan and George Bush is there anyway to go but up?–and I’m not eliding the fact that Nixon was a Quaker either!). These days if ‘christians‘ can just keep from starting wars and blowing up the world and maybe keep from lynching, raping, exploiting, and crusading, etc, well hell that would be a great start on finally figuring out what this gospel is all about; and then what y’all call ‘the world‘ just might get a glimpse of this Jesus we’all been harping on about for 2000 years! Every blessings y’all and C A that is a trenchant and insightful review but if I ever write a book is it ok if I get someone else to review it? Obliged.

  10. Christian, I don’t question your motives in this review, but if Dave and Geoff are guilty of any emergent caricatures in PC (and I’m not sure that they are), you are guilty of ten times more here. The points you choose to highlight are strange, while what you choose to omit is glaring – namely, the ecclesiological heartbeat of the book, thumping throughout and on display most clearly in Signpost 7 – and the result is an oddly lopsided account that actually gives your reader something like a malformed, botched mini-clone of the original work.

    I know reviews are summations with opinion, but this just heads off in a weird direction. You seem convinced that PC diverges little from the views of McClaren and Jones, but then also accuse it of imperialistic entrenchment, while still questioning whether it is clearly biased against progressive gay issues enough or too little or something. I think you are saying PC is confused, but I think it’s actually you. That PC presents a radical middle for the missional church in light of movements within North American Christianity over the last 10-15 years is not hard to understand, and not nearly as complex as you reconfigure it here.

    Further, if an incarnational ecclesiology is bothersome to you, I cannot for the life of me understand why. If I’m just slow, forgive me. But if you want to attribute all incarnation to Jesus whom we merely follow as Lord (and not embody in any way – cuz the NT Body metaphor is too confusing and Paul was an imperialist), fine, but I’m guessing that means people who come into contact with the ecclesia will be invited to become more *like him*, yeah? Because that’s what following entails? Amirite? So then, this is semantics because incarnational church is simply an imperfect, transforming group of followers inviting others to follow as well, with a different (and more powerful) metaphor guiding the process.

    Also, the poor – like, being friends with them, feeding them, clothing them, helping them along towards jobs/homes, etc., isn’t imperialist but the thing that Jesus did and wants his followers to do (i.e., the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who is filling everything in every way).

    Lastly, if you just have a different view from the authors on LGBT issues, you know, you should just come right out and say that you do. (A parenthetical note would be fine…wink.)

    • Christian Amondson May 26, 2013 at 1:52 am

      Hey, thought I’d try to address a little of your comment head on: as noted above, I have zero problem with us being “like” Jesus. I’m all for that. I just want to slow things down so that we don’t start using language that makes it seem like we aren’t just being like him (which, btw, sounds a lot like the imitation/model idea that they don’t like in McLaren et al.) but ARE him. When we start using language to the effect that we “allow” the kingdom to break in, or that “when” we do certain things, “then” the kingdom breaks in, then I worry we’ve lost sight of this very significant distinction.

      Also, if you can’t see how saying something is mutual but then ONLY offering examples of how the “other” person’s life is transformed is not really mutual but unilateral, then I don’t think there is anything I would have to offer in response to what you’ve written. We’re clearing not going to have a common ground to connect on. And if you can’t see how redemption looking like helping a homeless person get a vision for being a productive member of society is maybe belying a certain set of middle class values and assumptions (one’s that are deeply shaped by capitalism and the protestant work ethic) then we probably won’t get very far in a discussion about this topic either. Better just to reduce it down like you’ve done to “hey, Jesus did things for poor people, so we should, too.” As if somehow that was what I was getting at.

      And w/r/t your last paragraph, your capacity to miss the point seemed to grow as the comment progressed. This final paragraph was completely beside the point I was getting at.

      • Christian, the point is that it was an unusually harsh review, and while I don’t question your motives, I simply wanted to challenge your harshest accusation/snarkiest remark.

      • Christian Amondson May 26, 2013 at 5:23 pm

        I’m open to that. I’d welcome a more thoughtful rebuttal, cause just saying it is weird doesn’t seem to get us that far. If you’d care to explore some of the points above, just let me know!

      • The rebuttal is in the original comment, but it amounts to the fact that you deny the authors really offer *mutual* transformation because they demand *unilateral* change (to their incarnational identity), but then you also call for a very distinct category of the church following of Jesus alone as Lord (as an answer to incarnational/embodied ecclesiology). My point is, how does the latter not become even *more* unilateral (as in, changing toward JESUS)? Likewise, how does the recognition of incarnational identity and an invitation to kingdom life differ in any way with what Christians have always believed and which you seem to offer no alternative to?

      • Christian Amondson May 26, 2013 at 7:08 pm

        So a continued dodge of my reply? And a continued obfuscation of the original review? The Rebel Alliance is not to be trifled with!

        Seriously, please read the several follow up comments I’ve made and offer an intelligible reply if you’d like to continue the discussion. You continue to put words in my mouth and dodge the arguments I’m trying to make.

      • Since your review was an exercise in obfuscation, I don’t think I could cloud it further. And, your defensive, dismissive tone is enough for me to spend my time elsewhere. Peace.

      • Christian Amondson May 26, 2013 at 11:43 pm

        I don’t want to question your motives, but you’re failing to engage with anything that I’ve actually written. Which I’m starting to see is the MO.

      • Not true, but I have shown that your review grasps at straws and is overly critical, which you won’t engage with in the least (and you won’t touch the specific Q’s I’ve asked). But look man – I gotta go write my own review, so no worries :). Getting burned out on blog comments anyway, so again, peace.

      • Christian Amondson May 27, 2013 at 12:09 am

        What questions? How have I grasped at straws? And I’d ask that you actually quote me rather than miscast. I was quite critical, but that was based on the book not delivering on its own claims. Claims that were quite grandiose.

      • Again:

        The rebuttal is in the original comment, but it amounts to the fact that you deny the authors really offer *mutual* transformation because they demand *unilateral* change (to their incarnational identity), but then you also call for a very distinct category of the church following of Jesus alone as Lord (as an answer to incarnational/embodied ecclesiology). My point is, how does the latter not become even *more* unilateral (as in, changing toward JESUS)? Likewise, how does the recognition of incarnational identity and an invitation to kingdom life differ in any way with what Christians have always believed and which you seem to offer no alternative to?

      • Christian Amondson May 27, 2013 at 12:25 am

        OK, I see two sets of question that are really making the false assumptions about what I wrote. I can see where you got this from though, but I don’t think you read carefully, and I really do think you missed the thrust of the argument in the review.

        Set #1: But if you want to attribute all incarnation to Jesus whom we merely follow as Lord (and not embody in any way – cuz the NT Body metaphor is too confusing and Paul was an imperialist), fine, but I’m guessing that means people who come into contact with the ecclesia will be invited to become more *like him*, yeah? Because that’s what following entails? Amirite?

        Set #2: My point is, how does the latter not become even *more* unilateral (as in, changing toward JESUS)? Likewise, how does the recognition of incarnational identity and an invitation to kingdom life differ in any way with what Christians have always believed and which you seem to offer no alternative to?

        OK, to answer: I am not advocating a completely different ecclesiology based upon following as over against incarnating (although, I do think this word is very problematic, but mainly because it is a vogue word for hip Evangelicals). My point in referencing that Jesus is one we follow is NOT to suggest that we do not participate in his life (even ontologically to some degree, though that stuff is over my head) but ONLY to remind that to be the body of Christ is not the same thing as me, Christian Amondson, and my church, Church of the Servant King, are synonymous with Jesus. It’s perhaps simliar to how it is important to distinguish between the persons of the Trinity. They share a fundamental unity, but are still distinct and those distinctions matter.

        I was suggesting that it matters because we can lose sight of how the work of our hands can be tainted with our sin, and thus is perhaps not best ascribed to the action of God. And I think that language they choose to use throughout the book (not consistency throughout, but in lots of places) loses sight of this distinction.

        So while I think your first set of question are premised upon a misunderstanding of what I was saying in the review, I will say, YES, I think that there as people come INTO Christ they are being asked to be like him. But that is why the emphasis on the distinction is important, because to say that a homeless person getting a job is a sign of the redemptive work of God is to egregiously lose sight of how being like Jesus is not the same as becoming like people in the church, in this case, productive middle class citizens.

        I am honestly not sure if I understand your second set of questions. Perhaps it is how you worded it. If you wouldn’t mind rephrasing it I’ll do my best to give a straight and not dismissive response.

        You can undersatnd, I hope, why my response to you has not be too charitable. From where I’m at, you failed to engage what I wrote, created a false set of ideas I was supposedly advocating, and then mocked them. You also have yet to engage my comments about class and poverty. I’d really like to hear from you on that. I’m positive that Jesus never said we should try to get people jobs. And I am pretty sure that Jesus was more concerned about solidarity than just offering handouts.

      • Based on this response, and the initial response, I do think I’ve understood you. And while my first comment was forceful, if not a bit snarky here and there (two can play at snark), it was not mocking. The thrust of *my* response is not to argue the technicalities of your resistance to incarnational ecclesiology but to show that your resistance is much ado about nothing.

        The thrust of your review is simply that the book offers nothing new to the evangelical missional conversation (which, from your comments, it appears you are critical of in general.)

        In your words:

        “First, it fails to offer an account that substantially differs from those against whom they measure themselves, especially Emergent theologians. Second, its account of the church as the extension of the incarnation short-circuits its ability to truly and consistently differentiate between the work of God and the work of our own hands. Third, it is inattentive to the ways that its articulation of mission is rooted in the colonialism of a bygone Christendom, thereby reducing friendship to a technology for conversion.”

        In my opinion, you fail to prove any of these critiques your review. The first and third depend on the second, the notion that “incarnational” is some terrible theological foible. But your technical explanations around that in the comments are grasping at straws. Likewise, your hardline distinction between *unilateral* and *mutual* is a mirage, as you yourself would be promoting a particular view of Jesus, expressed in your ecclesiology, that you are then inviting others to follow (unilateral). The point being, there will always be a unilateral draw, even as there is a softer mutuality that occurs within the church’s discerned understanding of life in the kingdom. The authors gave examples of this mutuality in chapter 8, for instance, where they recounted learning friendship/intimacy ethics from gay friends.

        This finally devolves into your particular objections to the stories that Dave and Geoff provide about transformation in the ministry of their church, whether with homeless folks or gay folks or whatever. That you perceived monolithic categories of colonialist answers to poverty problems is, sorry, weird, as that was not apparent in my reading at all. But if the friendship approach that Dave and Geoff describe (being ‘with’ the poor) is not solidarity enough for you, and somehow ruined by mention of providing food/clothing needs, or helping to get jobs, or whatever, again, I think your take is strange and overly harsh. I don’t know what theological biases you brought to this review in the first place, and I’m sure that would explain more, but yeah, it’s just strange.

        Lastly, your omission of the real ecclesiological thrust of the book (which crescendoes in chapter 7), in favor of these crushing critiques, is, in my opinion, disingenuous on your part.

        Afraid I really, truly have to leave it at that bro. You stuck your neck way out there with this review – it deserves a lot of pushback. It borders on being quite unfair. Again, peace, and good luck with the conversation from here.

      • Christian Amondson May 27, 2013 at 11:51 am

        “But your technical explanations around that in the comments are grasping at straws.”

        How so?

        “The point being, there will always be a unilateral draw, even as there is a softer mutuality that occurs within the church’s discerned understanding of life in the kingdom.”

        So you concede that what is referred to in their book as “mutual” is really more uni-directional, them becoming like us? You’re just upset because you think that I do this to, that this fails to “differ in any way with what Christians have always believed”?

        I’m still very keen to see what examples there are of how they become like the other that they were entering into friendship with. I’ve read chapter 8, and didn’t see it. Can you help me out with an example?

        Is there any way for you and I to have a conversation where we don’t just make assertions about the other or just dismiss things as being “weird” or “strange”? Cause that isn’t an argument and can only lead to someone being seen as “excessively defensive” if they try to respond.

        “What you wrote is just strange.”

        “No it’s not.”

        “You’re just being defensive, which is classic for someone who writes an overly harsh review.”

        “But, wait, what?”

  11. Christian,

    As I said, I wanted to comment more fully on your review. Thanks for putting legs to what had heretofore mostly taken place on Facebook. While I disagree with much of what you have said, I do appreciate how you have put this together. Good solid critique strengthens the conversation.

    I am interested in two things- first, echoing another comment below, I am interested in how you define Anabaptism. That has been a conversation for some time- and most recently brought back up again by the likes of Stuart Murray in Naked Anabaptist and now Scot McKnight in a blog post returning to Harold Bender. As part of an historic Anabaptist tradition, I think getting a sense of what we mean by Anabaptism is essential.

    Second, and more as a response rather than a question, I think you are drawing too stark of a line between Christ and the Church. As you rightly point out the NT is full of images of believers being incorporated into Christ (at baptism, or by the Spirit). Yet, at the same time and especially in the image of the “Body of Christ” metaphor, Paul is clear that Jesus remains distinctly Lord as the head of the Body. So, being the enfleshed body of Christ doesn’t necessarily diminish the uniqueness of Christ. (That is the Anabaptist response from me). And, as a student of Late Antiquity, I think the particularity (which is the better word since uniqueness implies what was anathema, namely the Tertium Quid or third being) of Christ is what makes possible the universality of the people of God. What is in Christ makes possible the reuniting of humanity to God. As Gregory of Nyssa often pointed to is that we, through Christ, participate in God.

    Thanks again for the review
    Josh

  12. Christian Amondson May 25, 2013 at 8:23 pm

    Thanks for the feedback on the review, fellas. I think that a general theme in the comments is that I said quite clearly that the church cannot be an extension of the incarnation and that I’m needing to maintain a strict separation between Jesus and the church.

    I actually never say either of these things (I’d ask y’all to do a more careful re-read), but I can understand that because of the intensity of the review and because I’m not in this review attempting to sketch an alternative/positive account of these matters that one could only read the review through a lens of an all-or-nothing binary.

    My point is that we need to a) be able to differentiate between the church and Jesus; the work of God and the work of our hands; the spirit’s movement and our own culture formation. These things need not be mutual exclusive, and I have zero problem with a nuanced account of how we participate in the kingdom of God or join in with God’s action in the world; and b) be really careful with the grammar we employ to talk about how this church-as-mission-as-incarnational extension business gets fleshed out (pun intended). When we fail to heed this points, we end up in some pretty hairy places (i.e. that lost list of quotes from the book with language that sure makes it seem like God’s kingdom can’t break in unless we are following these signposts. I’m still curious to hear a justification for the use of the language they chose to use in those quotes (and there are others).

    Perhaps the problem isn’t a theological one, which was the direction I tried to take the review. Perhaps it is much simpler: they were just not careful with their language, and employed a grammar the undermined their actual beliefs. I have no problem with that, if that is what F & H would like to concede.

    With regard to focusing on mutual transformation, I may have made my own grammatical errors in the book. I think that Geoff is right that, on his own and in relation to the Godhead, Jesus is transformed (and transfigured). What I was trying to highlight in the review was less to say that Jesus did grow as a person or that he wasn’t transformed in any way in relation to god in eve in his post-resurrection glory. But rather was to hightlight that, unlike the rest of us, Jesus didn’t need to come to relationships with other people with the kind of mutuality that F & H wrote about. What I wrote was, “This kind of mutual transformation is not something that can be (easily) attributed to Jesus . . .” I’m glad I stuck that parenthetical “easily” in there, because my friend Melissa pointed out to me the story of the Canaanite woman, and how she seemed to transformation Jesus in just this sort of way. So even though she was pushing back on me with this example, she did point out how this actually would work to substantiate my final argument in the book, which is that the mutual transformation you all talk about is not really mutual. Which is to say that I agree with brother Randy in the reason to be concerned and careful with the “extension” language is because of our sin!

    Now, I haven’t read other books by these F& H, nor do I read their blogs, and I haven’t visited their church and haven’t called up parishioners to query them. I was ONLY offering my critique of this book and the words, claims, ideas, and anecdotes contained therein. So it has struck me as quit odd that a couple of y’alls comments have accused me of an unfair critique because I haven’t taken all of that other material into question. The thing is, F & H may have numerous stories to share about the ways in which their lives have been meaningfully called into question and deeply transformed by the poor or by people who identify as LBGTQ. Tha is to say, they might very well have stories to share that would concrete put flesh on this notion of a mutual transformation. But I have no idea if that is the case, because if they do have them, then they CHOSE not to include those stories in the book. What they did choose to include were stories about how other people were transformed by them. They “say” that things are mutual (as they do in the quote I included about the homeless woman) but that is the extent of it.

    So again, perhaps the problem isn’t that they don’t actually believe and have evidence to support that such friendships are truly mutual, but like with their lack of care with their grammar noted above, they were equally not careful in selecting which anecdotes to include.

    Some have noted that book has an ecclesiological heartbeat. I it is true that they talk quite bit about this and do offer some concrete specifics for this. But I would counter that to make the church as body (community) central is the anchor your ecclesiology on reconciliation. Reconciliation in PC gets about 7 paragraphs in the book, broken over two chapters, and both dealing almost exclusively with following the principals of Matthew 18. These just seemed paltry to me. But that could just be my bias.

    I don’t think it will be helpful to have an argument about whether the book is Anabaptist or not. I chose not to go that route with the review, focusing instead on how the book—despite it’s claims—is not even remotely radical (y’all can disagree with me on that. I suppose there isn’t a real good way to settle that one). Like with Anabaptist, the word radical is one that you CAN chose to use for yourself, but it might not really end up meaning a whole lot.

    My arguments were trying to show that, despite the new branding (every chapter contains the line: “that’s not prodigal enough,” which reminded me of an infomercial, where the crowd would all chant it in unison right before the product was introduced) the book is just a middle ground. It’s pretty damn status quo.

    And that is fine! There’s not reason to write a critical review of a book because it is status quo or a middle ground. The only reason to write the kind of review I did is to show that the a book IS status quo when it so desperately wants you to believe that it isn’t.

    Again, thanks for the comments. If there were ways I should have been more nuanced with my arguments, I’m glad to hear all of that from you. And I concede that I probably should have left out the stuff about how they aren’t different from McLaren et al. since I’ve not read any of those guys myself. It just seemed like they couldn’t possibly disagree with the claims that were made in PC on several occasions when F & H were really arguing that they were deeply different. So maybe some of those fellas will read the book and make those arguments themselves. Or perhaps they’ll read it and say, “you know what, we actually don’t think the Kingdom is the work of what God is already doing in the world. They got us on that one.”

    Oh, and I’m not sure why it’s seems helpful to you all to keep trying to use the various labels you’re using to dismiss what I wrote, but I don’t think anyone has ever accused me of being a Niebuhrian ecclesiophobe. That’s some good stuff there.

  13. Christian,

    You claim that PC fails to deliver in that they only offer examples of how the other person’s life is transformed, which belies the fact that the book might really be about indoctrinating the poor, LGBTQ, etc. into the same, rather than transforming the church as such.

    This seems fair and very common strategy among evangelical theology – especially when it comes to questions of human sexuality. So can we get specific about this? To your mind, would PC be willing to grant, on the terms outlined in the book (mutual transformation) something like ‘full inclusion’ (whether marriage, honored partnerships, etc.) into the sacramental (or whatever Anabaptist analog their might be) life of the church? Or is this where they falter? In that they sidestep the issue by simply trying to move the goal posts of the conversation. Effectively saying, “well, it’s really about the community” or whatever, rather than dealing with the actual, concrete existence of the gay person – that might actually transform how we read scripture, doctrine, etc?

    Thanks!

    • Christian Amondson May 27, 2013 at 2:22 pm

      My sense of it is that the sexuality discussion is sort of a shell game. To my mind, mutual transformation would mean that each party is wiling to take a risk in moving forward together: into Jesus. In this case, as Chris noted, each party would need to be truly open to being transformed by the other. And there is no indication in the book that the authors are open to being changed in their understanding of how homosexuality should fit within “normative Christian life and practice.”

      Rather than sam-sex issues, they focus their mutual transformation on things that everyone agrees are in need of re-ordering, like how we objectify others and watch porn. They also feel that we can be friends and focus on how our identity shouldn’t be fundamentally shaped by our sexuality. This is true to an extend, but would be much more convincing if this were stated by someone who is homosexual, who’s sexuality is actually called into question. It’s hard to see this as truly mutual when the one’s advocating such a position are risking nothing of their sexual identity as heterosexual males in this process.

      If that is not the case, I’d very eager to hear from someone how so. And I am open to having miscast the book.

      But, in short, it comes down to what you are willing to risk. And, make no mistake, as with both matters of sexuality and class differences, taking the risk of being truly changed by the other is, well, very risky. It can “ruin” your life as you know it. Especially when you’re not the marginal one.

      And, I should add, I’m probably not any better at taking such risks. But I would hope that I would own that and therefore not claim that I’m all about mutual transformation.

  14. I’ve been out in the woods all weekend and see that the conversation has exploded in many different directions while I was away…

    First, an editorial note and then a few comments in response…

    As is true of all of our reviews, they do not represent an official position of the ERB. (And as you will see momentarily, I have my own questions about parts of Christian’s review). Secondly, I probably was not as attentive in editing this review as I should have been. Believe it or not, I toned down some of the the snark in the editing process, but in retrospect probably should have done more toning down, especially in the latter parts of the review.

    As to the 3 concerns Christian raises, I’m going to ignore the first one (“fails to offer an account that substantially differs from those against whom they measure themselves”), as it has been hashed out enough in the comments here. On the second concern (The Christ/Church distinction), I’m inclined to agree with Josh Brockway’s assessment below and say that Christian is making much ado about nothing. To put it differently, I don’t know that in this age we will ever have certainty about in distinguishing the works of God and the works of humanity. We seek to follow God in the way of Christ, but more often than not go awry, and yet God still works amidst all our mess… There’s something to be said for being attentive to the leading of the Spirit in the midst of our churches communities and following it courageously together, and doing all this with an epistemic humility that doesn’t try to say such and such is the work of God or the work of humanity.

    The third point, however, is one in which I think Christian has some traction. I have read PC, and could admittedly stand to read the related parts more carefully again, but my impression was for all the talk of mutual transformation, F&H’s account was short on the ways that they had been transformed by engagement with those of different economic situations or sexual identities. Here I’d like to engage Zach’s thought point that:

    “My point is, how does the latter not become even *more* unilateral (as in, changing toward JESUS)?”

    To frame a question this way, requires that we have a clear and unqualified understanding of who Jesus is. The problem, once again, is epistemology; we have a reasonable intuition of who Jesus is, but we are ever prone to re-cast Jesus into our own image, particularly as people of privilege in Western Culture. So, yes Zach, we should be moving unilaterally toward Jesus, but that journey is a lot more tenuous than we might imagine, as our conceptions of Jesus are not static and indeed *should be* changing as we are mutually transformed by God with the diverse others in our church communities. And I tend to agree with Christian that despite the language of mutuality, we didn’t get a very robust picture of how that mutuality gets worked out at Life on the Vine or other churches. (I can offer stacks upon stacks of stories, for instance, of how we here at Englewood Christian Church are being mutually transformed by extending hospitality to people of all kinds of economic/ethnic status…)

    Chris Smith,
    Editor Englewood Review of Books

  15. Christian Amondson May 27, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    Hey Gents (seriously, where are the women on this thread?),

    First, I want to say that it seems an apology is in order for the snarkiness of the review. Which I would appreciate my editor making in the previous comment ; )

    Seriously, though, I will say that my level of frustration with the book was personal, and that spilled over into the review. It was personal because I only read the book because during a FB discussion with Geoff a few months back, rather than telling me what he thought about how the term “missional” could be salvaged, he just kept saying to read his book, because in that book they do just that and do it with an Anabaptist twist.

    So I read the book, and really didn’t feel that they did what Geoff said they did. Further, I thought they made a lot of really audacious claims in the book, that set it up for failure (imo). I get that most folks who have read the book read it because they already kinda agreed with what they were about to read. Most of the commentors here seem to be part of that group (the missional alliance). So it’s not surprising that people would not share my take on the book, or would not be convinced of my arguments. (But, this is not an excuse for letting the personal determine the writing style. I can own this… sorry.)

    That being said, and in the interest of furthering the discussion (hopefully not just being excessively defensive), I’m still not sure we are on the same page about what it was I was attempting in the review, so I’ll offer just a quick recap:

    1. I was not offering an alterative vision, but merely trying to measure the content of the book against its own claims.

    2. This took three forms

    a. They do what they claim Emergent folks do, confuse the work of the kingdom with the work of our hands (due to the particular grammar they employ)

    b. This happens, I argue, because they are not nuanced enough with their notion of extending the incarnation, and fail to allow for the meaningful differentiation between Jesus and the church.

    c. This becomes problematic, because they position themselves as Jesus, whom the lost need to enter into, but call this a mutual transformation.

    What I’m sensing from the comments is that 1) no one agrees with point A; no one agrees with point B (that is, no one thinks we can or
    ought to try to make such a differentiation; and that 3) according to Zach, we all already are unilateral in having people come into Jesus, so I’m creating a false dichotomy.

    I hope I am getting this straight. Please correct me if I’m wrong on these points.

    In response, I’d just want to say that (maybe it’s just me) it is I can’t tell the difference between what they ascribe to McLaren and how they, at times, talk about the kingdom. And I’ve yet to see anyone account for language such as “allowing” the kingdom to come, which seems to move beyond a participation into people being a necessary cause for the kingdom’s efficacy. In short, I see the authors as talking out of both sides of their mouths on this issue, at times taking pains to articulate how the kingdom is clearly God’s action, but then at times using language that undermines that.

    I’m also sensing that people think this is much ado about nothing. I guess to that I would just say we’ll need to agree to disagree. As I do think care with our words on these matters matters. Just as, though we do participate in Christ and his life, it is important to note attend to the ways that we are still following him and are not Jesus himself. I know this is a super thorny issue, and I am very OK if some of us come down in different places. But this is a very catholic/Anglican perspective, which in this context seems to be being passed of as Anabaptist and Wesleyan. So I’m still confused about that. Perhaps a conversation on Josh Brockway’s FB page would help tease this all out, the what is “really” anabaptist question.

    Finally, I appreciate Chris’s validation about the lack of mutuality (and the ways he is parsing out distinctions between Jesus and the culture of a particular church… even though it is much ado about nothing : ). The best way to this to be address, it seems to me, would be for someone who disagrees with this to demonstrate how in the book an example is shown where real mutual transformation occurs. So far there has been no response to this challenge.

  16. I commented early on, and now have read through the entire thread (although I’m not clear why I did that).I have no horse in this race, but given my own work, one thing stands out for me. Until we give up fighting over all the intra-“Christian” (I don’t even like that word any more, as I don’t think it conveys any content at all) labeling (Catholic/Protestant, Evangelical/emergent/missional/anabaptist) labeling, we are no better than the so-called “church fathers,” whom I’ve largely come to despise for how they shifted the foundation from discipleship to doctrine. We are in the middle of the greatest crisis in human history (climate change); what do we want to tell our children and grandchildren we were doing while the ice caps were melting? I pray it’s not arguing among ourselves about labels and categories.

  17. This discussion has been good. Although I think Christian’s
    review is a gloss and misses the main argument of the book, the ensuing discussion has nonetheless been productive. I disagree with Wes that we should not clarify these discusssions internally. To my mind, these discussions are immensely important to discern the future in the Spirit.

    I think Christian’s reactions are not uncommon, so they are valuable. For instance, to say the words “extend the incarnation” raises all sorts of colonialist red-flags for people like Christian and many former evangelicals and/or other people with negative reactions to a past experience of church. Yet this way of understanding the church is hardly new and I began to stake out what this might mean in my book The End of Evangelicalism? which ER Books also reviewed. I believe Christian did some work on that book as he works for its publisher? Of course I was not merely taking a received theology of the church ala deLubac, VonBalthasar, Robt Jenson etc. I was using Neo-Anabaptist work to significantly revise its categories. And that’s what we’re doing in Prodigal Christianity albeit in more popular form. I would have hoped Christian would have given his criticism a little more consideration before pronouncing, as if we would assent to this statement, “the church is not Jesus.” Nonetheless, this reaction is not isolated and it is important. So I hope to engage his criticism of the church “extending the incarnation” in depth over the next couple weeks on my blog andelsewhere. I would welcome a chance to publish a response in ERB.

    As far as Chris Smith’s response to this review, I
    appreciate those words from the editor and agree with it for the most part. His criticism that “F&H’s account was short on the ways that they had been transformed by engagement with those of different economic situations or sexual identities” is accurate. There are reasons for that. I was mainly responsible for the last three chapters and I must admit that we had little room for stories. I was plugging in too much stuff. Furthermore, to be frank, there were few stories we could use in the “prodigal relationships” that did not infringe on the privacy of people’s lives. It was a difficult line to walk. Nonethelessin that chapter, I tried to give ( a rather safe) account of an e-mail relationship where I concluded “This man’s journey illustrates how if we listen to our gay brothers and lesbian sisters, we might discover the truly good things (i..e the depth of human friendship) going on there. It suggests that if we listen… we might see things missing in our own lives.” Admittedly, this falls short of a more personal account. And I think we either told stories too quickly or with not enough nuance in the otherchapters. Admittedly Geoff and I could have gone further in making more explicit the posture of receiving that is so necessary in being present in the “prodigal space.” This is another reminder of the work needed to be done to enter a space humbly vulnerably and receptively. Again, I hope to review some of the issues from this review in the weeks ahead on my blog and perhaps elsewhere. Again thanks to ERB for reviewing our book!

    • Christian Amondson May 27, 2013 at 7:53 pm

      Hey David, serious question here: is there a point at which the church is NOT extending the incarnation? For example, are churches that are given to an “atteactional” programmatic church still extending the incarnation through their programming?

      Or, if a church stands in condemnation of some group of people, is that still an extension of the incarnation?

      In other words, are there times and places to differentiate the work of our hands from the work of the Spirit?

      I ask because the sense I’ve gotten from most commentators and from what I read in your new comment is that any efforts to tease out the difference is a waste if time: much ado about nothing.

      • I don’t wish to speak for Dave, or even imply a Prodigal position. However this question made me think of two things. First it strikes me as similar to the first reformers’ question of where the true church resided historically (that is within and through time).

        The second, was a post from our NuDunkers round of posts some weeks back. There Dana Cassell pointed to a piece not commented on much here- discernment. Here is her post- http://well-yah.blogspot.com/2013/04/prodigal-christianity-nudunker-review.html?m=1

        I think she nails it- dealing with an ecclesiology based on participation in the incarnation depends significantly on discerning what God is up to and where. There is a practical logic at work in such discernment that defies objective criteria- in one case hospitality might be the most appropriate response while in a whole other setting it is the last.

        (Much more here and I’ll have to post a lecture on the practical logic of the ascetic of early Christianity 🙂 )

        Josh

      • There is so much to be written on this issue and your question is an important one. The issue of discernment is a theme throughout the NT and the life of the church. Yoder calls it the “hermeneutic of community.” Things that are easily discerned would be whenever there is coercion, hubris or “usurping,” there is no Kingdom. Other things are not as easily discerned as God leads into new territory. Here we must be patient often knowing the Kingdom only through its fruits. The practices of chapter 7 in PC are guiding markers that make space for the Kingdom. They are ways which guide us to where Jesus promises to be present. Yet even Jesus says after the 70 return, when they see that “even the demons obey us in your name,” rejoice not in that, but rejoince”that your names are written in the book of life” signifying that it is our participation in the Kingdom as children of God we should rejoice in, that we are being used by God, not the results.

      • Christian Amondson May 28, 2013 at 3:37 pm

        One of the questions in the review was about the use of language like you just now use: “make space for the Kingdom.” Does this not give the work of our hands too much credit for the efficacy of the kingdom? At one point in the book you make clear that we need to do less and try to just pay attention. This at least implies that the kingdom is at work without regard for any kind of space we clear or any ways in which we do things that could “allow” it to manifest.

        There seems to be a subtle but important grammatical difference between discerning, attending, and even participating to “allow” and “making room for” the kingdom to work in the world around us (even through us).

        And the language you use seems similar to the kinds of accusations you and Geoff level against McLaren.

        So I’d be up for hearing more about why you use this language and how that doesn’t cross into the “work of our hands” which you posit as a bad thing in the book.

      • I see how you could interpret it that way. Perhaps you are uncomfortable with any human response at all to the Kingdom? and cannot distinguish between a posture of submission to God, His authority and reign, and the attempt to control and dictate it. The actions of say Matt 18:15-20 that Christ invokes us to take are really acts of submission and response, not control or determine. In so doing Jesus promises his presence shall be there, what is bound on earth shall bebound in heaven etc.. Kingdom authority/His presence becomes manifest. This pattern is evident in numerous places in the “sending” say of Luke 10. I see some overlap between myself/Geoff .. and Brian… but some significant differences. Hope this helps.

      • Christian Amondson May 28, 2013 at 4:14 pm

        I’m not uncomfortable with those things, just not clear how you can say McLaren veers into the work of his hands, when you’re language seems to point to the same.

      • Christian Amondson May 28, 2013 at 4:16 pm

        So you have no problem saying that we can “allow” the kingdom to come?

        And this somehow is not the work of our hands?

        If so, then what exactly is the work of our hands?

  18. I’ve read through these comment threads, and I want to make a couple of comments, with the caveat that I too have not yet read the book (and probably won’t). My comments, like Dan Imburgia’s, are surely motivated in part by loyalty to Christian–that is, the fact that he’s my friend, which I don’t think is incidental to his critique here. I’ll say more about that momentarily. I just want to highlight two points that I think the comments are consistently evading and actually obscuring.

    The first is that Christian’s critique–snarky as it is!–is at root theological. The most vapid aspect of Emergent Evangelicalism has been the half-assed sleight of hand with which it signed up for the postmodern embrace of infinite linguistic and cultural construction. Our cultural context, so the story goes, is not concerned about “abstract concepts” or “theology.” We are tired of these things and want “concrete” transformation of people’s lives, etc. One of the most important things I understand Christian to be pointing to in this review is the notion that this neglect of theology is actually allowing the “postmodern turn” to become a tool for reinforcing its own uninterrogated cultural assumptions–which are not surprisingly bourgeois, puritanical, white, and heterosexist (and as patriarchal as all those things are). The juxtaposition between “conservative” (Neo-Calvinism) and “liberal” (Emergent) that this book stages is thus not a theological but a cultural battle, one internal to and conditioned by these wider, uncriticized cultural assumptions. That critique of the cultural influence is really at the margins of Christian’s review, though he does points to its perpetuation of the destructive consequences for the LGBTQ community in particular. At its heart is Christian’s conviction that the perpetuation of these assumptions is the result of a theological error, an error in which Jesus of Nazareth is conflated with the Church. He has noted in the comments that he does not reject the idea that the Church is a participation in Christ’s life, and in this sense is a continuation of the incarnation, but he believes that the author’s do not allow that distinction to do its important critical work with regard to these cultural assumptions that inform the work. And that carries profound political, social, and psychological implications for people–which (I take Christian’s point to be) it is in our historical and cultural location it is ecclesially irresponsible to neglect.

    No one has responded to this theological claim. It is an important one. Maybe it is wrong, maybe it is not. But it is not in any way irrelevant–especially for the stated goals and concerns of the book. The responses given here so far have just been a form of “gaslighting”: “Whoah, man, chill. You’re majorly overreacting.” That’s what refusing to deal with the theological substance allows. So part of taking Christian seriously as a dialogue partner means addressing that claim directly.

    Second, Christian also notes–in what is a truly damning charge if it is true–that this failure to be critical means that “evangelization,” “mission,” “friendship,” and “mutuality” are not at all what they claim to be. They are actually, concretely, materially (and not just “conceptually) forms of “making you like me,” which is domination, suppression, subsumption–what he prefers to link to imperialism. I understand Christian to be pressing the authors to take the real-world, concrete consequences of this kind of unintentional perpetuation of a dominant set of cultural assumptions with the utmost of seriousness. A church, he says, that is truly “missional,” truly committed to friendship will not have at its heart this kind of implicit and unrecognized domination. A true friend, he reminds us, does not conceal a dagger beneath his cloak by which he leads you where he wants you. She makes you more who yourself, finds her own life embellished by the flourishing of your life, and celebrates what you share with you.

    And speaking as his friend: snarky as he may be, Christian himself is a model of the excellence of friendship. We will all be better for listening more closely with him.

  19. I was working on my dissertation this evening and came across this in the works of the 4th century monk John Cassian and it made me think of the conversation here- especially the critique of too closely linking of the Church and Christ (that the church extends the incarnation simply by being the church).

    “If the Kingdom of God is within us, and the Kingdom of God is itself righteousness and peace and joy, then whoever abides in these things is undoubtedly in the Kingdom of God. And on the contrary, those who are involved in unrighteousness and discord and sadness that produces death are dwelling in the kingdom of the devil and in hell and in death.” Conferences 1.13.3 (Translated by Boniface Ramsey)

    All of this is to say I am with the monk here- careful attention to distinguish is not the necessary theological move. Rather, the church participates in the incarnation, the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God, even making present the kingdom of God insofar as it produces the fruit of righteousness, peace, joy and life. And, as he says, the contrary is true- the church ceases to participate in the incarnation insofar as it creates strife, contention, alienation, sadness, and death.

    From here, I think the friendship critique is mute in light of this understanding of the community and incarnation. Friendship, as it contributes to the life, joy, righteousness, and joy is a site for the in breaking of the kingdom. Its not a matter of friendship for the luring into conversion but a vision of relationship and mutuality as part of the incarnational way of life. If I “friend” someone just so they will attend my congregation or contribute to my cause- that is using others for my gain. In Jesus, bringing life and joy to his disciples (even longing to celebrate the Passover meal with them as friends, even family) was not a matter of using them, but taking part in the in breaking of the Kingdom of God together.

    Of course this does not address the sense that Prodigal describes friendship or “extending the incarnation” in these negative ways but rather to point to a more missional understanding of incarnation, ecclesiology, and friendship.

    Josh