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).