Recently, I have been re-reading Dr. David Fitch’s The Great Giveaway– Reclaiming the Mission of the Church from Big Business, Parachurch Organizations, Psychotherapy, Consumer Capitalism and Other Modern Maladies. I met Fitch several years ago when I was serving as an Associate Pastor in Indiana. He is a very intellectual person with a keen sense of how the conservative church has been infected by modernism (of course the liberals are too, but they self-admittedly were servants of modernism, whereas, the conservatives continue to maintain their integrity in the midst of such a great compromise).
In my first reading of Fitch, I initially agreed with just about everything he said. Those who know me know that I often rant about how the church has been taken captive by democratic individualism, capitalistic choice, militant justice, and corporate domination. I very much agree with Christian Smith’s conclusion that overall the American Christian is actually a believer in moralistic therapeutic deism– that great American religion that is being exported to the world through the media and missionaries.
Fitch makes some very good points about how the church is captive in this book. For example, in chapter three, he discusses how the church’s ideas of leadership have been taken captive by corporate America. And I can agree with this. The pastor has become CEO, evangelism is now marketing, church growth is about increasing shareholder value and market share. We look to business for our ideas and ideals about teams, organization, structures, and vision. We look for entrepreneurs for church planting. Churches seek to be effective rather than faithful, and Christian teachers find a way to show how scripture and theology make those two things synonymous with one another. We are definitely captive.
However, upon my second reading I feel a huge tug to pull back from this. He criticizes the idea at the beginning of chapter three that “leadership principles” are universal. Thus, Maxwell can write a book called The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. Fitch writes, “The implicit bottom-line understanding here is that leadership principles are not determined in specific ways by the person and work of Jesus Christ that demand allegiance to him in order to make sense.”
I find myself completely agreeing, and yet disagreeing completely at the same time (if that is truly possible!). Jesus Christ changes everything. Jesus Christ should be the mediator of everything. Jesus Christ should be the lens to look at everything. But… good leaders seem to be able to lead well with or without Jesus. Good leadership principles seem to work with or without Jesus. The Empire marches on successfully. And while noting this, perhaps not all things in the empire are truly of the empire.
Which bring me to what I think is the crux of the debate… what is the role of general revelation? Although we are fallen– or bent as C.S. Lewis liked to say, we still are able to do good in the world even if we do not follow Jesus. God’s fingerprint is on his creation. These things can miss the mark most of the time, but they are not totally off. Sometimes, they just need a little correction. Or do they need a total re-haul. Do they need to be re-formatted– erase and start all over? Except that even in Jesus Christ making us new creatures, we are not re-formatted like a hard drive (or are we?). We are still us! Yet, somehow different.
At this point some one always says, “It’s a mystery. We can’t comprehend how Christ works in us and changes us. We are not able to grasp how things are “already but not yet.” The problem with this is that we have a real world, with real problems, and real debates like the one of the role of corporate America and the church. I don’t want our churches to have a CEO like GM in the 1950s, but what if our CEO is more like Steve Jobs. That would be cool! Steve has a lot to teach us in the church. And Jesus would have some things to say to Apple as well. But now, it seems as if we have just put Steve and Jesus on the same elevation. Isn’t Jesus supposed to be at the top? And yet, I could see Jesus serving Steve Jobs, even submitting himself to Steve Jobs.
If we are going that far, Jesus submits himself to sin and death– even a humiliating and cursed death of a cross. Jesus submits himself to desecration– which means he desecrates himself. The death on the cross actually made him an unclean sacrifice, unacceptable to God according to the Torah. He wasn’t valid. Thus, he would be rejected by God in a similar way that Cain’s sacrifice was rejected by God. It would be like breaking a sheep’s legs and then trying to offer it in sacrifice at the temple. Nope! Such a sacrifice is invalid.
I want the church to learn some lessons from Starbucks and Google. Starbucks get something about team work– and work in general for that matter. When the college ministries director and I went to the local fraternities as a way of our congregation reaching out to them, we came back proclaiming that fraternity to have better community and friendship and hospitality than our own congregation. To which people reply, well yes, I’m sure they do have some sort of good community. But it certainly isn’t the fulfilling type of community that Christ offers. True! It might not be… but hey, it seems better than what we see in most congregations.
We talk about these Christ-ideals as if we have them and that we can provide them to people by simply giving them the gospel or believe that if they join up with us they will experience such a Jesus. But they don’t experience such a Jesus, or such a community, or such a great way of leadership because we ourselves who believe in Jesus don’t experience such a thing. The culture at some cutting-edge businesses is way better than in most congregations.
And that fact– and I will restate FACT– makes me doubt most of my typical thinking and ideas about culture. I preach the same message found in Fitch’s book. I have stated on paper and screen and said out loud much of what he says in his book. I can’t really find many lines I disagree with. But, I FEEL a sense that the ideas presented by him and that I hold so tenaciously are off in some way.