Over the last couple of months I’ve had the privilege of reading the book “Prodigal Christianity” with a group of my friends here in Spokane. All of them are good thinkers and we had a wonderful time processing the ideas by Dave Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw.
The book is really an attempt to locate a way forward that is truly prodigal in today's Christianity, a third way if you will. A writing device the authors employed is a cyclical juxtaposition between a Neo-Reform perspective of Christianity (Piper, Keller, et al) and a more “Emergent” version (McLaren and Jones). Honestly, a device I am not entirely thrilled with and I would suspect the authors represented in the book probably were not wild about either. Nonetheless, while looking at both of these poled perspectives they seek to mine out an alternative way for the church to move forward in the undulating social challenges of Western society.
The authors capably lay out a progression of ideas tethered to the idea of Barth’s “Far Country.” They move from a theological orientation or baseline to the more practical issues such as homosexuality and social justice (both chapters are probably worth the price of the book), both I deeply appreciated. They refer to “Signposts” that assist us to navigate both the church and “powder keg” issues we currently face as Christians in the U.S.
As far as full disclosure, I must say that I've appreciated Dave Fitch’s ideas before I read this book (The Great Giveaway) and am a causal acquaintance of both authors. I have great appreciation and admiration for both of them. You can locate both men’s personal blogs at…Fitch - Reclaiming Mission & Holsclaw - Into the Far Country
One of the key elements of the book for me was the nuanced challenge to be present in every situation trusting God is there before us, an idea often called prevenience. I honestly think if each Christian person I know could embrace the idea that they are expounding it would change Christianity. I know that sounds like a stretch, but I truly beleive it. In Signpost #2, the missio Dei, Fitch vulnerably writes about learning how to pray for his neighbors;
"I had in mind that this meant to pray for my friends to somehow see their need for God's forgiveness and that I would have an opportunity to give them the answer: the gospel of being forgiven from sin. The friend challenging me said, 'No, God is already working there, in each person's life. Just pray that you will have eyes to see what God is doing so you can participate with a word, or a prayer, with laughter, or a tear.' If the Triune God is already in mission, then I need to see the world in which I regularly walk as the arenas of the Spirit – places imbued with the presence of God. This was a fundamental shift. It changed the way I walked into every space of my life. Missio Dei means that God is already at work in our lives and the lives of all around us."
The other bit that I found quite significant about the book is the author's insistence that these issues that all of us face must be worked out in a local context, the local church. All of the jockeying for influence on the net or in celebrity Christianity is doing nothing more than exacerbating the problems that we have. These issues must be worked out with real people, in real time, in a real location. I could not concur more.
In summary, I would recommend this book with great enthusiasm to anyone trying to navigate the nuances of what it means to live life on mission in a postmodern context. Both Fitch and Holsclaw have grasped the idea that being a Christian today isn't about reactivity or in finding yourself in some sort of theological entrenchment, but in moving into the “far country,” being prodigal in a nonreactive, loving, open…local way.