The Church of Us vs. Them: Freedom from a Faith That Feeds on Making Enemies, David E. Fitch. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2019.
Summary: Discusses the roots of a church of us versus them and proposes a vision of the church as a space beyond making enemies.
Even though there are serious signs that American churches are experiencing significant losses of numbers and cultural influence, Christians are hanging onto habits of a posture of “us versus them” developed during a time of greater cultural ascendancy. So contends pastor David E. Fitch, who believes it is a matter of urgent concern that the church move to a space beyond us versus them to one that refuses to make enemies.
Fitch explores the factors that contribute to enemy making. He observes how distinctives of belief and behavior can develop a life of their own becoming the litmus test of who is one of “us” and who is one of “them.” Eventually the distinctives can become banners, often devoid of the content that originally shaped them, but that defines the divide between friends and enemies. Often, these divides both feed on fear and make us feel better about ourselves.
Fitch explores three distinctive banners of evangelical faith. One is the banner of the “inerrant Bible” and the idea of being a “biblical” Christian, language invoked for whatever position one wishes to uphold with a smattering of scripture. This language is used in a way that exercises power over, and excludes people. Fitch proposes instead that when we move to a space beyond making enemies, the Bible is the story of the Grand Drama of God. We do not use the Bible to win arguments and fight for a “position” but to hear and extend an invitation for all to enter into that Great Drama. We do not assume we possess “inerrant truth” but continue to listen humbly to each other as we search the text of scripture to understand our part in the drama.
The second distinctive banner is that of “the decision.” Perhaps nothing better defines who is “in” and who is “out” than the “decision” for Christ. Sadly, so many of those who wave this banner fail to go on to a life of vibrant discipleship following Jesus, and often have no difficulty justifying the compatibility of immoral behavior with being “saved” because they have made “the decision.” Instead Fitch argues for a vision of conversion beyond us versus them, as participation over a lifetime in a faithful life of repentance and surrender to Christ, characterized both by forgiveness and personal holiness, and a commitment to extending Christ’s healing and salvation into every aspect of the world’s need. While such a conversion doesn’t make enemies in its invitation to all to follow Christ, it exposes those who make themselves the enemies of Christ by refusing his gracious rule.
The third banner is the church that seeks to make America Christian again and seeks to do so aligned with the politics of the right (Jerry Falwell) or the left (Jim Wallis). Instead, he contends for the church as its own political structure, “a demonstration plot of the Kingdom.” Fitch writes:
All this means that the difference between Christians and the world is not a spatial one, it’s an eschatological one. It’s not an us-vs-them difference. It’s a matter of timing. There are not two spaces: the space of the ones who are “in” and the ones who are “out.” Rather, the church is already where the world is heading; the world just doesn’t know it yet. We are living in the kingdom ahead of time. We are the first fruits of a harvest that shall be fully gathered in the future. We are against no one. Despite appearances, the world is not our enemy. We are just ahead of them. The church is the space beyond enemies, the church beyond us vs. them.
He closes by talking about the way Jesus addressed controversy by confounding the enemy-making tendency of people, supremely demonstrated with the woman caught in adultery. Jesus responds in silence, writing in the sand, and then bids those without sin to go ahead and stone her. He refuses to condemn her and restores her while extending the true sense of the law into her life as he pronounces her both forgiven and urges her to no longer choose sin in her life. He then asks if we will be the presence of Jesus in the world in how we engage the Bible, how we practice conversion and mission, and how we live as the church in the world.
I’m not sure if Fitch explains to my satisfaction why we feel so compelled to make enemies, which is not merely a Christian but rather a human behavior. What he does do well is explain the dynamics of how this has worked itself out among evangelical Christians. He also offers a compelling vision of a space beyond us versus them, not a space of compromise, but something different altogether, caught up in God’s Grand Drama. I suspect there are some still enamored of fighting battles against “them” and seeing the world in terms of friends and enemies (and we can never be quite sure of our friends). But I also suspect that there others who are tired of “othering” both inside and outside the church. They want to choose love rather than fear; the open arms of embrace rather than the closed fists of a fight. For these, Fitch offers a vision of the church as a place where that can begin to happen.
Disclosure of Material Connection: Thanks, Brazos Press, for the chance to read an advanced reading copy of this forthcoming book. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.