David E. Fitch’s The Great Giveaway: Reclaiming the Mission of the Church from Big Business, Parachurch Organizations, Psychotherapy, and Consumer Capitalism is the best Christian book I’ve read since Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth. A fantastic primer discussing how the Church must live in a postmodern age, The Great Giveaway examines the ways the Church bowed the knee to modernism and gave away her soul. By allowing alternative scientific approaches to spirituality to trump the Gospel of Christ, the modern Church distanced itself from historic faithfulness. In keeping to this premise, The Great Giveaway does not attempt to critique postmodernism, but finds the everlasting truths of Christ and asks how they reveal themselves in this age.
If that sounds like emerging church rhetoric, trust me, it’s not. Fitch manages to step out of the emerging church versus traditional church battle and show where each is lacking. What makes The Great Giveaway better than all the books critiquing the American Church today is that Fitch not only sees the problems, he offers the best solutions I’ve encountered. (Much of what you’ve read on Cerulean Sanctum since the inception of this blog is mirrored in the pages of The Great Giveaway, so if it sounds like I’m tooting my own horn here, I’m trying to be as objective as I can under the circumstances.)
Is this a perfect book? By no means. Serious flaws spring up here and there. A couple months ago a commenter asked how I could recommend flawed books. (I had issues with some of the concepts in Randy Frazee’s two books, though I recommend them highly). I’d like to turn that around and ask what books besides the Scriptures are without flaws? Discernment, so utterly lacking in the Church today, necessitates that we read every book by every author—our favorites or not—with an eye toward error and truth. Real discernment is not blanket condemnation, but rather wrestling with ideas with the aid of the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures.
The Great Giveway features the following chapters, and I’ll deal with each in turn this week:
- Our Definition of Success
- The Production of Experience
- The Preaching of the Word
- Our Understanding of Justice
- Spiritual Formation
- Moral Education
Our Definition of Success
Fitch begins his book with an easy target: “Megachurchianity,” as I call it. Numbers, he writes, do not translate into faithfulness. Church Growth Movement thinking owes more to business principles than Scripture. The result of working toward bigness is a consumeristic outgrowth of church that places rugged individualism and business efficiency at the core of church health rather than faithfulness to Christ. Faithful churches instead center their life in Christ and genuine community. That community is measured by real relationship with fellow believers that speaks hard truths into people’s lives, sees the need for confessing sin in a grace-filled local body, and calls on church members to partake in discerning prayer needs for each person’s life and the church as a whole.
Since most of the people who read Cerulean Sanctum agree that an obsession with numbers tends to curtail real discipleship, I have little comment. The Great Giveaway starts with an easy target and doesn’t add much to the discussion. We agree that consumerist Christianity fails. We know how megachurch religion missed the boat on every living and active part of the Church. Fitch doesn’t add much to the conversation. Think of this chapter as a touchstone for everything else that follows.
Fitch points out that postmodernism is the death-knell to evangelism that relies solely on apologetics. Postmoderns are not impressed by talk that does not follow walk. In fact, walk is proof of talk. Postmoderns are much more willing to listen to Bible truth when that truth is preceded with Bible walk.
Evangelical obsession with evangelistic methodology comes at the expense of real relationships with people. We’re more interested in getting someone saved than being their friend. The days of that thinking are numbered, though. What people today need to see in Christians is the actual living out of the evidence of Christ in us. This puts the evangelistic onus back on the community of believers rather than the individual. Individuals can still attest to Christ by their own life changes and Christ working through them, but the real power is in a transformed community. The early Church’s influence came about because people saw Christ in that community.
To that ends, hospitality, praying for others in need, showing mercy to those who desperately need it, and bringing justice to those without it are stronger evidences of the veracity of Christ than merely running through The Four Spiritual Laws or The Romans Road. Fitch by no means subjugates the Scriptures to experience, but instead shows that love overcomes roadblocks that enable the truth of Scripture to permeate the hardened hearts of people today. It’s the sun that melts the snow in Isaiah 55:10-11.
In an age when we in America have virtually no sense of real community, developing a worshipful community that embodies genuine relationships that alter how we live every day should fuel our evangelism. Fitch also seeks to recover the importance of our baptism into a worshipping community, stating that too much attention has been put on one singular act of conversion and not enough on the kind of long-term discipleship that Christ calls for in the Great Commission. He also sees Church planting as the healthy expression of a growing church rather than the tendency to grow into a megachurch.
We need to always be careful when someone states that God’s Word needs outside proof to be reconciled as true. Postmodernism’s obsession with avoiding absolute truth is infamous, but I don’t believe that Fitch is saying that walk makes talk true. God’s Word is true by itself. However, to a generation raised on hearing the Bible constantly—who can truly escape it in America?—but without seeing it practiced much by the Church, we need to consider how we walk out what we believe in front of others because our walk is supposed to be a reflection of the truth of the Gospel.
The failure of church bodies and individuals to live out what they believe is largely responsible for the mess we see both inside and outside our churches. Call it sin, unbelief, or laziness, but whatever the label, we blew it.
I agree with Fitch on most every comment and solution he offers in this chapter. We Christians do need to start living as an alternative community within the larger society rather than finding the church co-opting that society’s patterns of living and broken solutions to problems.
If I have one problem, I don’t believe that planting more churches is the answer. We have enough churches. Now if an existing church is growing so large that it naturally must subdivide, that’s a different response than simply planting churches. I think Fitch favors subdivision, but he doesn’t make that entirely clear when he discusses church planting.
The review of The Great Giveaway continues with Part 2 and Part 3 .
8 thoughts on “The Great Giveaway, Part 1”
Sounds good. Looking forward to hearing more. I just put it on my Amazon wish list. Thanks for the recommendation.
I do believe Fitch is emergent, although not the typical “McLaren” type. It discouraged me when I read tha book that according to his own accounts he hangs around with the emergent leaders. But I still would say he is the model of what emergent should be.
I suppose we could go back to James to look at what calling oneself a Christian without acting like a Christian is. I put in an order for the book and look forward to what he has to say. But from my uneducated perspective, we hardly need more books to tell us how to act out our faith. We just need to read the one we’ve been priveledged to hold in our hands for centuries and do what it says.
The Bible is rich. We often miss much. God sent prophets to remind the people of what they were forgetting. Good books can do that, too.
How we practice the Faith within our specific cultural milieu will also be different. Books can show us what we’re missing that can deepen our faith.
Books (and the authors who write them) function like teachers. The Bible tells us not to despise teaching and correction. For this reason, too, books have purpose.
I owe so much to the authors I’ve read over the years. I am the Christian I am today more for what I read in books than any direct teaching I’ve gotten over the years. Because we tend to congregate in churches with people who are just like us, we tend to miss the panoramic view of the Faith that God wants us to have. The Asian preacher has something different to teach me than the American preacher. We need that kind of diversity of thought. Even the Bible reflects this. The epistles of John are remarkably different from the the Book of Hebrews, but we need them both!
I agree with you. I have no desire to get the book because THE BOOK is enough for me.
In Hebrew there are 4 different levels of interpretation that every scripture can have.
The peshat (literal interpretation), the remez (to hint at, profound, prophetic), the drash ( to passionately pursue, seek) and the sod ( the dark sayings, mysteries, hidden,). I write that to say that the Torah, the scriptures from Genesis to Revelation has enough for me to feast on and then some….for the rest of my days…what could mere man add to that??
This is why I am so perplexed by all these ‘christian’ blogs…no one really ever just talks about the Word…at least the blogs that I have read. There seem to be alot of regurgitating of writers’ philospohies..ie spurgeon, calvin….who cares???
This is why the “church” is totally incompetent, dysfunctional, and completely in ERROR. This is nothing new…Judah and Israel (both houses) also have cared more for the teachings of man than for Yahweh’s WORD!
It is disgusting. It is time for a FAST from the teachings of man and return to the banqueting table of our Messiah. His Word is honey to my lips..
So good for you David….I applaud you….and I love your humbleness by stating “from my uneducated perspective”…..stay that way…it is refreshing.
No one is denigrating Scripture here! Plenty of Scripture is discussed in a godly way on this blog.
How we practice the Scriptures we know is one of the main purposes of Cerulean Sanctum. But practice differs largely with respect to cultural forces that must be understood. Those cultural forces influence everything we practice of the Faith, but we often ignore how influential they are because our own cultural guides have become invisible to us. Books like The Great Giveaway point out how cultural practices have influenced how we operate as Christians. For that reason, they are important.
Scripture tells us many things, but it does not always tell us how or what we should do on a granular level. The Spirit lives in us for that reason. God speaks the how and what to us by His Spirit, not just through His word.
For instance, if my neighbor is sick, how should I best minister to him? The Bible tells us that we should minister to the sick, but it does not always tell us how. Many times, the “how” is influenced more by cultural forces than the guiding of the Spirit. Sometimes those cultural forces are in line with the Spirit and sometimes they are not. The Spirit guides us where the Scriptures are silent.
“And God spoke all these words:
‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.’ ” Ex 20:1-2
The 1st commandment of Yahweh is to remind His people that He is the one who brings us out of slavery from the bondage of Egypt ( world system, religious system). This part is ignorantly forgotten b/c the catholic church, and continued with the protestant churches, did not understand that the 1st commandment is stating why “You shall have no other gods before me”…b/c Yahweh was the ONE who brought them out of slavery.
Your statement of …”How we practice the Faith within our specific cultural milieu will also be different.” ….I don’t agree with and thus is what I see to be the biggest problem within the ‘christian church’.
Let me explain what I mean.
Yahweh is a cyclical Elohim (G-d). He has and always will be. That is why He gives us His new moons, His feasts, His Torah …so that He can walk His people through each year and all of us be ONE.
Last week my family and millions of others celebrated Feast of Tabernacles. We put up our sukkah (tent) in our yard, and spent the week rejoicing in our G-d and thanking Him for all that He has done in our lives. By this act of obedience we are reminded that Yahweh is all that we need, that He will shelter us, provide for us, protect us. These are rehearsals (miqra) not only for the past but also for the future. These are the moedim (Holy appointments) that our Bridegroom wants to have with His bride.
So many in charismatic circles are wanting a ‘visitation’ from the Lord…not knowing that every year Yahweh has appointments that He has set up and they miss them. These are His appointments. He is there waiting for us to show up….let that sink in. Wow.
So this week starts the beginning of the cycle again. Reading from the 1st chapter of Bereshith (Genesis). All of His people will be learning together the lessons that He wants teach us. Practicing the scriptures should be in obedience to what is explicitly taught in Torah. It has nothing to do with cultural influences. It is black and white. I understand what you mean by the Spirit guides us where the scriptures are silent….I also know that the scriptures teach alot more than what most new covenant brethren realize.
What commandment is the least commandment that Yeshua was referring to? When asked most believers don’t know. (Deut 22:6-7)
What scripture is Paul referring to in 2 Timothy 3:16 when he states that ‘All scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness”……the new testament wasn’t around at that time…..so what scripture??
There is so much in the Torah on how to live once one is saved …and about how to live as a community..but many believers are ignorant to what the Torah is ….they have no idea that they have this guidebook.
They have been taught by shepherds that it has been done away with…’nailed to the cross’….and so they continue to walk and live in defeat. They continue to purchase books…when the only BOOK they need to study and learn from is Torah (Yeshua is the Living Torah…so I am referring to Genesis thru Revelation –the beginning and the end)
As Moses said, ” They are not just idle words for you- they are your life.” Deut 32:47