Book Review of Michael Gorman’s “The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant”

One of the atonement books I was assigned this quarter was the book The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant by Michael Gorman. This was a fantastic read. Gorman saw that many of the atonement theories offered, especially since the Reformation, are both too mechanistic in focus and/or myopic in scope. He seeks in this book to offer a comprehensive and fundamental layer of atonement understanding that will allow all of the theories to have space to interact and find meaning in relation to one another rather than demand a singular allegiance. Gorman calls this “new” method or theory of the atonement a “new covenant” approach.

Gorman uses the first three chapters of his book to lay out that the cross created a new covenant people of God, the primary aim of God’s promises in the Old Testament. He first shows how the New Testament’s claims the followers of King Jesus are liberated and reshaped as the covenant people, who are now rightly in relation to God and one another, by means of the cross. He then shows how these experiences of salvific liberation and unity are fulfillments of the covenant promises in the Old Testament. By showing these new covenant promises as fulfilled through the atonement of the cross Gorman proposes that the current options of atonement theories are inadequate, especially when they try to explain all aspects of salvation.

The next few chapters are dedicated to understanding the new covenant atonement as an atonement that is participated in and performed. For Gorman, since “the purpose of Christ’s death on the cross is to create a people of the covenant”, then “[t]he cross… must be understood not only not only as the source but also as the shape of salvation.”[1] Because of this the new covenant community takes on three particular ways of practicing the atonement: cruciform faithfulness, cruciform love, and cruciform peace. Each of these practices are imitations of God in and through King Jesus that allows for actual participation within the life of God through the Spirit. Cruciform faithfulness offers a way of life that manifests hope. This faithfulness allows sufferings to be redeemed in God’s salvation since his faithful presence with the new covenant people assures Christians of the promise of resurrection found in King Jesus. Cruciform love takes the faithfulness that is willing to suffer for God and extends it to those with whom God himself suffered. Since the new covenant atonement is for a whole people born out of the broken world then in order to practice the love of the atonement Christians must be willing to faithfully suffer for others too. Lastly, cruciform peace offers a way of life. This life, faithful to the imitation and participation in the sufferings of King Jesus, is for the world by inviting it into the new covenant people and is proactively seeking to redeem the relationships broken within Creation. Gorman calls this peacekeeping and peacemaking, which means seeking to manifest the realities of salvation which have been created in the cross of King Jesus. Gorman does not believe salvation should be seen as something a person is able to simply benefit from, rather it is a fully encompassing (baptizing) participatory reality which will be manifest in the life of those who become a part of God’s covenant people. In this way it connects with Bonhoeffer’s teachings against “cheap grace”.

At the end of this book it becomes clear Gorman has undertaken a massive task. He seeks to shift the very foundation of all other atonement theories by offering them all a place and structure for language. This new environment for atonement theories allows those studying these theories to place them within a larger frame of reference, allowing the theories to play off one another and develop a larger picture (the new covenant people of God) rather than solve specific theological issues. Gorman believes, and in many ways excellently persuades, that “the New Testament writers are far less interested in the mechanics of atonement than they are the results of atonement.”[2] This is the gem of Gorman’s work in this book; the atonement is not simply something that God did in order to make salvation possible but it is the work in the cross that continues in and through the covenant people of God today in the Spirit. Atonement in a new covenant model offers ways of approaching the cross from all of the Scriptural and traditional theories, but more than that offers the very story of King Jesus as the paradigm through which the cross finds its meaning and continued purpose.

This, I believe, is what Gorman offers to those who teach in the churches. The atonement is something that should be taught from the vantage point of its salvific results rather than by its particular mechanics. While a teacher or preacher who is going through the epistle to the Hebrews will need to stress the sacrificial metaphors of the forgiveness of sins, the purpose of forgiveness, the creation of a forgiven people, is what should be stressed most strongly. In other words, the atonement is teleological, or in better theological terms, eschatological. The atonement is the “when and where” event in which the people of God and God are most fully made one—in King Jesus on the cross. While it may seem like an event in the past, the cross is the future of all things. The cross is atonement because it achieved the end which all Christians, the whole new covenant people of God, are participating in for all of eternity. Such a generalized theory of atonement leaves many specific things about salvation unanswered, but Gorman’s new covenant atonement theory is as wide as the Biblical story’s view of salvation. It is this story, culminated in the cross of King Jesus’ gospel, which is the atonement we offer to all the world.


 

[1] Michael J. Gorman, The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant: A (Not so) New Model of the Atonement (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2014), 175, 213.

[2] Gorman, 210.

Explorations in Atonement: Theory Readings

This week our class had a number of readings that allowed the different theories of atonement to be presented by those who hold to each. I will be evaluating each of these representations and offering my appreciation and critique for each of the theories as I find them.

 

“The Atonement Debate” chapter in Across the Spectrum by Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy:

Penal Substitution

  • Negative: I am not convinced that Jesus’ death was needed to solve God’s issues concerning holiness. If Jesus is divine then he could not have “become sin” for us in this model of atonement. The incarnation works against this view’s dogged assumption that God cannot put up with sin. It would seem God could not put up with sin ravaging Creation and therefore was dealing with the sin issues in Creation by willfully dealing with sin in the body of King Jesus.
  • Negative: The critique of Wright on the common usage of this model still stands. It is far to focused on individual benefits rather than the communal reality brought into existence through the cross. Furthermore, that individuals benefit is usually the escapist hope of not suffering in Hell for eternity and rather living eternally in the pleasures of heaven. The Cartesian “soul” spirituality aside, this fear of suffering and hope in pleasure usurps the reality of the cross and condemns this popular view as feeding into, and possibly born out of, a cultural obsession with pleasure and happiness as the ultimate good of life.
  • Positive: I still agree that King Jesus was giving himself as a sacrifice on our behalf so that the punishment of sin would not fall on those who find life through and in him. In as much as punishment is still being removed and the king is representatively protecting his kingdom then there is some merit elements of penal substitution.

 

Christus Victor

  • Negative: The idea that salvation is secondary to the cosmic battle God is having against Satan does not seem to be compelling to me. This could easily be reworked to be understood as through salvation for humanity God overcomes Satan. This would make sense of King Jesus’ statement that when his disciples went out and participated in his ministry of exorcism he saw Satan fall from heaven (Lk. 10:17-20).
  • Positive: This view locates salvation as manifest first for and through humanity, but not only about humanity. The focus of salvation is the redemption of all things, Creation itself, and humanity is called to participate in this salvific reality.
  • Postive: Christus Victor locates atonement, and the salvation that pours forth both in humanity and into the whole cosmos, within the historical realities of the story of God in relation to Israel. The theological implications of atonement and salvation only find their sense and power within the manifested history of Israel that culminates in the long awaited coming of the Davidic King, Jesus of Nazareth.

 

Moral Government

  • Negative: The focus of this atonement theory is on form of outcome that God desires, a holy people. The problem is that the form of holiness revealed in King Jesus is not enough to empower or reshape the realities of humanity lost in sin and death. If the law taught Israel anything it was that they were not able to live up to the standard of holiness as the people of God, even with the gracious forgiveness of God continually offered in the sacrificial system. The cross must actually have effect and cannot simply be revelatory in order to be the cross which brings salvation for the kingdom of God. Furthermore, what it the point of the cross if propitiating God’s anger against sin is not for forgiveness? Saying King Jesus died to show God is seriously angry about sin does not seem to actually deal with sin.
  • Positive: This theory does place a high value on learning to live in the way King Jesus revealed by the example of his own life. King Jesus is the truly human one who makes it possible to live in relation to God eternally and if we wish to participate in that reality then we are to live as he lived in this world (1st John makes this pretty clear I think).

 

“Redemption and fall” by Trevor Hart, The Cambridge Companion to Christian Doctrine (1997)

  • Good Warnings: First, not all atonement metaphors seem to be given equal weight in the New Testament. Something is to be learned from each but the amount of emphasis each metaphor deserves should be varied and scrutinized.
  • Quote: “Whenever the story which the church tells appears to dovetail neatly and without wrinkles with the stories which human beings like to tell about themselves and their destiny, it is likely that the church is cutting the cloth of the gospel to fit the pattern laid down by the Zeitgeist rather than the heilige Geist.” p. 191
  • Quote: “What the metaphors and models all have in common, if they are faithful developments or translations of the apostolic tradition, is a specific focus in history; namely, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. They do not drift freely across the plains of history as universal truths of reason, or recurrent religious myths in which the global hopes and aspirations of humankind are expressed. They are rooted here, in the awkward particulates of God’s dealings with actual men and women, inseparable from the specificities of time and place to which the Christian scriptures bear witness, although transcendent of these in their significance. There, indeed, is the rub for many whose sensitives are finely tuned to the wavelengths of modernity with its historical consciousness and relativistic outlook. God, the Christian gospel insists, has acted decisively for our salvation here rather than elsewhere. It is in the personal particularities of the story of Jesus, a historically and culturally remote figure for most of the human race, that our own personal stories collide with God’s story, that they are somehow take up into his story and transformed. Here particularity and universality refuse to be prised apart.” pp. 192-193
  • Anselm’s Satisfaction Theory: Hart skillfully explains Anselm’s theory as God fulfilling through the incarnation the lacking of human duty and faithfulness due to God because of willingness to sin. Only the fullness of divinity enfleshed is able to properly fulfill humanity before and toward the Creator. I would easily call this a form of representative substitution on account of the representative nature of the incarnation for all of humanity and also because King Jesus is willing to suffer in any way to fulfill the obedience of humanity towards God. As Hart explains, God’s anger is not the driving motivation for God’s satisfaction though punishment is inevitable for humanity on account of sin. God makes atonement through King Jesus precisely because there is punishment for sin and he loves us thereby making a way to God when humanity could not.
  • Modern Enlightenment’s Atonement: Hart explains that in the midst of the Enlightenment’s modern developments Anselm’s Satisfaction theory forged through penal-substitution’s individualistic assumptions led to an idea that King Jesus came to reveal and unleash the latent good and potential within humanity. There was no inherent evil within humanity that needed to be removed by the atonement as much as sin needed to be removed so it was no longer as an impediment to the human condition. The individual and subjective influence of penal substitution created the expectation of an existential experience. This experience of “meeting God” would then allow the person to move “beyond” sin for them to fulfill all that King Jesus intends for the person. This idea of individual fulfillment and self-fulfillment as God’s intent on the cross unmoors atonement from the historical context of the gospel and makes it a Platonic “spiritual” salvation that is nearer to religious therapy than historic Christian theology. Sadly, the only collective thought available within this theory is the cultural notion that humanity is progressing getting better, which is bolstered by the idea that in the cross God is moving humanity towards its truly realized end.

 

“The Nonviolent Atonenment” by J. Denny Weaver, Stricken by God (ed. Hardin, 2007)

  • Positive: This last reading was interesting. The high level of historical focus, meaning Weaver’s dedication to allowing the context of texts give meaning for theology rather than later Christian developments, is refreshing. But sadly, nothing I liked about this essay had anything to do with the proposed atonement theory of a “narrative Christus Victor”. Weaver also was intellectually honest throughout. He is open that if God intended for Jesus to go to the cross then his method is not an option for atonement.
  • Negative: Weaver is so dedicated to his a priori interpretation of Jesus as God cannot “touch” violence in any capacity that much of the New Testament becomes unintelligible. Paul’s insistence on the cross as God’s wisdom and power, the writer of Hebrew’s insistence on forgiveness through sacrifice by God’s appointment, James’ belief that suffering is redeemed (coherent only by interpretation in light of the cross), even Jesus’ own words when he reveals why the incarnation takes place (John 12:23-28) makes no sense if we follow Weaver’s presuppositions.
  • Negative: The most damning element of Weaver’s atonement theory is his openness that for him, and his theory, the cross is not central but rather a byproduct: “The victory of the reign of God over the forces of evil, symboliszed by Rome that killed Jesus, occurs through resurrection.” “The saving element of narrative Christus Victor is resurrection…” “I have emphasized resurrection as the saving event, the sine qua non of this narrative.” “If Jesus’ mission was the life-bringing, life-affirming mission of witnessing to the reign of God as I proposed, then I cannot say that his death was intrinsically necessary to the divine will.”[1]
  • Negative: Because of this dogged allegiance to a self-imposed hermeneutic Weaver makes a philosophical and theological claim I find hard to get past. In his Christus Victor scope of focus he sees the powers and authorities as demonic forces with actual power, and this I do not begrudge him. But he believes it is within their power to destroy the very existence of humans through death as their weapon.[2] In such a statement there are a number of philosophical problems but I would like to focus on the inevitable conclusion that there exists a power in reality that is able to rival God’s creative and sustaining work. To believe that something has the power or right to extinguish existence is to counter God’s power and work effectively. In reality there is another god, one of evil and chaos that is able to destroy our very life. But such a power is only attributed to the Creator God of Israel by none other than King Jesus (Mt. 10:28). Weaver must push this demoted concept of God because if God were the ultimate divine of Christian tradition it would mean all things, even evil only exists by his gracious sustaining and even their behaviors are allowed within God’s intent and purposes. Weaver believes if God allows for the will of God to be accomplished by evil then God is morally bankrupt and therefore restricts himself from an orthodox view of God’s reality.[3]

 


 

[1] J. Denny Weaver, “The Nonviolent Atonement: Human Violence, Discipleship and God,” in Stricken by God? (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007), 330, 340, 347, 351–52.

[2] Weaver, 330.

[3] Weaver, 342–43.

The Links in Theology

This month, as classes started back up after the Christmas Break, my first class meeting was sabotaged by sickness. In lieu of our class we were sent a number of links to watch through in order and then to give our particular responses to them in an online forum. As a way of processing these pieces for consideration I am going to provide them here for anyone to watch through and read, and then I will provide my responses.

The links we were to process through:

  1. An article about the threat of Christian nationalism as represented by the construction of the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.
  2. A video assessing anti-intellectualism in the USA as anti-higher education or anti-seminary education in churches.
  3. The video of Oprah’s Golden Globes award.
  4. Not one, but two editorial responses to Oprah from the New York Times.
  5. An article about living a Christian life that is intentionally reflective on the Trinitarian life.
  6. A post on Dr. McKnight’s blog about a preacher confronted with his deep dislike of those who would be considered Republican-Conservative-Evangelical-Fundamentalist-etc.

My responses will be a bit more edited, polished, restated as it were. Since the forum is a much “closer” space with other students I trust to divulge a bit more personal information. Here, I just want to reproduce my more general points to the questions (which were reorganized by a fellow student for clarity).

 

Respond to the good and bad “soteriology” running through these pieces. 

I could respond to these pieces in nodding approval, as many undoubtedly will, but my agreement to slight portions in them gives them no moral merit to me. I come from the land of those who love the Creation Museum and the Museum of the Bible (heck, our church paid for tickets for people go to both exhibitions when they came only an hour away!). Movies and Hollywood mean nothing. Most towns don’t have a theater, and those few theaters only play the most entertaining movies in order to bring in as many people as possible, but people frequent a movie theater rarely. As an example, my hometown had a theater and a Drive-in. In fact, I lived only half a block away from it for a few years, but still our family only ever went to the movies maybe half-a-dozen times when I was growing up. The point being Hollywood, both the people and productions, are held to be of no significance to life. The meaninglessness of opinions or speeches from those connected to the entertainment industry cannot be overstated.

As my ten year reunion approaches this summer I have been reflecting on the life of many my age from the Ozarks. Of those who I grew up with only a few have left our hometown, and even fewer have left the region. Marriage is clearly a life flavor preference, but having children outside of it is much less. While there are a considerable number of single moms they are rarely outside of some relationship spurred on by their loneliness and allure of someone soothing their insecurities. Single mothers are never considered weak. In the ethos of the Ozarks they are strong, overcoming all odds to have a relatively good life. Everyone is just struggling to survive, to live. Life is the struggle to find meaning in some desired pleasure called “happiness”. So often this happiness, this necessity for life, is found in playing video games, smoking pot, getting drunk, sex, and creating fake family-units with live-in “partners” and “step” kids.

There is a deep contempt for those who would tell them how they ought to live or seem to know better since this message could challenge their life (pleasure) choices. The two structures that offer such advice in the Ozarks are churches and the welfare system, both frequently used for various reasons to make life palatable whether in dealing with suffering or poverty. As these structures seek to guide people they are hated for any demands. I point out this way of life because I believe it shows that the rural lands do not have an upper hand on offering salvation to society. But this doesn’t mean progressives in Hollywood or elsewhere are in a superior position to offer salvation to America either.

These pieces only reveal a growing religious fervor of moralism in those outside the rural lands who say in a faraway voice, “Isn’t it sad how stupid they are?” or “Surely Hollywood has said something of substance!” or “If you only understood more you would know God isn’t on your side.” If this is how I heard it (and I was always seen as a too educated liberal) then how meaningless are these ideas outside their circle of agreement in the cities or on the coasts? The anti-intellectualism of many in America is rooted, not in a dislike for education, but in the rejection of those who believe themselves educated. The self-deemed educated have allowed their own character to become so tarnished they’re unable to give honor and dignity to those they so easily deem uneducated.

Too many Christians in America continue to use churches as places to escape the reality of suffering and hardship through existential “Spirit” encounters or as echo chambers for political banter. The churches, on both sides of nearly any issue, see themselves as bastions of morality in an ocean of societal evil. These pieces do not speak of a positive moral or religious “awaking” in America because Hollywood/intellectuals/elite/liberals/progressives/etc. are all just playing into the same religio-political game that has ravaged the Right in America for decades—the delusion that those who seem more moral are the true Christians. My horrified awakening is that both sides believe good citizenship, nationalism on one side and codified/government-enforced societal acceptance on the other, is the ultimate expression of Christian faith in the American context. While I understand, and feel, the abhorrence to the claim that God is working through nationalism as displayed in the Museum of the Bible, I feel the same abhorrence to seeing spiritual significance given to a Hollywood award show for public displays of progressive Pharisee-ism.

By and large the idea of salvation as transformative and participatory does not exist for Christians in American, whether they are educated or not. Since both sides have accepted the premise that God unquestioningly accepts the person claiming to be a Christian and truly wants the person’s pleasure in life, transformation is reserved for others. Transformation is for someone else because God accepts me and desires what I believe is good. God will eventually transform them to become like me. The only salvation offered by American Christians is approval by my chosen religio-political group by believing and acting in society in certain ways because this group of opinionated religious people fighting in society is where God’s blessing rests. Truly, we are on right side of (eschatological) history.

How does this discussion challenge your own language for salvation/atonement?

There is no question in my mind and heart that the form of what people on both sides of the divide are saying is true; a person must choose to live within a socio-political reality that manifests the life of God. I do believe there is a correct “side” of eschatological history in which salvation has and is breaking into human perception. But when I talk about salvation manifesting in history it is only appropriated to the individual through the community of faith by discipleship. If creation, and its history, has been shaped by, in, and through the person of King Jesus then reality is fully embedded in the presence of the Spirit as manifested within and through his body. By King Jesus’ “body” I mean his historical incarnation and his continued presence as enfleshed by his kingdom in the Spirit. Christian life becomes an embodiment of the atonement found in King Jesus because Christians are formed to re-live his life of sacrificial love and obedience in our context, and in this a person actually participates in the very life of God.

How do our approaches to evangelism (and the underlying atonement theories) invite people ‘home’ to life with God, and his people in Christ?

I think the only way to “gospel” (evangelize) someone is to allow the Spirit to work through our bodies to comfort and serve others, especially in their sufferings. If King Jesus by the Spirit is truly embodied in the people of God as they go to the nations then humanity is interacting with God through Christians. Therefore, Christians are able to bring the presence of God into moments of desolation and offer light and hope in the darkness of daily life. As we prepare people for sufferings through teachings and relationships, when those sufferings appear we are able to redeem them as participation within King Jesus’ cross bringing about new life where death appears.

Those struggling and suffering in this life deeply fixate on pleasure because they believe it invests their life with meaning and purpose, at least subjectively. If they look too far outside their self-focused reasoning they feel and recognize the torrential chaos beyond their subjectivity, this is what most of humanity recoils. Christianity recognizes this fear as the fear of death. Christians, by being conduits of the life of God into Creation, are able to offer meaning and purpose to life without the need to dodge or deny suffering or death. Instead, Christians are able to disciple the nations to redeem Creation even by means of suffering and death, and in this the atonement of King Jesus lives on continually to redeem all things through his people.

How does the language you use to describe the ‘on-ramp’ to the Way shape how people view that Way…and him who is that Way, Truth, and Life?

Our language of salvation should be honest and clear that a person must give themselves wholly and continually to the process of transformation. This self-giving is not an isolated act but is done through a dedicated, faithful, and obedient life lived with the community. Our families, finances, behaviors, and beliefs must be shaped by the redemptive working of the Spirit through the community into the image of King Jesus. Salvation cannot be grasped by those content with the options the world offers and it requires daily dying to all commitments, identity, and relationships founded or based on concepts found in the world.

In such a salvation Jesus is cast as a King who has saved his kingdom from the death and sin of the world. He is eternally with his people by his empowering Spirit, transforming Christians and calling them to participate in his purification of all Creation. The way of Christian life is the manifesting of the atonement in the community of faith. The cross, therefore, becomes the way of life for Christians and in it Christians find that Jesus himself, as King leading his kingdom, is himself the life of God itself in us.

Book Review of David Fitch’s “Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines that Shape the Church for Mission”

Dr. Fitch is a mission focused academic, and there is a lot of confusion, in my opinion, about the relationship between the church’s identity and its mission in most missiological studies, but this book is less about the concept of mission as such. Rather Dr. Fitch works through seven practices he believes should begin to be understood again as sacramental: Eucharist (referred to as the Lord’s Table), Reconciliation (historically called Confession), Proclaiming the Gospel, Being with the “Least of These,” Being with Children, the Fivefold Gifting (APEST), and Kingdom Prayer. Faithful Presence is an exploration of these practices as a way to empower the local community of faith with the presence of King Jesus to fulfill the mission given to the kingdom of God.

Key to Dr. Fitch’s idea of these disciplines is that they are social sacraments. It is less about physical quality of being and more about the space actively created in the participation of these moments in the relationships of those involved. This space, Dr. Fitch contends, brings in the presence of King Jesus, and this is what changes all of creation and empowers the local church to fulfill its mission.

Coupled with this idea of being social sacraments, Dr. Fitch proposes there are three modes of expressing these sacraments in our relationships: close circle (church family), dotted circle (Christians living together in neighborhoods inviting non-believers), and the half-circle (Christians in non-Christian contexts). He believes that the presence of King Jesus is just as present in the community potluck and the conversation at a bar as it is at Eucharist. This is possible because of the quality of the sacrament resting in its social element between the believer and the other person.

There are many stories and exegetical explanations, both cultural and scriptural, throughout the book to help these points which must be read to get the full grasp of Dr. Fitch’s arguments. There were slight historical and textual issues I had with a handful of sections, as should be expected, but overall the argument of the book, that the local church must understand and use communal practices to open up a space for the presence of King Jesus to be empowered to complete the mission, is vitally important and true.

The most powerful chapters for me had to be those over the Lord’s Table (chapter 3), the practice of reconciliation in the relationships of those in the community of faith (chapter 4), and understanding preaching as distinct from teaching (chapter 5). The case for being with children (chapter 7) lacked any real substance to me other than the history of the church demands that we catechize children because they are raised in Christian families (and in many traditions already baptized as infants or very young children). The idea that being with the “least of these” (chapter 6) is a powerful idea that needs to be worked out more as a reality of sacramental being before I am comfortable to connecting, what many would assume, general social justice work as a sacrament.

There are some major issues from my perspective with associating the Fivefold Gifting (chapter 8), or more generally called APEST as taught by Alan Hirsh, and prayer (chapter 9) as sacraments. There is no doubt that exercising one’s gifting and prayer can be sacramental moments that God uses to be with the Christian, but these are just not places where such moments are promised. I believe this is key to understanding sacraments.

My working definition of sacrament for the last number of years has been intentional participatory moments with King Jesus which he has promised to his kingdom. There are a number of texts in the New Testament pointing out that not all prayer to God is heard, even if in the name of King Jesus,[1] let alone always bring in his presence. The same is to be said for the idea of APEST gifting. Personally, there are too many contemporary issues reading back into Ephesians 4 for me to be academically comfortable with the way many use the idea of gifting in APEST. There are also exegetical issues with the rendering of the distinctions and how they function as authority and leadership in the community of faith. All that to say, I see no promise that the exercise of a gift denotes the presence of King Jesus. If anything, Paul seems to critique the Corinthians on issues of the presence of pride and disorder in their gifting rather than the sacramental presence.[2] In my understanding of sacraments, I can’t grant such status to the use of spiritual gifts or prayer, even if they are both often a sacramental moment in Christian life.

As an interested student of the work of Rene Girard, the idea of the sacrament’s social dimension of being is something I can easily get behind. Andrew McGowan also references the social focus of early Christian practices, particularly the importance of the community’s participation in Eucharist.[3] But I would point out that the early Christians’ had a deep emphasis on the real presence of King Jesus in a way that can only be given contemporary language as biological (whatever that might mean for us must be worked out).[4] Is it enough to simply have relationship or are we saying the Christian is sacramentally the very body of Jesus, not figuratively, but actually is the biological expression of the Spirit of King Jesus? From my studies the social and biological aspects of human being (and therefore human presence) cannot be separated. Space by and in the sacraments must be space for both elements of presence.

Faithful Presence is an exciting exploration into some of the practices of the local church seeking to bring in the presence of King Jesus. This conversation is deeply needed in free church Protestantism. Dr. Fitch lays a necessary foundation for these free churches to begin developing a perspective about their practices which views them as spiritually invested, and not simply “from the bible” and common sense. As American culture continues to become more disagreeable to Christian life, these communal practices of the presence of King Jesus will become the anchors of Christian life and be vital to the kingdom’s existence in our context.


[1] Mt. 7:21; 1st Pt. 3:7; James 5:16

[2] 1st Cor. 12-14

[3] Andrew Brian McGowan, Ancient Christian Worship: Early Church Practices in Social, Historical, and Theological Perspective (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2014), 32.

[4] Ibid., 47.