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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

"Faithful Presence" (David E. Fitch)

TITLE: Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines That Shape the Church for Mission
AUTHOR: David E. Fitch
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2016, (256 pages).

How do we manifest Christ's love in a world of brokenness and pain? Is there something Christians can do to counter the social injustice and poverty disparities? Can the Church do more than mere handouts? If there is a genuine desire to be part of the solution, how then do believers go about doing it? According to author David E. Fitch, the answer is in the title of this new book entitled, "Faithful Presence." He defines it as follows:

"Faithful presence names the reality that God is present in the world and that he uses a people faithful to his presence to make himself concrete and real amid the world’s struggles and pain. When the church is this faithful presence, God’s kingdom becomes visible and the world is invited to join with God. Faithful presence is not only essential for our lives as Christians, it’s how God has chosen to change the world. In this book I aim to describe what this faithful presence looks like."

Starting with how his own life was changed at a nearby McDonald's restaurant, he shares about networking with strangers merely by being present and having a listening ear to people around him. That McDonald's soon became some kind of a church for him as he prays with and minister to people willing to open up to him. If God can use one McDonald's, surely He can use any public place! He advances James Davison Hunter's analysis of the Church with an added focus on the role of community. For he believes that the secret of wanting to help others is to have been helped first. Part One of the book deals with the what and why of Faithful Presence. Part Two contains the seven disciplines to demonstrate the how.

The first is the discipline of the Lord's Table, essentially the Communion ritual and spiritual significance of gathering in the Lord's Presence. It is about submitting to Christ and in turn, submitting to one another. We can think of the table in three circles: close circle of intimacy; dotted circle of hospitality; and the half-circle of reaching out. These three circles bring about the three ways in which the rest of the disciplines can be practiced. The Discipline of Reconciliation reflects what God in Christ has done for all of us, that we be reconciled with God. This discipline essentially means we live as kingdom people who proclaim God's presence into the lives of the people we meet, especially in relationships of conflict. The Discipline of Proclaiming the Gospel distinguishes us in that we love because of the gospel. Proclamation is different from teaching in that it announces and must precede teaching. It is not a description of facts but a statement of truth to be wrestled with. The Discipline of Being with the "Least of These" is an intentional initiative to distant ourselves from seeking the rich, the powerful, and the famous; to look to the poor, the weak, and the neglected. Fitch creatively calls it "withness." The Discipline of Being with Children reminds us of the need to invest our lives with the next generation. Just like Jesus who said that the kingdom belongs to the children, we too can practice the same by reaching out and be present with them through our word and deed. The Discipline of Fivefold Gifting is based on Ephesians 4 of the five offices that we have been called into: Apostles; Prophets; Pastors; Evangelists; Teachers. Each office fulfills a particular area of ministry essential for demonstrating kingdom presence. The Discipline of Kingdom Prayer is an important reminder to anchor ourselves in the Source of all good works: God. Such a prayer posture shapes all of our lives and our works. Being present is not simply humans showing up but God manifesting Himself through our works.

I like the way Fitch has incorporated the nature and truth of the kingdom in all of the disciplines. This book is not simply about spiritual disciplines that we all must do. Neither is it some list of spiritual practices that can be executed and isolated from the rest. Fitch makes sure that all the disciplines are connected intricately and intimately. The close, dotted, and half-circles essentially outlines the extent of each discipline reminding us that being present involves the whole person, both inner and outer. It presumes the presence of God in all that we do. As we are reminded of the Lord's table and how Jesus has spent time with his disciples, we too can follow Christ by learning to share the table and to commune with people everywhere we go. The circle idea is a metaphor for relationships and neighbourliness. Everything we do, we do it out of the close fellowship with God. We do it out of a concern for the gospel to be shared. We do it out of a genuine desire to be present in the Name of God for the sake of people. In the process, we become shaped as kingdom people who do not simply utter "Thy kingdom come" but carry out the full meaning of it.

Fitch is B. R. Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology at Northern Seminary Chicago, IL and is the founding pastor of Life on the Vine Christian Community in the northern suburbs of Chicago. He is passionate on issues regarding mission and cultural engagement. This book is a fruit of this very passion.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of InterVarsity Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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