i posted this review of doug pagitt’s great book here on ysmarko back in feb, when i read a pre-release copy. but the book officially released on amazon today, so i’m reposting. order it; read it; talk about it.
A Christianity Worth Believing: Hope-filled, Open-armed, Alive-and-well Faith for the Left Out, Left Behind, and Let Down in us All, by doug pagitt. note: this book releases in early june, but is available for pre-order on amazon.
a bit of a disclaimer on this review: doug (the author) is a person i care about as a friend. we’ve slugged it out over emergent conventions, and lived to tell the tale (and greatly strengthened our friendship in the process). he’s stayed in my home many times. we know each other’s kids. his wife and my wife are friends. when yaconelli died, doug got on a plane and flew to san diego merely to be the guy who would get stuff done for me, to support me.
all that said, this is a great book. as any good pomo christian knows, it’s impossible for me to remove my thoughts and opinions from my experience and biases. but if i were to hazard a guess as to what my reaction would be to this book were the above disclaimer paragraph not a reality, i think i would still say it’s a great book.
pagitt’s primary thesis is that christianity, over the past 1900 years, has been co-opted and re-framed by a greek mindset, worldview, values and ideas. and, in keeping with that mindset, christianity has been reified into an unchanging, immutable theological system that is widely divergent from the hebrew mindset and values and ideas and worldview in which it was developed, authored, spoken and framed. pagitt explains that this wasn’t necessarily bad when it first happened, as it was the culturally appropriate contextualization of the gospel at the time. the problem is: most of us are stuck with this thousand-year-old approach to christianity that is horrifically outdated in our current cultural context.
doug builds a case that this greek mindset has a whole wad of resulting implications, and he unpacks these in chapter after chapter:
– a perception that god is “up and out” (separate from us, away from us, up there somewhere, unable to be with us because of god’s holiness and our depravity)
– a christianity that is more about someday in some other place, than about the here and now.
– a distorted perception of jesus and a distorted understanding of both his role and his message.
– and a bunch of other stuff.
building on his own story (the book is wonderfully memoirish) and his long struggle with the categories of this greek-influenced faith of the up-and-out god, pagitt uses stories from his life (then, subsequently, from science and scripture and theological history) to introduce and unpack the notion of “integration” (which he sets in opposition to dis-integration). one might call it holistic faith, or holistic theology. this “integrated” theology, or, the integrated lives he proposes, are built on a hebraic understanding of the gospel and all of scripture. pagitt brings, chapter after chapter, the ways this approach to christianity would and should change the way we believe and live. he talks about an “in and down” god who is present in creation, present to us.
let’s be straight about this: “a christianity worth believing” is going to royally piss some people off. doug will get more speaking engagements in some quarters, and a whole lot less in others. the people who already don’t like doug will be well-armed to write him off or write against him as “the coming apostacy” or speak against him at ministry events of various kinds. this will especially be true of the nu-reformed crew. while doug’s book is surprisingly winsome in tone (especially for a guy who openly explains in the beginning of the book that he is a natural contrarian), chapter after chapter attempt to pull the rug out from under stack of building blocks foundational reformies play on. dude, seriously: you’re not just poking at their blocks; you’re yanking the rug. they don’t like that.
i found the book really helpful in lots of ways. most of the ideas (the greek-hebrew tension, for example) weren’t totally new to me; but pagitt “packaged” them with a clear list of implications in a way that i could get my brain around. the suggestions for what we could be believing, and how we could be living, were mostly hopeful to me. i say “mostly”, because there’s a sense where some of the stuff doug suggests as “better” doesn’t necessarily sound better to me, whether it’s correct or not. also, i’ll have to have a conversation or two with him to understand a bit more what he’s proposing about jesus. i get the “jesus came to show us a new way to live” with all the political, theological, relational and ecclesial implications of that. but there were aspects of the christ story and its implications – specifically: the cross – that i didn’t think doug was clear on (was that intentional avoidance?).
if jossey-bass, doug’s publisher, can get this book widely placed in the ABA (bookstores like borders and barnes & noble), and get doug some good pr opportunities, this thing could be huge; really. it’s easily readable, full of wonderful stories and examples, not mean-spirited (yes, it’s generous), invitational and thoughtful. and much of what doug suggests has that “resonance” quality, where it causes my god-invented soul to respond with, “yes, that makes sense.”