I was able to take the slow flight reading time last week to finish up Doug Pagitt’s new book, A Christianity Worth Believing (copyright 2008, Jossey-Bass). It falls into the conversation with Tony Jone’s latest as books that open up a behind-the-veil look into the emerging church thought processes. What I appreciate about Doug is that he makes me think, like here and here and here. He’s got a gift for saying that one thing that tweaks the world just enough to cause my pause and make me think, and he’s done that with this book, with this conversation.
In sharing his own trip through the Christian life and Christian community, Doug shares many of the questions that have held many of us at arm’s length away from something meaningful. There’s so much head knowledge, but have any of us gotten beyond that to the joy of first coming to the Lord? Where the story of Jesus won Doug over to real living, he’s had to dig back out from all the extra stuff that weighs us down and hinders the inherent pressing on in Christ.
And here’s the kicker, Bill explained, "The train needs only the first two cars [engine, coal car] – Facts and Faith – and can run fine without [the third car, caboose] Feelings." He drew a hard line between the Faith car and the Feelings car, telling me, "Feelings and circumstances will changes. You don’t need them, and you can’t trust them." / Now think about that. What is the point of a Christianity that doesn’t involve our circumstances? The Bible is full of stories that are about faith lived out in particular circumstances. I got into Christianity because I wanted it to interfere with my circumstances. They have everything to do with faith. (from chapter three)
The discussion of Greco-Roman influences on the current state of Western theology is necessary, but provide the only slow part of the book. Make your way through that and find that Doug pulls out some great metaphors for sin, for repentance, for real relationships with God and with each other.
The Bible gains its authority from God and the communities who grant it authority. Like many people, I believe in the Bible because I believe in God. But I know plenty of people who think it ought to happen the other way around, that a person needs to believe the Bible in order to believe in God. So they’ll give a Bible to a non-Christian in the hope that by reading about God, that person will be enlightened. Certainly that can happen, but it seems kind of backward to me…. This is usually the point in the conversation where someone starts accusing me of a low view of the Bible, of stripping it of its authority. But I believe this understanding of the Bible restores its authority by allowing it to be alive and free of the constraints we throw on it. (from chapter six)
As an example of what was making me think, I wrote this in the margins of my copy: "Is my faith constrained by the Bible? does my faith constrain the Bible?" That’s a different kind of question that, if we’re honest and open to really challenging our own internal status quo, will wreck a week. Doug’s writing and conversation does that in the best way, somehow seeking to leave everyone in a better position, on better footing to live out this Christian life. I appreciate this more than any I’ve read so far this year for its honesty and that tweak-me-ability – I’m usually the tweaker, but this time I was definitely the tweak-ee.
One more point: this is the book that I might finally jump the shark with, the one that I think I could buy for friends on either side of this fence for either encouraging, or for further tweaking. I think Doug stretches the thoughts gently enough and severly enough to make a difference in the coversation, and he raises questions that cannot be easily set aside. Not everyone needs to "go there", but for real growth and depth, I think more of us need to wrestle through some of our preconceived presumptions. I’m looking forward to future discussion over this book, hopefully, and can’t wait to be able to bulk order for a few special friends.