A Christianity Worth Having

Acwb 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.


5 thoughts on “A Christianity Worth Having

  1. TeacherDave says:

    See, this type of thing actually makes me more leery of Pagitt. Even the first sentence–the Bible depends on human communities to give it authority? Just coming from God isn’t enough? I just don’t buy that–furthermore, I find it contradicted by Scripture itself. The Psalmist writes that the world itself may fall to pieces and be overthrown, but the Word of God stands forever. “Let God be true, and every man a liar.” Seems to me that God doesn’t need a recommendation blurb on the back of his book from Pagitt or anyone else. The Word stands regardless of human opinion.
    And to address your questions posed in the margin: I wonder, can you even have actual Christian faith that does not have the Bible (the specific revelation of Jesus-as-God) as its foundation? How then does the Bible constrain your faith? Doesn’t it rather *enable* your faith to be? I can use general (nature/creation) revelation to know “of” God, but only through His revealed word do I actually “know” Him. It is possible that man may try to constrain the Bible (good luck!), but the Bible doesn’t constrain man–it frees him.
    [To be forthright, I’ve been inclined to distrust Pagitt ever since I heard him argue with a radio host that talk of “going to heaven” belies a Platonist mindset, and Pag refused to even discuss it with the host because he was using this “NeoPlatonist” vocabulary. Seriously? Referring to heaven using “place” language is now off the table? Yeah, I wasn’t impressed.]

  2. Rick says:

    I sense some bad vibes towards Pagitt, am I right? In general I agree with what you’ve said, and I think it completely misses the point in context (beyond my evidently poorly pulled quotes). But I think we are constrained by our limitations in understanding and application of the Bible, and I think we give more authority to our particular perspectives and subsequent interpretations than we do to the actual text – do you think that makes us bibliolaters?
    And I flow with Doug’s thought that the Bible might constrain us, or again at least, our limitations on understanding it or selling it short.

  3. Dave says:

    Bad vibes? Maybe, but so what, I came clean to it earlier, right? I’ll say it plainly: I don’t trust him, Rick; he has the smell of wool-suited wolf about him. And this isn’t a personal issue. What I’ve read just doesn’t sit with me.
    Re: understanding and application. I agree, it’s easy to give authority to human interpretation and perspectives. (I see that both in the fundamentalist church and in the Emergent community.) But does that mean we can’t interpret the Bible with any sort of confidence? See, this is how i’m interpreting what I’m hearing lately from folks in the Emergent conversation: “we can’t know for sure, so we can’t say for sure.” Now, this seems fair-minded, but it is a killer when it comes to doctrine. And the fact is, there are things we can and must say for sure. Man is sinful and deserving of judgment. God is holy and deserving of total worship. Man must repent of his sinfulness and cling to the death of Christ, the sacrificial lamb, the substitutionary atonement, the God-man who became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God. There is no way to the Father but through Jesus. These are definitive, declarative statements.
    If we lose our interprative spine, how can we preach the Gospel? And what will we be left to preach, but a wishy-washy social gospel that never lifts its eyes beyond the Kingdom Here to even acknowledge the Kingdom Coming (tragic, when it is the heavenly kingdom that will endure, and this earthly one that will one day be destroyed).
    And that’s what I hear from guys like Rob Bell and Brian McLaren and Pagitt, guys who seem to have lost confidence in the Spirit of God inside them to help them rightly divide the word of truth. I hear intelligent, winsome men saying in essence that they don’t trust God himself to tell them how to properly read His book. Men who are beginning to rely on cultural understandings and “trajectories” to reinterpret the eternal Scripture to make it say what they think it really “meant” to say. And that scares me too. Because rewriting Scripture is heresy.
    But maybe that’s a strawman argument and not the point of this conversation. I stick by it though, so save it for later, when it’s more apt.
    Rick, my man, you dig these writers, and I don’t, but that’s fine. We can disagree about what they write and believe and what it means, but as long as we both agree Jesus is Lord, we’re cool, yeah?
    Have a good night.

  4. Dave says:

    whoa, mega-comment. sorry, brother. got carried away. peace and grace.

  5. Rick says:

    Jesus is Lord, and He’s a pretty cool guy to boot. I think folks miss the forest for the trees, and that makes me sad. There’s enough out there to bring division and strife without us arguing amongst ourselves over things that aren’t as meaningful. But that’s just me. Anytime you wanna call me on it, feel free, pal 🙂

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