A Christianity Worth Believing, by Doug Pagitt

Hardcover BookI just finished Doug Pagitt’s new book, A Christianity Worth Believing: Hope filled, open armed, alive-and-well faith”. Its a really good read and its Doug’s best book by far. Very well written, vulnerable, conversational, theological, playful and intensely personal. It occasionally weaves into Doug’s childhood to dig out laughable moments like a Coen brothers movie. I am a little biased because Doug has been a good friend for a really long time, but its a book that will introduce you to Doug and his family and his thinking and his church and his life – all of which are inseparable in the mind of Doug as well as in his book.

Theologically, Doug pulls the pendulum away from a Reformed theology over to the side sometimes occupied by more liberal thinking theologians. That is not to say its liberal, because that would be short-cutting the conversation. Doug brings a strong argument against what he sees as a Greek-influenced semi-gnostic understanding of redemption and reveals his bias towards a greater continuity with this world and the next, and the wider role of redemption in all of creation which he claims also suffered from the effects of sin. Where his theology is lacking, imho, is regarding the place of human faith, the act of believing, the necessity of grasping the salvation provided for us by God through Christ. Redemption is not an automatic consequence of the resurrection. I will have words with him when we next have a meal together

As for the book – its a great read and a great way to access the mind of Doug Pagitt who really is a wonderful and integral person and will go down in history as one of America’s key leaders in the emerging church movement.

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Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name "Precious" :-)


  • Andrew,
    I know you and Doug are friends, but as one sympathetic with the EC I found this to be one of the worst theology books I have ever read for one big glaring reason: Doug’s theological “revolution” was developed wholly in isolation from reflection on the person and work of Jesus Christ. Doug thinks that thankfully Jesus still fits nicely into his new picture of Christianity (which c’mon really isn’t all that new but instead reads like a New Age Schliermarcher) but I am afraid that is not the case. But that is another matter.
    If you think I’m exaggerating here is the quote which deeply disturbed me: “Over the past few years, as my faith has been rearranged by my understanding of an integrated God and all the good that flows from that belief, there has been a shadowy side, a question I’ve hardly dared to ask: What happens to Jesus?”

  • Wasn’t Doug just being provocative there? Just after the portion you quote (p. 174) he goes on to describe his experience with people asking him that same question and his inability to answer. If I recall correctly, he goes on to answer it just a couple of pages further. I’m not saying it is an all sufficient answer (I wish I had those sometiems) but perhaps you could give him a little more credit than making it sound like he just has no clue with what to do with Jesus and never even tries to deal with it.
    Not to be the great apologist for Doug Pagitt, but I am sure there are many books that are far far worse theologically, perhaps starting with the Left Behind series. I do cringe a bit at the more “new-age” type stuff in this book, but the point is well-taken if ill-said by Pagitt: Christianity is about a whole lot more than just our souls ejecting from our bodies into heaven. Anyway, just my two cents.

  • Colin,
    I am sure there are worse theology books, this is just the worst *I* have read, and it is especially the worst to come out of the Emergent Village camp in the US.
    A second complaint I have with this book is some of the horrible exegesis it contains. E.g. (and this isn’t even the worst example) Doug cites the Shema (Deut. 6:4f, “Here O Israel YHWH is our God, YHWH alone [or “YHWH is one”]) and claims that it is a statement about the relationship between God and creation, that they are “one” (pp. 89-90). He then claims that his interpretation of the Shema “meets with what we know about the reality of the universe. There is unity.”
    Umm, no. Actually this is a statement about the relationship between the covenant God (YHWH) and covenant people (Israel), that there is an exclusive relationship, i.e. Israel will not worship or serve any other God’s besides YHWH. This passage has nothing at all to do with some kind of ontological unity between Creator and creation that reflects what “we” (I don’t know who this “we” is) know about the “reality of the universe.”
    As Doug is well aware I am sure, he everywhere sounds like a pantheist, or at least a pan(en)theist. The problem with this for Christian theology is that it commits the sin of making humanity too much “like God” – which ironically is the sin of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:5), ironic because Doug bases pretty much this entire project on his exegesis of Genesis 1-3.
    That Doug makes humanity too much like God is clear from the following passage:
    “The good news is that sin never gets that last word. We can live our lives in a collective way, so the systems that cause disharmony with God [read: sin] can be changed. We can change the patterns wired into us from our families and create new ways of relating and being. Our bodies can experience healing. In other words, we can be born again, new creations.” (p. 167)
    What’s missing from this passage? Any mention of divine agency, even in the sense of divine agency working in cooperation with human agency. Doug claims that we humans can deal with sin (sin for Doug is relational brokenness and those social structures which foment or perpetuate such brokenness)on our own. I think that the entire biblical witness is a repudiation of such self-salvific sentiments.

  • Cheers, my friend. 🙂
    I sold my copy months ago, something I don’t normally do. For me, the key to enjoying some of the emergent books was not to read them as works of serious theology but instead as an attempt to work out something new at a popular level. The emerging church does not have a Barth or Bonhoeffer, but I never expected that.
    Anyway, my interest in serious theology was really spurred by the Emergent movement, which I haven’t paid much attention to (at least in terms of buying books) in a long time. I include Pagitt’s book among those that deepened my curiosity.

  • Colin,
    I actually find what you’re speaking of as a rather common phenomenon, Emergent is like a gateway drug for more serious theological reflection, and for that it is to be commended.
    Though if I’m being honest nothing has come close to “A New Kind of Christian.” It was interesting and intellectually stimulating in a way that no other american EC work has been since. I guess my experience with Emergent Village is kind of like my experience with Snoop Doggy Dogg, amazingly insane first album (“A New Kind of Christian” = “Doggy Style”) and really just a series of disappointments ever since (“A Christianity Worth Believing” = “The Game is To Be Sold, Not To Be Told”, I stopped buying his albums at this point).

  • Andrew, thanks the kind words.
    I look forward to that meal my friend.
    I think it needs to me in Minnesota next time, not that I am keeping track.

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