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Christianity without a Savior
October 5, 2012
Did you ever study the Bible closely, or try to memorize verses from it? If so, this book has an important message for you: What a waste of time!
On p 62, the author claims it is silly to memorize certain Bible verses because that means we have to leave out many others. (Don't try to find the logic in that.) Does he not grasp that, over two millennia, Christians have come to understand that certain verses are more inspiring than others? Why would anyone bother memorizing the kosher food laws in Leviticus, or the genealogies in 1 Chronicles? Wouldn't just about all Christians agree that John 3:16 is worth memorizing? "In choosing certain verses and not others, we are inserting ourselves into the message of the Bible." Isn't the opposite true? We are trying to insert the message into ourselves so it becomes part of our minds, something to mull over and give comfort and direction. The author's "Christianity worth believing" is not, to put it mildly, Bible-dependent.
He says traditional Christianity "creates a culture that is unintentionally hurtful to far too many people" (p 8). He doesn't cite examples of who is hurt or what Christians could do to stop the hurting. Apparently his goal is to make the reader feel bad toward traditional Christians, if they don't already. "I believe in a Christianity where nothing is left out and no one is left behind" (p 9). What exactly would Christianity be like if "nothing is left out" and "no one is left out"? Would his church welcome unrepentant child molesters, murderers, arsonists?
The author seems like a child going through an attic, tossing valuable items into a trashcan - the treasures being beliefs and practices that previous generations considered essential. Page 48, "To hold those same conclusions today, when the worldview that demanded them has expired, is simply foolish." Worldviews don't "expire" as long as there are people who still believe in them. Page 50, we "must" reject the traditional "dogmas about God, humanity, Jesus, sin and, and salvation without rejecting the faith." Why "must" we? Without believing in sin, there is no need for a Savior, and with no Savior to preach, why would we need churches at all? Throwing away belief in sin and salvation means throwing away the faith.
He does not have a high opinion of evangelicals who try to defend traditional beliefs. Page 56: "many of the Christians I know truly believe that we are at war with the human enemies of our faith. They use the Bible to stab and shred and rip into what they believe to be faulty theology. They wield that weapon in a way that brings pain, suffering, and humiliation." How exactly does it bring "pain, suffering, and humiliation" to anyone to engage in honest debate about beliefs? If he bothered to read Acts and Paul's epistles, he'd see that defending the truth has been and always will be an indispensible part of faith. A faith that doesn't defend itself dies.
Throughout the book he criticizes evangelicals - not real flesh-and-blood people, but fictional straw men, gloomy souls who think only of heaven, never the here and now, thinkp of God as distant and angry, delightin thinking lots of people will go to hell, and care only for their own salvation, never giving a thought to other humans. Someone like that would be a pitiful, reprehensible person - but I've never met anyone like that, and I suspect the author never has either. Page 90, "The Christian life was never meant to be a life of alienation, of segregation, of disaffection." No, it wasn't - and for the vast majority of Christians, it is nothing like that. On p 110, he claims that people in traditional churches "haven't been given a picture of God as one who cares, who listens, sustains, cradles, cries and is right there with them all the time." Does he really think that in traditional churches people are not told about that God? Page 114, "The idea that God's plan is for us to bide our time in this miserable life until God decides it's time for us to escape to heaven certainly doesn't paint God in a very appealing light." No church, anywhere, teaches such a ridiculous doctrine. The Sad Gloomy Spiteful Evangelical he writes about does exist - not on earth, but in his imagination.
The author claims that a visit to a holistic "doctor" taught him a valuable lesson: everything is connected. And so he refers to the church he founded as a "holistic church." I don't know how attractive a church is when its only message is "everything is connected," but in throwing aside belief in sin and salvation, he is preaching something that bears little resemblance to the Christianity of the New Testament.
Pagitt makes some worthwhile points,especiallythat Western Christianity has emphasized God's transcendence at the expense of his immanence. On the whole, however, I believePaggitt is overreacting to the extreme Calvinistic presentation of the gospel he heard as a youth. I have volunteered for theBilly Graham telephone ministry and have never once seen the gulf between God and manas depicting anything over than God hates sin--not sinners. Why did Christ come if Goddetests sinners. Pagitt cannot give a logicalexplanation for Christ's death on the cross.He tries to tap dance around it. I suspectthat Pagitt's church is "seeker sensitive"--heavy on grace but light on the need forredemption. The fact that Pagitt seems attracted to a practicing lesbian in ministryand a girl who rejects the Christ of the Bible throws up a red flag for me. I have noproblem using new techniques to present the gospel as long as we don't try to alter whatJesus accomplished through his death and resurrection.If Pagitt is attracted to practices such as holistic medicine, yoga,and meditation, I have no problem with thatas long as he doesn't find himself reciting "mantras" to false gods.The book did make me reconsider a few assumptions but I don't think it changedmy positions very much. Perhaps I was born onthe wrong side of the 1960s.
A Christianity Worth Living:I may have just given Doug Pagitt the title for his next book, but it aptly describes my response to his new book - A Christianity Worth Believing. I read the first three chapters on his website (dougpagitt.com) and couldn't wait for its release. This book will be a gift of affirmation for those who aren't afraid to ask questions and question the answers. For those who have often felt like a "fish out of water" in Sunday school, small groups, Bible school and seminary, Pagitt invites you into a theological conversation. He masterfully and winsomely weaves together his own life story with insights drawn from church history, theology, cultural anthropology, missiology, and scripture. Simply put, Pagitt writes an eloquent narrative theology for a "post-systematic" generation... and in doing so he inspires you to pause, think, and wrestle with your faith. As a professor of intercultural and biblical studies, I am impressed with the depth of Pagitt's theological, historical, and cultural knowledge, and his unique gift to write about such topics in way that engages and is accessible to readers. He shows how so much of our "Christian" language and understanding of what it means to be Christian has been shaped by cultural contexts and worldviews very different than ours today... and very different than those of the biblical writers. In peeling back the cultural layers that clothe so much of Western Christianity, he reveals a faith that is dynamic, conversational, invitational, relevant, relational, wholistic, and alive. This is what I try to help my students discover; faith in a God fully engaged in our world and inviting us to join in God's adventure - today.