I kind of feel bad about this…
My relationship to the Emergent church has been…well…I don’t know what it’s been. Guys like Rob Bell, Shane Claiborne*, and Donald Miller really wrecked my thinking during college, I thought Brian McLaren was okay, and today I would say I find some inspiration from Rachel Held Evans* and Phyllis Tickle. I never felt SUPER connected to them, even though I’m not sure why.
(*Yes, I know. These two aren’t technically “emergent,” but they hang out with them a LOT).
Doug Pagitt was one of the Emergent folks who I just never got around to. By the time I had finished with Claiborne’s Jesus For President, I broke off from reading things like that and went on a mysticism bent with Thomas Merton. That being said, I know nothing of Pagitt’s writings outside of this one, and have only heard an interview of him once or twice.
Maybe that’s why I don’t feel so good about this review, because, well, I kind of hated this book, and for all I’ve heard about Pagitt, I expected a LOT better.
Before I get into that, let me just say that, from what I do know about Pagitt, he seems like a nice guy, pretty knowledgeable, and a good pastor. The contents of this book, if read as individual ideas, aren’t bad at all. It’s just…
Look, having a degree in theological studies can really ruin things for you. You sit in church and pick sermons apart. If you are teaching or preaching, it’s hell because you can’t stop critiquing yourself. You, because of the things you learned in Bible school, rip things to shreds, and you’re not even trying to. You just do.
That’s what I did with every page in this book. For example:
I am using the Bible as my main point of reference. I know there are great commentaries and studies of the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. But I wanted to stick with the Bible in order to take a clearer look at what the Gospels say about Jesus.
Now, this probably doesn’t sound like a problem to you. More Jesus; yay! Except…not. Conservative writers pull this crap all the time when they talk about “getting back to Bible,” or “needing more Jesus.” What, exactly, does it mean to get back to the Bible? Are you going to read it like an evangelical inerrantist? Are you going to apply historical criticism? What Jesus are you referring to here? Pagitt, from the very beginning, implies that he’s examining these things in some sort of vacuum, like he hasn’t been influenced in some way by the movement he helped found. It doesn’t help that the Bible verses he DOES reference he puts in his own words. I’m all for contemporary language, but that just borders on arrogance right there.
Then there’s the “Flip”(I HATE that word now. It’s like the word “moist” is to some people. Doug Pagitt ruined the word flip for me). Pagitt centers the book around an experience he had a few years back where a supposed change in his thinking where he stopped thinking about God as a “separate, single subject.” From there, he goes Apostle Paul at Athens on us and talks about how we exist in God. My professor in college put it like this:
God is nothing in that he is no-thing. God can’t be anything. God is existence itself, being itself, and we exist in God.
Pagitt stresses this idea throughout the rest of the book. Again, no problem with this idea; it’s just that I’ve heard this over and over again and I wonder if it’s really as revolutionary as Pagitt’s making it out to be. It might make some people mad (anyone who hates the idea of panentheism in particular), but it’s not going to strike everyone so deeply as it did him (though, to his credit, he acknowledges this.)
I think my final gripe is just how…well…simple this book sounds, and I mean that even for people who aren’t very theological, too. It’s already pretty obvious that my background is going to prevent me from really getting much out of it, but it almost sounds pandering at some points, like that pastor who refuses to be real with you when you’re having coffee, like he can’t help seeing you as a member of his flock.
I’m not going to totally denounce this book; there’s some good nuggets of truth and interesting ideas to mull over, and Doug really does try to treat the reader as at least semi-intelligent, but the book did next to nothing for me.
I received a copy of this book for review purposes through Blogging for Books