Pagitt is all about contextualizing - understanding and articulating Christian faith – any faith – in contemporary culture. We get into great trouble, he says, when we pull the cultural assumptions and values of the past (the distant past at that) into the present, confusing the eternal, living faith with cultural expressions of that faith. As Jesus might say, putting new, living, fermenting wine into the stiff and decaying wineskins of the past will not come to a good end. The wine will be lost, and the skins too.
Says Pagitt: “Every theology is grounded in a culture and a set of culturally based assumptions and concerns. To hold to these theologies in the fifth century was to be faithful, for they were created as explanations for the understanding of the world at that time. But to hold to those same conclusions today, when the worldview that demanded them has expired, is simply foolish.” (Page 48). And “foolish” is a good word for a good deal of Christianity these days.
Chapter Six of the book takes on the foundation of Christian thought and experience – the Bible. Pagitt wants us to know that it is not a weapon – anyone remember having “sword drills” with their Bible? Can anyone think of a worse image for sacred writings?!
Nor is the Bible a reference book, as many want us to think. Got a question about anything? Anything at all? The answer must be in the Bible . . . somewhere. It may be waiting yet to be discovered, but it’s there! But of course that is NOT what the Bible is, that collection of diverse and conflicting writings created and re-created over centuries of time.
“I just don’t think that the Bible is always the best starting point for faith.” (Page 64) Amen to that, especially if the reader is educated and inquisitive, not prone to simply take the word of the biblical authorities, most of whom disagree with one another.
The Bible does not make the claims for itself that its more ardent followers make for it.
Chapter Seven introduces Pagitt’s emphasis on “holism.” A key concept that reminds me of what some of our previous writers , especially Haught, have been saying is this: “What we interact with in a normal day is not all there is; there’s more going on than we can see.” (Page 76) Here is the divide we’ve seen before: between those who “believe” only what they can see, touch, measure – the scientific naturalist; and those who “believe” there is more . . . lots more. Holism for Pagitt helps him understand how body and spirit are really the same . . . energy in different forms . . . Creator-cosmos congruency. (Page 88) “That’s just the way things are.” (Page 78)
“The theology of holism is a theology of invitation, of welcome, of God saying, ‘Look what I’m doing. Come and join me.’” (page 91)
Friday, July 8, 2011
A Christianity Worth Believing . . .
That is quite a claim. And that is the question our group has been asking, in one way or another, all year long. What is the Christian faith, and can we buy into it? There are of course lots of forms of this Christianity thing out there, and in the last twenty years we’ve been seeing – thanks to the multitudes of nutty people who do the most outrageous and immoral things in Jesus’ name, and to our media who likes to focus on the nutty in everything – we’ve come to think that Christianity is simply not to be believed. One thinks of Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority that was neither, Jim and Tammy Faye Baker’s excesses, Pat Robertson’s idiotic pronouncements, Jimmy Swaggart’s tearful confession, the egomaniac in Florida burning a Qu’ran. That’s a short list.
Not to be outdone, the Roman Catholics just this month were stunned when their rockstar priest, Father John Caropi who for years has held massive campaigns around the country, and, until last March, was heard on Catholic radio daily preaching conservative Catholicism, was thrown out. Seems he has been living in luxury, enjoying certain chemicals not legally obtained, and “co-habitating” a few women.
So we can look at what passes for Christianity and rightly decide it’s not worth the effort. Lots better things to do with one’s Sunday morning.
Doug Pagitt represents what is becoming known as “emerging Christianity.” And A Christianity Worth Believing in an introduction to that movement. He’s practically a local boy – Minneapolis – and begins his book with, “I am a Christian, but I don’t believe in Christianity.” A good starting point I’d say. The book is “part memoir, part theological treatise.” He is exploring “new ways of being Christian, of being spiritual, of following God.” That, I think, is what our book group has been doing.
Pagitt grew up completely outside of “Christianity.” His family was not part of any church. But at age 16, invited to go with a friend to a “Passion Play” (and thinking that this had to do with the sort of passion that 16 year old boys are pretty well obsessed with), he to his great surprise had a spiritual experience – a conversion. “This is what I longed for, what I needed to be true. There was a God alongside the tortured and beaten Jesus.” (p 16)
Thus he entered the world of evangelicalism. And there he stayed for quite a while. Not always comfortably, though. Coming from outside, he looked at the faith as it was practiced around him (and urged upon him) with new eyes. Some of it made sense; other parts did not make any sense. And he became what he calls “a Christian contrarian.” His personal spiritual experience then combined with his education – in seminary, but also in other venues – and his own questions to start experimenting with new ways of being Christian – new ways of being with God in the world.
The book tells that story. Along the way he will be interacting with “classic” Christian doctrines, such as the authority of the Bible, to understand them in new ways, in ways that make sense to contemporary culture.
Pagitt believes that we are in the midst of a massive change in culture. This new culture is not simply tweaking the old. It is becoming entirely new, in how we think, what we value, what we see as beauty, and the tools we use. (These are the four markers of culture that he talks a lot about in another book, The Church in the Inventive Age.) What the “emerging” church is trying to do is to articulate and live out Christian faith in our culture. Other people we’ve read – Marcus Borg and John Crossan for sure, and folks who are in the Living the Questions DVD series we’re used at church and various places -- are in this same “camp” of folks who see a radical change in process.
Pagitt is not a theoretian only. His church, “Solomon’s Porch” is a living expression of this new kind of faith – A Christianity Worth Believing because it is intellectually sound, emotionally satisfying, and ethically grounded in justice.