Friday, January 3, 2014

Emergent Gurus: Doug Pagitt

From the December 2010 E-Block.


Doug Pagitt was a name I had not heard before I sought out a final subject for the Emergent Gurus series (for the time being); I got his name from a list of emergent leaders online. How best to describe him? “Brian McLaren with fewer footnotes and even less rationality” would be appropriate.

I sought out his most recent books, but one, Church Re-imagined, turned out to be of no use for this study since it was only edited by him, and offered writings of his church members. So I was left with one book: A Christianity Worth Believing (CWB). But that was enough, because it’s got all the standard themes, only with more water added.
  • We don’t want to give you instructions, we just want to take you on a “journey” with him to “explore possibilities.” [xiii] In short, the theme of the journey to nowhere, in which answers are to be dutifully avoided so as to evade an epistemic crisis. Making “sense” is to be given higher place than discerning fact.
  • Galileo is our model [20 – though here, even more of the story is not told than even in McLaren] and his story is useful to us when not told in full (including his own defiance and arrogance, and the church’s actual role). Also, be sure and accuse others [63] of using the Bible to support “prejudiced feelings about homosexuals” because “their belief on other biblical topics are not so pronounced.” Be sure and miss the point that unlike gossips and gluttons, homosexuals are engaged in political activism on behalf of their own ideology. Also wonder why other churches are not pursuing “economic justice” [64] despite the fact that many are involved in serious charity work, here and in the Third World.
  • Like McLaren, claim that the church has been misled by “Greek” thinking which corrupted the pure “Hebrew” thought of the early church. However, from the other side of your mouth, bemoan the fact that our essentials have been “set in stone” [31] (never mind that a change from Hebrew to Greek thought would mean that they were not). At the same time, like McLaren, do not give any sources that allegedly teach these “Greek” views, and offer no documentation from Greek thinkers (eg, Plato) to offer as a comparison.
  • Always go from one extreme to the other. One [46]: The Greek view of God as an “abstract force” has only one alternative, that of a “personal father figure” in Judaism. ( Actually, the truth is in between: God is personal, but He is also depicted in terms of a relatively remote suzerain/patron.) Forcefully interpret [104] the “Immanuel” title for Jesus (“ God with us”) to mean that God has “intimate understanding” and is “fully present, fully involved, fully active” in our lives (whereas for ancient people, it would mean little more than that God indwelt the Temple in Jerusalem).
  • Justify an overfamiliar perception of God by claiming it is supposedly better for people struggling with hardship, asking why God did not stop evil done to them. Say you want to give such people [110] a God who “cares...listens, sustains, cradles, cries and is right there with them all the time.” Do not be concerned that such a view of God hasn’t helped professed apostates at all, who see an open contradiction between this “intimately involved” God and the sufferings of humans.
  • In terms of atonement doctrine [155], refer to the thesis of penal substitution as something in which “love, grace, mercy, compassion, goodness, and even God become minor players who must be subject to the law.” Ignore the fact that all of these elements are intrinsic to God’s nature, so that implying God is “subject to” the law is a misnomer. In many other cases, always go for extremes. “Sin matters because it kills and destroys all of creation, not because it breaks some code.” [158] Do not suppose that these two are not mutually exclusive. Claim that posing Jesus as a bridge between God and man is Greek thinking [174], even though the concept of brokerage was part of Hebrew thought as well.
  • Put passion and feeling all over the place, even if you have to creatively insert it. The Acts 15 issue of circumcision was, “not some academic pursuit” but “a deeply personal and passionate crisis for many in the faith.” [39] Actually it was most likely neither; “deeply personal” and “passionate” may describe modern individualists, but something in between the two extremes, like “serious business,” would be more likely to have been the theme.
  • Object to what McLaren calls a “constitutional” reading of the Bible, and against [56] those who use the Bible as a “weapon” to “stab and shred and rip into what they believe to be faulty theology.” Out of the other side of your mouth, admit the Bible is used to teach and admonish, and that it can cause people pain or discomfort; but rationalize away this innate self-contradiction by saying that “that struggle comes through the conviction brought on by God’s Spirit stirring.” (Note: Only you, not your opponents, ever get this conviction.)
  • Praise the contextualizing of Scripture to find meaning, but sarcastically refer to the learning of Hebrew and Greek in terms of “secret languages” that are a “key to the mysteries” of Bible. [58]
In conclusion: I think I have found out one reason why so many people are attracted to the emergent movement. It is revealed on page 53 where Pagitt admits:

I wasn’t much of a reader (I didn’t read a book from beginning to end until I was in college)...

Pagitt tells a story of how someone in his early years laid out the Four Spiritual Laws to him using the famous train illustration with “fact” as the engine and “feelings” at the end. He was disturbed that it “made the story seem far more complicated” than the presentation offered in a passion play he had just seen, and where, he says, he had “experienced something real.” [25] I have never heard anyone say that the Four Spiritual Laws is “complicated,” but I must say that it takes someone of serious intellectual deficiency to make that kind of assessment. He says that the train analogy, rather than helping him, led him into a “crisis” of faith. [26] Pagitt’s justification for this is that he didn’t need so much of fact and faith because his feelings were real enough.

In reality, Pagitt’s admission about his reading habits tells the story. As we have noted in relating the findings of certain commentators on literacy and technology, the act of reading trains the mind to have a sort of depth aspect to thinking, one in which serious contemplation and intellectual development is the result.

Emergents all too often manifest like people who don’t read books. Like Pagitt, their thinking is shallow and only concerned with the moment, and how people feel. Facts make them confused and are seen an unnecessary complications; so likewise answered questions as opposed to hanging ones. People like these are essential to the Body of Christ as our specialists in ministering to the poor. Where we have a problem is when they become leaders who set the pace and decide what is good for the whole.

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