More on A Christianity Worth Believing…
Doug Pagitt, pastor, author and emerging theologian, has offered an alternative way of thinking about Christianity for those who may be feeling that the faith of our fathers has somehow missed the mark of authentically expressing the gospel of the kingdom of God. Without going over the heads of the average reader, Pagitt delves into the topics of worldview, depravity, the nature of the universe, and what happens when we die. He does not propose to have all the answers, saying in the preface, “…this book is anything but a settled, secure, hard-an-fast understanding of faith that will work for all people for all time. It is not meant to provide the final answers to my questions about faith, nor is it meant to offer such once-and-for all answers for its readers.” But, he does offer many possible answers that differ from some of the central truths Christians have clung to for centuries. I’m sure this book will “raise the hackles” of many, to borrow a phrase Pagitt uses in his book. I’m also sure this book will elicit a sigh of relief by many who are finding it difficult to embrace a faith that has been termed by many as “unChristian.”
In his last chapter, Pagitt muses about the kingdom of God in relationship to life after death saying, “Over time, however, I’ve come to believe that this kind of afterlife-dominant Christianity is not only a departure from the biblical story but might actually work against the very point of the Jesus agenda.” Much of modern Christianity has, to some degree, bought into the misconception, “The fear of hell is what motivates people to believe in Jesus.” Hell, fire, and brimstone preaching may not be as common today as during the great revivals of the past, but this thinking still pervades many people’s minds. When asked why we need to share the gospel message with others, many Christians will reply with some sort of “fear of hell” response. Is the Good News only about life after death and escaping hell? I believe a focus on the afterlife has left many Christians ill equipped to live this life here and now. We need to rediscover Jesus’ gospel of the Kingdom and invite people to join the Kingdom here and now, bringing heaven to earth instead of waiting for some future rapture and re-creation of heaven and earth. The new creation has already begun, we need to wake up to the Kingdom now bringing the reality of God’s reign into our everyday living. (N.T. Wright, Simply Christian, 206)
While an afterlife-focused or afterlife-dominant Christianity may be a distortion of the gospel of the kingdom of God, can we ignore the possibility of life after death as a central biblical theme? What are the implications of a life-here-and-now focused Christianity? What dominated Jesus’ thinking? Pagitt does not go so far as to say he does not believe in an afterlife, but many could take this new theology in that direction. Pagitts last chapter is entitled, “Heaven on Earth,” and he sticks closely to this topic without dealing with the topic of hell – neither hell on earth or hell as an eternal destination. While we may need to lessen our focus on the afterlife and broaden our experience of bringing heaven to earth, we cannot forget eternity in our theology and worldview.
If you’ve read this book and want to offer your thoughts, or have posted your thoughts on your own blog – please comment here and include a link to your blog if you have one so I can check it out. I won’t blog now about Pagitt’s treatment of the doctrine of depravity and original sin, but I would like to hear other’s thoughts on this topic. A Christianity Worth Believing is worth reading, but I recommend reading it within community and discussing it openly with others. Pagitt offers some great ideas and new ways of thinking about things that will resonate with many and offer hope and healing to those who have felt left out, left behind, or let down by modern expressions of Christianity.