Doug Pagitt grew up in a non-Christian home in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he has lived his entire life. When he was sixteen years old a friend invited him to see a Passion Play at a local church. At the end of the play, Doug gave his life to Jesus and started a journey which led him to Bethel Theological Seminary (21-22). Graduating in 1992 with a M.A. in Theology, Doug joined a local mega-church as a youth pastor before moving on a few years later to start a holistic missional Christian community called Solomon’s Porch (21). In addition, he is a business owner, author, professional speaker and a co-founder of the Emergent Village.
The thesis of the book is that the “dogmas and doctrines of God, of humanity, of Jesus, of sin, of salvation” being taught by the church at large is so “firmly embedded in the cultural context of another time [Greco-Roman] that they have become almost meaningless” to people today (35).
The first three chapters of the book are focused on establishing Doug’s credibility as a Christian leader and as someone who can speak on the topics at hand. In these chapters he describes his life before Christ, his conversion experience and his life after accepting Jesus. He also points toward the fact that he attended a Christian undergraduate college as well as seminary. In addition to establishing his credibility, Doug uses these chapters to describe the disconnect he felt between his relationship with Jesus and what the organized church was telling him.
Chapters four and five build on the disconnect Doug mentions in the first three chapters and develop it into an argument claiming that modern Christianity is simply a “version of the faith customized for the fifth-century Greco-Romans” (45). To Doug, this “cultural adaptation” began with the spread of the Gospel to the Gentiles by the Apostles Peter and Paul and came to fulfillment with Constantine in 311 A.D. (42-44).
The next four chapters (six through nine) focus on how the Greco-Roman worldview that dominated Christianity in the West created a dualism within the faith. The spiritual world became ‘good’ while the physical world became ‘bad’ (83). This dualism also created a false picture of God, removing Him from being an active participant in the world to a God “trapped on the far side of a canyon” (98).
Chapter ten starts a shift in the book toward a “pursuit of a new theology” that encourages all Christians to “seek, live, and tell the story of God’s work in the world, to embrace a faith that is alive and vibrant, untamed and uncaged, right here, right now” (36). This rethinking of the faith dominates the last nine chapters of the book and addresses a plethora of theological doctrines including the atonement (ch 10), original sin (ch 11-12), judgment (ch 13-14), the mission of Jesus (ch 15-17), and the kingdom of God (ch 18).
On a personal level, I have mixed feelings about the book. For while I tend to agree with Doug’s thesis (albeit with some caveats)*, I do not agree with his conclusions. For example, I had a difficult time getting past chapter 10 in which Doug dismisses the doctrine of the atonement which states that Jesus provided a way to God the Father through His death and resurrection. The practical implication of this view leads one to believe that humanity can some how restore their relationship with God without help from God. This implication does not fit with the message of the Bible which says that the salvation of humanity is an act of grace at the hands of a loving God.** I also think it is worth noting that the doctrine of the atonement draws its strength not from the Greco-Roman worldview, but from the Old Testament Temple sacrificial system set in place by God through Moses.
* I believe that Western Christianity is tied less to the Greco-Roman worldview of the first 500 years and more to the European culture and philosophy of the last 1,500 years. This is not to say that the Greco-Roman worldview was not influential, as it was. However, I believe that the theologians and desert fathers of the Eastern half of the Roman Empire helped balance out the Greco-Roman worldview promoted by Rome and her followers. This balance was destroyed in 476 A.D with the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, allowing Western Christianity to develop within the isolation of the European continent.
** The story of the Bible is that of a God on a mission to restore all of creation to Himself for His glory. Jesus echoes this desire in John 12:32 when He says that He “will draw all men to [him]self” (New International Version). In addition, Hebrews 2:10 states that, “It was only right that God, who creates and preserves all things, should make Jesus perfect through suffering, in order to bring many children to share his glory. For Jesus is the one who leads them to salvation.”