Article

"Church Re-imagined" by Doug Pagitt

Suler Acosta
Thursday, May 3rd 2007
Jul/Aug 2005

Church Re-imagined reads like a collection of journals. While the bulk of the material is by Doug Pagitt, the journal entries by some of the members of Solomon's Porch, the missional Christian community in Minneapolis where Pagitt pastors, give the reader a broader perspective than the personal view of the pastor.

Each chapter focuses on one day of the week, highlighting a different aspect of the church's communal life. This format lies in the conviction that "community is where real spiritual formation happens" (26). Pagitt contends that many churches focus too much on an educational approach to discipleship, rather than on a holistic approach. There is more to Christian formation than simply giving information to people. "I do believe that the knowledge-based spiritual formation of the twentieth century has so reduced the call of Jesus to right belief that many become confused about why mere profession of belief does not bring about life change" (23). Solomon's Porch is reacting against the Industrial-Protestant mentality of product-based discipleship. The community is seeking to move to an understanding of discipleship where spiritual formation involves a whole-life approach to the Christian faith. Pagitt suggests seeing spiritual formation develop through practices such as worship, physicality, dialogue, hospitality, belief, creativity, and service. While Solomon's Porch would not limit themselves to these practices, they shape the way we are asked to see the life of the church.

I appreciated Solomon's Porch's commitment to community, and they successfully show that one cannot be a Christian without the community of faith. Solomon's Porch also has given significant thought to how they do what they do. Deep reflection is given on how to bring the ancient faith into a postmodern context. Solomon's Porch highlights that discipleship is not to be construed as being in opposition to mission. Rather, the community of faith, when it is truly living as a family, becomes committed to mission and community renewal.

As is the case when a new movement arises in reaction to deficiencies in an older model, Solomon's Porch fails to be a true biblical model of a Christian community. While much of the book tries to be irenic, I sense an unspoken suspicion against a Reformational understanding of Christian formation while openly embracing Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Quaker, and pietistic theology and spirituality. Solomon's Porch seems to be a perfect example of what happens when postmodernism, Evangelicals and Catholics Together, and the Twixter generation collide.

Scripture's authority is subsumed under the authority of the community. "Our trust in the Bible does not depend on information that 'proves' the Bible to be credible. We believe the Bible because our hopes, ideas, experiences, and community of faith allow and require us to believe" (123). Scripture is not the normative voice in the church-people's experiences and desires are. This is the position of Catholic and Quaker spirituality, not the hallmark of classic Christianity.

Not only is sola Scriptura tacitly rejected, the gospel is confused. Pagitt makes this confession in his opening chapter: "I had always understood the 'Good News' as summed up in the life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and promised return of Jesus. . . . Could it be that the 'Good News' Jesus talked about was less a call to believe in things that happened to him or would happen to and through him than an invitation into Kingdom life?" (32). Although the gospel is about the Kingdom of God, I fail to understand why people feel the need to create a false either/or scenario between truths that are complementary. Further, does not the rest of the Bible affirm what Pagitt himself questions-the heart of the gospel is the doing and dying of Jesus Christ; it is more about what happened to and through him (1 Cor. 15:3-5)? Sadly, this emphasis on a gospel that imitates Christ rather than rests in Christ is more the hallmark of modern Catholic and traditional liberal spirituality than classical historic Christianity.

Solomon's Porch describes their community as open and tolerant. Pagitt insists that when they began Solomon's Porch, it was not their intention to focus on "a demographic approach to meeting the felt needs of the coffee-house-visiting, cell-phoning, . . . [I]nternet-addicted, body-pierced children of the 'me' generation that so many of [them] are." They think that it just happened. Besides that being a rather nave statement, and while they are trying to avoid being "culturally chic" (44), Solomon's Porch is a community comprised, it seems, of people who represent a specific demographic. I seriously doubt that Solomon's Porch would be truly open to an urban, nonwhite, Reformational Christianity-where discipleship is formed not only in community, but under Scripture, by faith in Christ, and with a spirituality that does not cater to the shifting whims of either modern or postmodern thought.

I would recommend reading Church Re-imagined, if only to challenge those who are comfortable with an approach to discipleship that fails to see Christian formation as more personal and community-driven than informational and program-driven. For those who are smug in thinking that theological correctness is all that is needed, this book helps in challenging us to think more holistically about being propositionally correct but practically conformed to this age.

Thursday, May 3rd 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

J. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church