Friday, June 6, 2008

book review, part 1--christianity worth believing

I bought this book, A Christianity Worth Believing by Doug Pagitt, yea few days ago.Read through it in a cople of evenings.

I still have a hard time believing someone would write some of this. Well, no, I'm not, but I really do have a hard time believing that someone who calls himself a Christian minister would write this stuff.

Much of the first part of the book is only him talking about growing up, his conversion, and things directly afterwards. It's not that there are not points of interest, but at least for the moment, I'm not going into them.

One may say that Pagitt's main point in the book is that Christianity, as we know it, has become too Greek. And we need to get back to a more Hebrew understanding.

It's really not the first time I've heard such a thing. There have been people who have talked about how the introduction of Platonic and Aristotelian thought has had a not-good effect on Christian and even world thinking.

Where Pagitt goes with it, though, is for me rather new.

See if any of this soudn familiar. The Greek philosophers like Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates believed that god was an abstract force, not a personal father figure. This notion was built on the assumption that there were two forces in the world--flesh and spirit. Spirit was perfect and good. Flesh was limited and needy. The spirit and the flesh were distinch and separate. This all transferred to Greek thinking about God, suggesting that God must be wholly Spirit. Plato concluded that God was perfect, unchanging, and in need of nothing. God existed apart from humanity in a state of divine purity. God's perfection had to be timeless, and therefore God must exist outside of time. God, then, was the best we could imagine, the Ultimate.
A Christianity Worth Believing, p. 46

I suppose one could point out that the ancient Greeks were pagans who didn't believe in God. They had their own pantheon.

Look at what he's saying. "This all transferred to Greek thinking about God, suggesting that God must be wholly Spirit". What is that suppose to mean in light of John 4:24, "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth"? These are Jesus' words, and He's talking to a Samaritan woman. Is Jesus using Greek-speak to give an inaccurate description of God to this woman? Or is this something some writer later inserted that conformed to accepted thinking?

(Which reminds me, there's some things about Pagitt's take on the Bible that could be brought at a not-too-much-later date. Now, back to your special feature.)

For the moment, I'm going to concentrate on things he says in chapter 8. It has to do with his concept of holism.

Although the integration model I was finding in science and natural health was exciting and inspiring in many ways, it also put me at odds with my faith. The Christianity I'd been taught was built around a dualistic disconnection: we are to be "in the world but not of it". The world is not our home. There are those who have the spirit of God and those who don't. We are one thing, and those other people are, well, other.
p. 81

And a bit later on that same page.

The language of separation is ingrained in the way many of us think about and talk about Christianity. And it isn't accidental or unintentional. It is often a crucially important starting point to faith...This is the kind of separation-based thinking that made sense for those who held to the Greek idea of the distinct, divided nature of flesh and spirit...But once we have an understanding of the interconnection of all things, that dualism ceases to be useful.

Would I be wrong in thinking that this sounds more like an eastern "all is one" type of thing? That I could read this kind of statement in a any of the new-agey writings of Chopra or Wilbur?

(Is it an accident, then, that Bell and McLaren have spoken in support of Wilbur? That Bell even suggested a rather length study of one of his books? And that Pagitt is rather deeply connected with Bell and McLaren?)

Does Pagitt realize that the phrase "in the world but not of it" is an idea Jesus expresses? In John 17, we have these statement...

17:11 And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee.
17:15 I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.
17:16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.

And just we can know what we're walking into...

17:14 I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.

He tries to tell us that this "language of separation" comes from Greek thinking, but this claim is not supported, either in the book or in Scripture. It is from Jesus, for example, that we get such "language of separation" concepts as--the narrow way and the broad way, the sheep and the goats, the wheat and the tares, the four types of soil, those who are with Him and those who are against Him, those who gather with Him and those who scatter, the Pharisees who boasted of his own 'virtues' in prayer and the tax collector who only beg for God's mercy. From other places in the New Testament, we can find such examples as--those who believe and are saved and those who don't and are damned, those whose names are written in the Book of Life and those whose names aren't.

In other words, the New Testament is filled with this "language of separation". To say that it's some kind of Greek import seems like an artificial way of explaining away these separations, but they do not so easily go away.

It is Pagitt's attempt to inject some kind of 'holism' or 'interconnection' that is unwarranted and without bibilical support. This will no doubt be looked into as we get more into his book

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