Monday, February 20, 2012

book review: evangelism in the inventive age

title: evangelism in the inventive age 
author: doug pagitt 
publisher: sparkhouse press 
date: 2012 

Doug Pagitt is the founder of Solomons Porch, a holistic, missional Christian community in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and one of the pioneering leaders of Emergent Village, a social network of Christians around the world. 

He sent me a copy of his latest book, "Evangelism in the Inventive Age", to review about a month ago. Despite my best plans, this is up a little late. 

In a day when "evangelism" – the sharing of the message of God – has become such a stigmatized, technical, and often guilt-ridden exercise for so many, Pagitt maps out a different path. 

Pagitt gets the reader to think about the nature of the "Good News" - what is the Gospel. And rather than promoting an unnatural, exacting, and/or painful conversion experience, Pagitt suggests that evangelism is helping people find what he calls resonance between themselves and God. He outright dismisses any evangelistic effort that is based in fear, since that is antithetical to God’s intentions for people. Pagitt points out that: "Evangelism is not the act of telling; it is the act of communicating." A lot of the time we forget this, and we turn evangelism into a one-way non-conversation.

Pagitt also invites us to think about holistic, honest, genuine ways of communicating this message. Using the Enneagram personality sorter, Pagitt shares his insights into the fears, hopes, and dreams of different kinds of people. Personally, I'm a bit of an Enneagram skeptic, but I appreciated the way he highlighted listening and empathizing and caring over against the preaching and telling and converting that is promoted elsewhere. 

Pagitt sees the Inventive Age 
"as the fourth 'age' in Western culture [the previous ages are: the Agrarian Age, the Industrial Age, and the Information Age]... This cultural shift affects all of society, including religious life and certainly evangelism. In the Inventive Age, we are no longer willing to accept generic fixes for our problems. We aren’t interested in having ideas or solutions or dreams handed to us by people who think they have more power or knowledge or influence than we do. The Inventive Age is a time of organic connection, of global wisdom, of shared authority. If we want to practice evangelism in this age, we have to recognize that it doesn’t work to tell people to conform to some idea of faith."

The way of Jesus was and is a first-name faith. "The Jesus we find in the Gospels never gives the same answer twice."

This is an area where we often fail. 

"The lenses through which each of us sees the world can be so powerful that they distort our view. We can start to live with a kind of tunnel vision where we only see what’s right in front of us, missing the good things that lie on the periphery... Before we can proclaim good news to anyone, we have to start paying attention to what kind of news they need... One of the most meaningful ways to tap into someone’s passions and fears is to talk about your own."
The book ends with a journey through the book of Acts. Pagitt, I think rightly, sees Acts as descriptive, not prescriptive. He draws our attention to the many actions and activities that the early church used as they spread the message of Jesus. 

This book resonated with me. Pagitt takes ‘the inventive age’ seriously – not as a threat or a panacea. Yes, it changes how we think and act, but it also does not destroy the good news. Pagitt also insists, I believe rightly so, that the message of Jesus is good news. These two themes are held in tension. The era of forcing our own version of Christianity onto other people and other cultures is coming to an end. We need to learn to speak into our our age and culture in a way that is understood.

If the church is seriously interested in making disciples, if the church is seriously interested loving and embracing “the other”, if the church really wants to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, then I think this book is a helpful tool for understanding some of the preparations for the journey.

I was given a free pdf copy of the book for review and that I wasn’t paid to give a positive review. Evangelism in the Inventive Age is now available. For more information, have a look at Doug Pagitt’s website:

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