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A Feature Review of
FLIPPED: The Provocative Truth that Changes Everything We Know About God.
Paperback: Convergent Books, 2015.
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Reviewed by Bob Cornwall
A central theme in the Christian faith is the call to conversion or repentance. To repent is to change direction. John the Baptist, Jesus, and Peter all preached a message of repentance as the pathway to entering the realm of God. The language of repentance is rather religious and traditional. It has a certain patina to it, and thus it might not speak as usefully to a culture that has eschewed traditional religious language and practices. So, how might one communicate the truth of repentance in a way that would make sense to this new generation that is either unfamiliar with or uncomfortable with religious language? Perhaps one might create new language to communicate basic elements of the Christian faith. Thus, Doug Pagitt offers us the term “flipped.” To flip is to change one’s mind/life and go in a different direction. Better, Doug writes that “change and growth are what Flipped is all about.” (2).
The author of the new book Flipped, Doug Pagitt, is a thoughtful and generous spirit who has made a name for himself by translating traditional Christian beliefs and practices for the contemporary world. That is the task he has set before himself in this book. He wants to introduce his readers to the theological discoveries he has made as part of his own faith journey, discoveries that have changed his perspective on God and thus his life. He speaks of three goals for the book. First, changing one’s mind is at the heart of Jesus’ message. Second, that the reader might find a “big, beautiful story of God as you find new ways to live in it” (note the preposition “in,” for that word will prove important throughout the book). Third, Doug wants the book to be seen as an invitation to “a full, vibrant life in God” (4-5).
The book is built on the foundation of Doug’s on theological conversion some years back. Having come to faith in an evangelical setting, Doug understood conversion in a personal salvation model, where one invites Jesus into one’s heart (life). In this conversion experience, his flip, he discerned that rather than inviting God to fill a “God-shaped” hole in one’s life, we are called to recognize that we are living “in God.” He came to a new understanding of God. No longer would he envision God as a “separate single subject” who is removed from humanity, but rather he would come to understand God as something much bigger, in which we live and move and have our being. While Doug never uses the word to describe his new understanding, it would be safe to say that would Doug had discovered was a panentheistic theology. For the panentheist, while not everything is God, everything is in God. There is distinction and yet there is unity between God and the creation.
With this discovery, Doug found a new way of looking at reality. First of all, in line with panentheism, change is something to be expected and not feared. Change is part of growth – and thus it is to be embraced, even if it is not always easy to do so. At the same time, there is no need for “adapters” or mediators that bridge the gap between humanity and God, for we are in God. Thus, the priestly system is unnecessary.
Related to this absence of intermediary is the discovery that faith in God is not transactional. It is not based on the sense of a “if/then” relationship with God. There is no need for a Temple where we do our religious acts to get God to do what we want. What it is about is love. This is the one reliable guide to flips. There are no contingencies and no judgment – though I’m not sure if this is true. Love is discerning, though I’m in agreement that no one is beyond God’s love. Ultimately, Doug recognizes that the world is complicated.