REVIEWED BY CLINT ARCHER
Doug Pagitt (b. 1966) is the founder of the Minneapolis congregation called Solomon’s Porch, which he is loath to call a church, but rather a “Holistic Missional Community.” He has written nine books, owns an event planning business, and is considered one of the leaders (even founders) of the Emergent Village network. He obtained his MA from Bethel Seminary in 1992. In his own words, on his blog, he describes himself as “I am a speaker and consultant for churches, denominations and businesses throughout the United States and around the world on issues of postmodern culture, social systems and Christianity.”
SUMMARY OF CONTENTS
The main thesis of the book is that preaching as it is conceived in churches today, needs to be re-imagined, and changed to be more effective. The premise is that there is a problem with preaching, as evidenced by pastor’s complaints that people are not responding they way they should. His thesis differentiates between the term “speaching” and “preaching.” The former is a term he coined to refer to what is commonly known as preaching. It is a pejorative reference to a one-way delivery of a prepared speech/sermon. What he then attempts to do is redefine the word “preaching” with his own definition, which is nebulous and vague, but incorporates “progressional dialogue” which is another nebulous term he coins.
The book is arranged in six sections, of which section 2, “Preaching Beyond Speaching,” is the main thesis of the book, and the following sections serve to elaborate on the points made in section 2. In an interesting attempt to encourage interactivity or “conversation” as Pagitt terms it, the body of the text is littered with reference numbers which indicate other chapters in the book that deal with the thought being mentioned. For example, he may mention “speaching” in section 2, and then indicate a fuller discussion in chapter 1 with a note “”. He encourages one to skip around in the book as an example of conversational interaction. He also encourages writing agreements and objections in the ample margin space and between paragraphs, deliberately published for that purpose.
The title really is the thesis statement of the book. Pagitt wants to be continually “redefining [his pastoral] role and the role of preaching,” (10). He concedes that “I believe preaching to be a crucial act of the church,” (18), and does not call what he is doing questioning the necessity of preaching, rather to re-imagine, recreate its form. He wants to redefine it and help it escape “from the bondage of the speech making act,” (18). He calls this new form of preaching a “progressional dialogue,” (11).
Pagitt presupposes that there is a problem with the age-old method of one-way preaching, and answers hypothetical reasons offered, namely that the problem lies with the people, method, preacher, or content. He denies these as the cause of the problem (which he never proves, just assumes), “The problem is that preaching, as we know it, suffers from a relationship problem,” (21). He balks at the seemingly arrogant idea that one man, the preacher, controls the sermon without the input of the listeners. “As a pastor I want to be part of a community where the workings of God are embedded in all, where the roles of teaching and learning aren’t mine alone but instead are something intrinsic to who we are as a people,” (23).
Pagitt sees the role of the pastor as one that actually poses a danger if there is no conversation during the sermon, “Hearing the pastor’s thoughts some 600 times but never having the pastor hear yours is a dangerous imbalance of power,” (150). But this misses the premise of expository preaching, which is to expound on God’s thoughts as revealed in Scripture, not the pastor’s thoughts. Instead of Scriptural argumentation, he uses straw-man type arguments and illustrations. For example, “We would never approach another kind of relationship with the rules we apply to the speacher/hearer relationship. I speak with my wife nearly every day…If she were simply to listen to me every day and not have the opportunity to give her take on things, our marriage would not be a healthy one for either of us,” (150).
But this anecdotal evidence is selective in its application. People do apply the rules in other relationship; of course not with your spouse, but when you watch a play, listen to a political speech, or in a courtroom setting during the passing of sentence. There is a time and place for discussion or objection or other interaction. Reviews are written of plays, appeals are made of sentencing. And there is a time to interact with a sermon too. Correspondence with the pastor, discussion in small groups, Q&A forums, etc. Why does the act of preaching need to be diminished to accommodate the need to interact with the material delivered? This question is never tackled in the book.
Pagitt’s thesis depends on the premise that preaching as we know it today is not working. But he never defines “working” not does he substantiate in any meaningful way what indicates that there is a problem. The “evidence” he offers is that “It can be heard in the halls at every pastors’ convention. It can be heard in the conversations among pastors at social gatherings. It can be heard in cars as people drive home from church. You certainly would be able to hear it if you could crawl into the heads of most preachers during their ties of preparation,” (19). One wonders what type of pastors’ conventions he attends, or how many pastors’ heads he has crawled into to ascertain the data needed to support he premise of his whole argument. He later tries to cite statistics, but instead merely mentions an undefined (perceived?) “statistic”: “Look at the statistics that say the church population in North America is not increasing at nearly the same rate as the general population and therefore conclude that speaching is indeed failing as a means of ‘winning souls for Christ,’” (28). This claim is simply silly. It ignores the theological criteria of success, relies on undefined data that isn’t even supplied for the reader to evaluate nor referenced by a footnote or any other indication as to where this information was acquired. The prophet Jeremiah, for one, would fail as successful if judged by numerical or positive acceptance as criteria.
The closest Pagitt comes to a theological argument is on the ground of the priesthood of all believers (Section 5, chapter 21). He caricatures the view that pastors are specially gifted to teach by saying “There area select few who know God’s truth and who get to tell other about God. There is hardly a preacher who wants her [sic.] hearers to leave with the notion that they must access the truth of God through the preacher. But that is exactly the message speaching perpetuates: The pastor has authority to speak about God, and you don’t,” (29). This confuses the difference between the ability to know and talk about God’s word—which every believer has—with the position of pastor-teacher which is limited to those who meet biblical qualifications (which incidentally would rule out female preachers, and would force Pagitt to review his constant enigmatic use of the feminine personal pronoun to refer to preachers). Obviously anyone can talk about God’s truth, just not in a forum where spiritual authority is being exercised; for example Paul’s comment that “I do not permit a woman to teach or hold authority over a man, but she is to remain silent,” (1 Tim 2). This rules out at least some people in the church from interrupting the sermon. But these women are encouraged to “ask their husbands at home.” In other words the Bible does recognize forums for interaction, but not without limitations. Priscilla and Acquilla took Apollos aside after he had finished preaching, and instructed him.
Ephesians 4:11 says that “God gave… pastor-teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry.” This implies that there are some people who have something to offer to equip other people.
The closest Pagitt comes to a biblical argument is the chapter on “Peter and Cornelius” (Section 3, Chapter 3). His point in this chapter is that after Peter and Cornelius had shared comments, only then were they both in the picture as to the meaning of the events in Acts 10. The glaring oversight is that both Peter and Cornelius had received direct revelation from God, and that is why they had to exchange information before the picture was complete. That is not what is happening in church. Everyone in church has the same revelation from God—the Bible. The preacher is the one speaking because he is the one drawing attention to the meaning and application of the common revelation. There is no need for input from the pews at this point. The descriptive narrative passage of Acts 10 does not apply as a warrant for Pagitt’s teachings, and does not nullify the prescriptive passages in 1and 2 Timothy and Titus that give explicit instruction to preach the word with all authority and not be disregarded by anyone.
Particularly concerning is Pagitt’s assertion that every person has equal authority, ability, and right to make statements about “the life of God.” In other words, anyone should be allowed to teach in any context. This contradicts the NT qualifications of those in teaching and ignores the admonition in James 3:1 “Let not many of you become teachers, my brothers, for they will incur a stricter judgment.” Pagitt goes as far as to say unbelievers should be given this right in the church gathering too, under the heading “Listening to the Unbeliever,” (224). This ignores that “the natural man cannot comprehend the things of God for they are folly to him.”
The NT excludes the right to teach God’s word in an authoritative role in certain circumstances, for example, women teaching men (1 Tim 2; 1 Cor 14), unqualified men (1 Tim 3:10), divisive people (Titus 3:10). But Pagitt sees everyone’s tuppence as worthy of the congregation’s consideration. The mind boggles at the thought.
I understand the danger involved “…when the pastor is seen as one whose relationship with the story is to be the teller instead of a community member…[and] in the life of the preacher who regularly tells other how things are, could be or ought to be,” (32). But the solution is not to turn the sermon into a free-for-all. Pagitt completely overlooks the fact that most churches do in fact have avenues to deal with the questions, comments, and objections or agreements that congregants and even visitors have. Small groups, home Bible studies, question and answer sessions, e-mail address printed in the bulletin, etc. are just a few of the myriad ways people can interact with the information they received in the sermon. He concedes that this is how political speeches are handled, without suggesting that the Presidents’ State of the Union should be treated as a conversation.
In the quest for positive points, I found another reviewer’s words helpful:
He has some useful ideas along the way. He suggests submitting a sermon to a small group for their response. (In our context those who teach, or who are training to teach, routinely work on the passage together before it is taught.) ‘Many of us quote experts or famous people who are rarely part of our community. But the people who are in the midst of our communities often have as much to say about how we pursue the life of God as do famous and brilliant strangers.’ (40)
On the whole the book was a sloppy piece of rhetoric, poorly written, and not researched at all. The four works cited added nothing to the research and substantiated no claim Pagitt made. The good points he makes are in the area of warning against preachers becoming too full of their own authority and too arrogant to learn from their people, but to say that the entire act of preaching needs to be re-imagined is a stretch Pagitt failed to convince me I needed to make. I don’t grant his premise that preaching doesn’t work, and I don’t see how his imagination is a good source of fixing what he perceives to be the problem. He concedes that the problem is not a “medical emergency” but rather merely a “low grade fever,” (76). I would encourage preachers to try cure this symptomless perception before applying Pagitt’s poisonous remedy.
 http://timchester.wordpress.com/2010/01/15/preaching-re-imagined/, accessed Nov 1, 2010.