My Review of Flipped by Doug Pagitt

Doug Pagitt is releasing his new book Flipped this Tuesday and I hope you check it out. I was able to obtain a pre-release (without any promise/payment of a review/endorsement). Like with any pre-release I try to get my hands on, I was hoping I would like it, but with high expectations sometimes comes disappointment. In this case, I’m happy to say Flipped delivered and I really liked it.

The basic premise (from Author/Publisher):

“We all have stories in our heads about God, humanity, life, and the meaning of it all. One of the most common—and misleading—stories is “If I’m faithful in doing this, then God promises to do that.” Jesus didn’t believe it and neither should you. God does not insist that you play by the rules before he will respond to you. A careful reading of the Bible will free all of us from trying to make a deal with God, inviting us instead to live in God.”

And a thought from Doug:

“Let me take a moment and tell you what I am up to in Flipped.  I use the flip to capture Jesus’ message “you have heard it said…but I say to you.” Many people are not satisfied with the version of faith they have heard and are longing for a new, even flipped, understanding of God and faith. This is what Flipped is all about” (more here. Link also lets you download a free chapter).

 A personal thought or two:

I always find new reasons to appreciate Doug. Early in my ministry (early 2000’s), he was among the handful of minds giving voice to what I was  experiencing in the church. He was among those reimagining, deconstructing and building an expression of Christianity that was both faithful to the gospel of Jesus and also authentic to those of us who were searching for something more. Long story short, among my favorite parts of this  journey was when Doug released A Christianity Worth Believing

So I was excited that Doug was writing something else. And where Christianity Worth was in nature, a very big picture perspective where we as believers fit in (and can create/contribute), Flipped begins and stays personal. Though I appreciate Doug, I’m not sure I’d like this approach (as I like Doug’s prophetic and futurist voice) and second, I feared the premise of Flipped is difficult to deliver on and this nagged me throughout the introduction and early portions of the book.

Which brings me to one of my favorite aspects of reading and certainly one of my favorite parts of reading any Doug Pagitt book: The inner monologue you engage with the author (who I always get the better of in my mind ;).  You probably know what I mean. There you are reading  and you start asking asking, “Is that right or … is he just trying to be provocative?  Is this true? Is he exaggerating?  Is he playing up to a particular tribe? ( insert your critique/accusation here).” Most of the time I retract the question/accusation by the time I finish the chapter. It doesn’t mean that I have come to agreement, sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t, but it means I’ve been given something worthwhile to think about – and that’s one of the points of reading new ideas. And over the years, Doug’s words and ideas and his presence have served me well. 

Who I Think It’s For:

  • Of course, it’s for everyone but I really think it’s for those who have been hanging out in the church a while and feel a bit of boredom with the same answers they feel they’ve been getting. Doug’s thesis would be if you’re feeling this, you’re probably ready to be flipped.
  • Those that like fresh perspective without the hype. Gifted writers and communicators are able to take often held beliefs and make them fresh again. He’s interesting without the sensationalism.
  • Those that enjoy popular Christian/spiritual reading. The book moves well and is not unnecessarily confusing. That said, when I read a chapter the second time, I did note that I missed some things the first time around. So it’s enjoyable, popular reading but gets better the more times you read it as more wisdom emerges as you uncover the first layer.
  • It’s probably not for those that like a clear cut answer to things. It’s not that Flipped is vague, it’s that Doug is in process and lets you know that. For instance, when he talks about love and how it relates to our enemies and how it relates to violence, he admits how he’s in process. His conclusion is that love is greater but we see him wrestling with how to live this. I for one, appreciate this as I find some pacifists making it sound too easy, and some who hold military solutions to make things too cut and dry.

What I Liked:

  • Doug’s pastoral voice. This is a common theme in most of the books that I like, and what sometimes separates the books Iove/like/don’t like. And here’s what I mean by that – Doug is writing personally to the reader and he’s writing not to win you, sell you but he writes in a way that respect the reader. I feel released from agreeing with him.  He writes/communicates with a sense of care but he challenges too (as good pastors ought to) and that’s hard difficult balance to find, particularly in writing and so again, I think Doug delivers here.
  • That the book lived up to its thesis. As mentioned, the idea of Flipped is tough to deliver on, especially when it comes to the Bible. I think of excellent examples of Malcolm Gladwell or the writers of Freakonimics (Levitt and Dubner) taking conventionally held beliefs and flipping them. They have the benefit of latest research, statistics, and anecdotes. The Bible is a more challenging project to flip, especially with the complexities of millennia of tradition/study and the feature of inspiration. But you the thesis is working when you feel the excitement of your ground shifting.
  • Thus, my favorite flip is the treatment of the story of Abraham and Isaac, by far. I’ll be following up on this with personal study but there’s a lot of great insight here. This alone is worth the price/time of the book.
  • Also, really liked the treatment of familiar stories like the widow giving her mite and the surrounding context.
  • Moved by the Dieter Zander story.
  • From one pastor observing another, it feels he is in genuine community and conversation with people and not merely conversing with his fans/pupils and isolating himself in an echo-chamber.  I think I’m in a place of experience to tell the difference.
  • Truly appreciated the move from if/then transactional thought to a push for deeper growth, which brought all the primary themes to a  strong close and concludes the book with your space for perhaps, your “flip(s)”.

What I Wasn’t Sure About:

  • Franky, I wasn’t sure about just about everything I liked – see why I liked this? I’m not sure Doug is right, which keeps me thinking, which will get me talking to certain friends about it, which makes this such a great book to read and process.
  • Anytime he wrote about Eastern thought, which he is very knowledgeable in and where myself as a North American evangelical with Mid-Eastern roots, I find personal blindspots in. This is a growth area for me (that keeps coming up when I read other material as well).

Final Thoughts:

I have this working theory with provocative types that as they leave their seminaries, or their once-in-a-lifetime experiences, or their unique pulpit that will be nearly impossible for anyone else to acquire, and then once they find themselves among the “regular, normal” types of people (like me! ;)  that something happens to their ideas. The idealism fades, eventually everything from status quo to critique to time catches up and then we see if these ideas were able to adapt as they were practiced or if they simply died. I say this with all sincerity, there may be no better time than to read a Doug Pagitt than these days. 

Doug is going on a book tour with Heatherlyn. If you haven’t heard her music, you should check it out. Heatherlyn is a refreshing voice that loves Jesus, loves people, avoids the trappings of overly cheerful Christian music, and remains grounded with a sense of what’s going on and growing hope (I could/should write a post about her).

For my Greater Boston friends, there’s some talk of trying to get Doug and Heatherlyn to visit later on this year. Would love to host a Reading Circle,  have the Flipped conversation in the air and invite Doug to speak into it. Please let me know if you have any interest here.

You can see more, check out tour dates, download a free chapter and pre-order the book here.



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