What if instead of God existing inside us—the traditional teaching—we exist in God? What difference does it make to reconceptualize our relationship to God this way? That’s the question Doug Pagitt addresses in his new book, Flipped: The Provocative Truth that Changes Everything We Know about God (Convergent Books, Feb.).
“One of the great gifts of understanding that everything exists in God is that God becomes so much more meaningful and significant,” Pagitt explains. “When we see God as something we possess—‘God is in me’—God is only as big as our imagination or experience. Or worse, when God becomes the possession of someone else—‘they have God and I don’t’—it makes God seem like a great ‘add-on’ but not essential.”
Along with other authors in the postmodern “emerging church” movement, such as Rob Bell and Brian McLaren, Pagitt--who also wrote A Christianity Worth Believing (Jossey-Bass, 2009)--challenges some teachings of traditional Christianity, including the existence of heaven and hell and the fixed nature of theology. Solomon’s Porch--the Minneapolis, Minn. church and nonprofit organization that Pagitt founded in 2000--defines itself as a “Holistic Missional Christian Community.” Pagitt teaches that Christianity is ever-changing and explains on the website that visitors “will not find statements of what our community believes….Belief is a dynamic, lived reality and doesn’t lend itself to website statements.”
Solomon’s Porch approaches worship in a way that reflects Pagitt’s “in God” theology. The church eschews traditional Christian services for informal discussion groups, and stresses being open to seeing others in fresh ways. “This is one of the most important impacts of changing the stories in our heads about God,” Pagitt tells PW. “We can see that those who are different from us are just as much part of God as we are. This extends our empathy for one another, seeing all people as part of the family of God.”
By understanding themselves to be “in God,” Pagitt says, believers can “engage with God in personal ways without having to reduce the relationship to inter-personal terms, like that with a friend or family member with whom we need to [make an effort] to keep our relationship active. We never need to fear that we have fallen from relational favor with God.”
Pagitt's own life and faith have changed. “I realize there is nothing left out of God,” he says. “I am not a fan of using size to indicate significance, so I tend not to say ‘God is so much bigger’ with this view. Instead, it is a way to better understand God as encompassing all—me, you, and everything in between.”