President Obama promised to “fundamentally transform the United States of America.” He has in many respects delivered on that promise with the unveiling of the Affordable Health Care Act and a host of executive orders that are, in the final analysis, out of step with American values. But give credit where credit is due. The transformation which the president promised has taken place. Now, Americans wait for the painful consequences to set in.
In Doug Pagitt’s latest book, “Flipped,” the author sets out to fundamentally transform the classical view of God. This transformation is creative and innovative. It is intuitive and will attract the attention of many readers.
Pagitt sets forth three goals at the beginning of the book:
- To see that changing your mind, drawing new conclusions, and engaging new ideas all lie at the heart of Jesus’s message and life.
- To behold the big, beautiful story of God as you find new ways to live in it.
- To invite readers to a full and vibrant life in God.
The basic idea that runs through this book is what the author refers to as a “flip” – which is nothing short of revising one’s views about God, Scripture, and the Christian life in general. Pagitt adds, “The Flip at the center of this book is one that turned me around as a pastor and a Christian writer as well as my personal life and faith.”
The Flip That Flopped
Several “flips” are addressed in this work. But the one that keeps surfacing concerns a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of God. At the heart of this book is a commitment to panentheism. This worldview, also known as process theology is a radical departure from the traditional understanding of God, yet is receiving a hearing in the emergent church and some liberal churches. One might consider such a view a halfway house between theism and pantheism. But make no mistake – panentheism is outside the scope of historical orthodoxy.
All is in God?
To be fair, the author never uses the word, panentheism. Yet this panentheistic theme runs throughout the book. Pagitt argues, “God is not a separate single subject … If God were not a separate being from all things in the cosmos, then we need not simply say God exists. We can say that God is existence. All is in God.” Such language is the classic lingo of panentheism.
My initial impression: Surely this is a typo! The author can’t possibly mean what he is saying. But as I continued to read, my suspicions were confirmed. “… All that exists is In God,” writes Pagitt. He tries to justify this “flip” by appealing to the rationale from Acts 17:28 where Paul quotes Epimenides of Crete: “In him, we live and move and have our being.”
In addition to promoting panentheism, the author posits the notion of universalism: “Beyond that, the power of God that was alive in Jesus is alive in us. In short, the fullness of God is active in humanity without assistance from any religious system.” He continues, “Instead, we can recognize that all people live, move, and exist In God.”
Flipped is a radical departure from the biblical understanding of God. The notion that all people “exist In God” simply fails to match the biblical data. Much to the contrary, we find a distinction between the Creator and the creature. Whenever one denies such a distinction he makes a dangerous theological move with several critical implications. What are the implications of denying the Creator-creature distinction?
- Misreads and misinterprets Scripture.
- Compromises God’s character.
- Compromises biblical authority.
- Minimizes the transcendence of God and emphasizes the immanence of God in biblically inappropriate ways.
Readers should recall how God is truly presented in Scripture. He is never presented in a panentheistic scheme – ever! Rather, he is presented as the absolute personal God. This absolute God is transcendent; that is to say, he is over and above the scope of the universe. He is distinct and independent of his creation (Isa. 57:15; Isa. 40:10). He is preeminent (Isa. 40:25-28; 44:6-8). Jonathan Edwards adds, “His power is infinite, and none can resist him. His riches are immense and inexhaustible. His majesty is infinitely awful.” And God carries supreme authority over all. Nothing rivals the supreme authority of God (Job 41:10; 37:9-14).
The Triune God holds all things together. In a few words, St. Paul demonstrates both the transcendence and the imminence of God: “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible; whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him, all things hold together” (Col. 1:16-17, ESV). God is sovereign (Dan. 4:34-35). Nothing can thwart his sovereign decrees! He is distinct from the created order (Acts 17:24-29). And the Bible tells us that God is wholly other (Isa. 46:9). This is a far cry from people who “exist In God.”
God is not only absolute; he is personal. He cares for his creation. He is intimately involved with his creation and he delights to meet the needs of his creatures.
God is the Sustainer (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3). He is the Healer (2 Chron. 7:14). He is the Protector (2 Sam. 22:2). He is the Shepherd (Ps. 23:1-6). He is the Forgiver (Rom. 5:1). And Scripture demonstrates the ultimate love that God expressed on the Cross when Jesus died for sinners (Rom. 5:8).
Flipped will likely attract many readers; especially readers who are committed to theological liberalism. The author seeks to fundamentally transform the vision of God by convincing readers that “… All that exists is In God.” The only problem: The view presented here is dead wrong.
A.W. Tozer understood the importance of getting God right. He rightly noted in his best-selling book, The Knowledge of God:
The gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most [awe-inspiring] fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his heart conceives God to be like … So necessary to the Church is a lofty concept of God that when that concept in any measure declines, the Church with her worship and her moral standards decline along with it. The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God.
May followers of Christ heed Tozer’s advice. We certainly do not need to flip our views of God. Any deviation from the biblical vision of God will have tragic consequences in the church and the culture in which she seeks to minister. Any flip will become a flop that ignores the clear teaching of Scripture.
I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.