The best thing about Doug Pagitt’s Evangelism in the Inventive Age is that it is very short.
Now please understand: I am a big fan of books and literature in general, and of the writing of Doug Pagitt in particular. I’ve loved all of Doug’s books, and his longest book– A Christianity Worth Believing– is one that I wished would go on and on.
I love the brevity of his latest book because it is so purposeful: it is an expression of the thing it describes. Namely, where ‘evangelism’– the sharing of the message of God– has become such a stigmatized and technical and guilt-ridden enterprise for so many people, Doug charts a different path without being as prescriptive and constraining as we have come to expect from lesser books about evangelism.
With a winsome, sweeping style, Doug gets the reader to:
1. Inquire after the nature of the ‘Good News’ (aka ‘the Gospel). Rather than promoting an unnatural, exacting, and/or painful conversion experience, Doug suggests that the task of evangelism is to help people find resonance between themselves and God. As such, he dismisses out of hand any evangelistic effort that is based in fear, since that is antithetical to God’s intentions for people. So what exactly are we trying to give to people?
2. Think about holistic, honest, genuine ways of communicating this message. Informed by the massive literature around the Enneagram personality sorter, Doug shares some great insights into the fears, hopes, and dreams of different kinds of people. As an Enneagram skeptic, this section didn’t resonate with me as much, but I did appreciate the new skill set it highlighted: listening and empathizing and caring over and against the preaching and telling and converting that is promoted elsewhere. Which will prevent us from trying to change them, and allow ourselves– our ideas, our biases, and our faith– to be transformed in the process. So how can Christians connect with others?
3. Provide an example of the instantiation and expression of that Good News by an early Christian community. Here, Doug leads us through a fascinating literary reading of the New Testament book of Acts. Which sees this book as descriptive, not prescriptive, and which focuses on the multiplicity of actions and activities that the early church employed in spreading the new message of Jesus. So how can communities of faith embody these ideas?
And then, right when you expect him to tell you what to think, what to do, and how to act, the book is unexpectedly over. Done. Implicitly inviting you with the last blank page to write your own contribution to the story of God, and to find your own way to share your good news about God with others.