We all have stories about God in our head, and some of them are flat out misleading. One of the most common, according to pastor and author Doug Pagitt, goes like this: “If I’m faithful in doing this, then God promises to do that.” By accepting this story, he says, Christians end up making deals with God and exhaust ourselves in trying to fulfill our end of the bargain. In his book, Flipped: The Provocative Truth That Changes Everything We Know About God, he uses the teachings of Jesus, Paul, and the prophets to argue for why we should invert this story. Here we discuss this book and why he believes it can set many Christians free.
RNS: You say many spiritual people are trying to make a deal with God? How so?
DP: I understand making a deal with God as an if/then proposition. By that I mean, “If I do this, you’ll do that.” We have an agreement or deal in which God’s actions depend on mine. In religious talk, this plays out in a lot of ways. Sometimes it plays out in terms of salvation. Sometimes in terms of daily blessing. People believe–because the church has often taught–that God’s actions are contingent upon theirs.
RNS: The alternative to what you call “If/then” theology is what you call “In God” theology. Explain what this means.
DP: If we understand ourselves as “In God,” we can no longer see our relationship to God as a connection that can be broken or that is contingent on our actions. In the book, I use the example of needing an adapter to use an electronic device. The if/then way of thinking implies that we need an adapter of some kind to have access to God. This implies that God is a separate subject with whom we can can lose connection. But if God is our very existence and we are ever and always in God, we are no longer tied to an if/then threat of lost connection. We can, of course, move toward greater integration with our existence in God, or we can move toward estrangement, but we are ever in God.
RNS: Where do you find support for your thinking in the Bible?