For The Someday Book

Book Review: Church in the Inventive Age

Posted on: November 16, 2010

Church in the Inventive Age, by Doug Pagitt, Sparkhouse Press, 2010, 114 pp.

A few months ago, I wrote that Doug Pagitt’s book A Christianity Worth Believing was the book I had been looking for to help people facing a spiritual crisis over theological issues. Church in the Inventive Age is the book to recommend for people facing a church crisis over a changing culture.

Pagitt outlines the rapid cultural and technological shifts that have happened over the last 200 years. He marks four eras. For most of human history, we lived in the Agrarian Age, where we lived precariously dependent on the land in tight-knit communities and rarely traveled. The church in the Agrarian Age worked on the parish model, where people bonded together for survival. Early in the 19th century, the Industrial Age began, with migration and immigration to cities, lives and communities built around factories, and the drive to mass production and efficiency. The church in the Industrial Age mirrored factory life, with standardization and development of particular brands based on ethnicity (the German church, the Italian church) or denomination (Presbyterian, Methodist, Congregational). Post-war 20th century America saw the dawn of the Information Age, when knowledge and expertise became the currency of the day. Just as suburban neighborhoods centered on schools, churches became education-centered institutions as well, building educational wings and emphasizing an increase in knowledge and expertise in the faith. (I wish I had read this before my four-part series on Adult Christian Education, because it would have added a great additional perspective.)

Pagitt argues we are now living in the Inventive Age, “one in which inclusion, participation, collaboration and beauty are essential values.” (30)  People are yearning for meaning, for spiritual experiences, for community. Pagitt spends the rest of the book outlining the contours of this new era, and how the church might change and respond. What might churches be like in the Inventive Age? He offers multiple approaches, for churches that can be for the Inventive Age (churches that are both traditional and vital who want to welcome the new), with the Inventive Age (a “church-within-a-church” that speaks to the Inventive Age) and as the Inventive Age (creating completely new ways of being/doing church).

A Look Inside

Pagitt announces in bold print in the opening chapter, “I’m going to throw out big ideas and move fast.” (2) That’s exactly what he does—and it’s what makes the book so handy. This book is a perfect starting place for anyone interested in exploring new ideas of church for the changing culture. The design of the book itself invites a fast-paced read, with multiple pull quotes, bold headlines and logos to guide you along the basic points. It would make an excellent book for discussion with a church leadership board, visioning team, adult class or clergy group. I have read many books on similar topics, but they are usually loaded with statistics, historical analysis or a tone of desperation. Pagitt not only portrays the Inventive Age and the church’s role in it in ways that are simple and easy to grasp, he does it with a glee and gusto that are contagious. It leaves me excited to launch into this new era, whether my church is “for,” “with,” or “as” the Inventive Age.

Spend two hours with this book, and you’ll not only be able to explain the Inventive Age, you will get excited about becoming the church in it.

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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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