Preaching in the Inventive Age by Doug Pagitt Review

In his book Doug Pagitt is looking to examine how the ideas of preaching have changed in what he refers to as the Inventive Age. Pagitt opens his book by describing what the Inventive Age actually is, because in order to understand how the church and preaching have changed we must first understand what it means to be in the Inventive Age. Pagitt follows history through what he notes as four ages. The Agrarian Age, Industrial Age, Information Age, and finally the Inventive age. Pagitt notes about the Inventive Age, “Knowledge is no longer the goal, but the means by which we accomplish new, even unimagined, goals.” (Pagitt, 2) Pagitt uses this description of the inventive age to show that while ages have changed many things in our society have changed. However, the one constant has been the church. The church has always been there, but not without change itself. This all leads to Pagitt’s primary thesis. Pagitt thinks that along with the coming of the Inventive Age we need to move away from what Pagitt calls “speaching” and towards what he calls progessional dialogue. He notes that this is a necessary move based on how people are beginning to interact differently in church and with the church.

Pagitt wants us to move from what he terms as “speaching.” That is as Pagitt defines, “dependance on preaching as speech making” (Pagitt, 13). He says that “speaching” often detracts from people really taking much outside of the context that a sermon is preached in, because they are not involved in the conversation. I feel this point that he makes against “speaching” is very strong, because I can see the validity in him calling it and defining it as such. I can see while I sit in church that there is little to no conversation about the sermon before, during, or after the sermon is over. I regretfully agree with the point that Pagitt makes about preaching becomes more speech-like. Pagitt wants us to move to what he calls progessional dialogue. This is when we engage with others about the scripture or topic at-hand. Pagitt has introduced this in the midst of the worship service at his church in Minnesota. During worship instead of hearing someone “speach” they have an intentional discussion about the topic at hand. Progressional dialogue puts the members of the congregation in a more active role during services.

There are many strong points in this book. Pagitt makes sure he backs up what he says with stories and facts. Pagitt begins his book by talking about “speaching” and makes many well  stated arguments that lay out the problems of “speaching.” He uses stories of his past and his journey into becoming a pastor that moved him to realize that a form of dialogue would be better suited for worship rather than one person getting up and “speaching” to a group of people. Pagitt also makes a well stated argument about what makes progressional dialogue the next big thing. In the first chapter of his third section he talks about why we need to change. Pagitt refers to 1 Peter 2:9 which talks about the “royal priesthood.” In one of the paragraphs in the chapter Pagitt writes:

“a belief in the priesthood of all believers compels us to reconsider our ideas about speaching and pastoral authority. Preaching is the act of people being led more deeply into the story of God. This was never meant to take place through the act of speech giving. Even in the rare instances in the Bible when speeches are made, they fit into the context of a community that is in nearly constant dialogue.” (Pagitt, 151)

Pagitt is trying to remind us in this text that dialogue is one of the better ways that people learn. He refers a few chapters before that the authority in the hands of the person preaching because they are the most knowledgable, and Pagitt notes that if this was the middle ages that would be the case. However, with an increased number of learned people in the church, both with theological and practical degrees, much of the teaching can often take place outside of the preaching setting. Pagitt uses this argument to move us to where preachers take up this idea of the priesthood of all believers and leave teaching to everyone in the church.

Pagitt admits in this book that transitioning to this idea of progressional dialogue can be somewhat frightening due to the lack of certainty as to where conversations will go or end up. However, that does not make this idea something we should push aside because we think it would not work, or because we think it would cause problems. Instead it would be good to look at it as an opportunity to allow feedback on tough areas of scripture or tough topics. In our churches we often reserve discussion for our Bible Studies or Sunday School classrooms, but why can we not do it in the midst of our worship services.

This book has caused me to seriously reconsider my preaching style. Not because I would outright move a church to a progressional dialogue necessarily, but because it has made me see how important the people sitting in the pews or chairs on Sunday are to the preaching process. How can we expect people to learn anything from our sermons if we lock ourselves in our offices or in our rooms and write our sermons in solitude. Or often times we talk to our friends who are pastors or are not related to our church about what to speak about, but what happens when we take ideas from another pastor and they have nothing to do with the context of our church. Also pastors who assume what problems and situations go on in their churches and preach to those, but they often become disconnected from their congregation and lose sight of their problems.

Overall this book has made me keenly more aware about the congregations presence within the sermon. I can say with all honesty after reading this book that while I may not be in a situation where I could use progressional dialogue on a weekly basis (unless I plant a church then I would definitely try it). However, I can take away from this book that it is important to get the congregation back involved in helping to develop sermons before they are written, and having them be active participants in the planning and writing of sermons as well. I would recommend this book to any preacher, because of the message of how important the congregation is in preaching.


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