March 2008 Book Review: Pagan Christianity - Exploring The Roots of Our Church Practices - by Frank Viola and George Barna
"Hold Your Fire!!!"
No group of people is more trigger happy than those enlisted in the army of God. Some reviews of this book are ongoing evidence of this fact. Yet, who are they shooting at and why? With over 500,000 pastors serving in the established church in the U.S. alone (p.138), you can imagine the reaction when two authors suggest that many of the sacred weapons this group of pastoral commanders has come to cherish (and pass along each week to their foot soldiers) emanate from the pagan, secular, Greco-Roman world --- well, you just may have a wholly uprising on your hands.
Viola is an avowed home-church expert, speaker,church planter and author. Barna has established himself as the foremost social scientist and scholar regarding the church, Christians and the state of Christianity in the U.S. When these two team up, one should probably move beyond the title and snuggle into a foxhole with this magnum opus work to see what they're saying from their outpost on the front lines of the faith wars.
When Tyndale starts a book with a "Publisher's Preface" that includes, "Perhaps you wonder why a publisher of Christian books would release a book that questions so many common church practices...Our aim is for you to consider their conclusions and then pray seriously about your response." Wow! Well, that's exactly what I did. I was blessed by this work as it continues to resonate through my being.
This book is filled with topics that every soldier wonders about: "Why do we do what we today? Where did these practices, people, places, power and ammunition come from? What are the practical implications for my life, and those of my comrades, based upon the battles we are confronted with today? As time has elapsed since the first army was formed, have we actually moved further away from the fundamental truths and practices that our founding Father intended for us to deploy?
With hearts deeply sensitive to the earliest recorded wishes of Jesus in the New Testament, the authors methodically ask these sorts of questions as it relates to the practice of the Christian faith in the 21st century.
There are more footnotes evidencing the painstaking, scholarly approach and treatment of each and every subject raised in this book than there are individual nylon strands in a parachute.
Throughout this book, the authors reverent hearts and compassion for the restoration of the lordship of Christ as the head of the Church is acutely apparent, as stated near the end of the volume (p.250): "We have written this book for one reason: to make room for the absolute centrality, supremacy, and headship of Christ in His church."
The essence of the book is captured in the following question: "Who's really in charge of this outfit anyway?" Is it possible that this platoon of disciples (Christians per se) has been led astray from the way Jesus would have us be his church? That's not heresy! It certainly isn't treason. It's evidence of the courage of two men who love Christ and dedicated their lives to becoming more like Him and encouraging others to do the same.
"Put your weapon down!" Don't shoot a fellow soldier just because he/she is asking specific questions about the way things are today, illuminating their historical origins, their adoption, and present day application --- backed up by a Scriptural basis for their conclusions. Don't throw somebody in the brig when there is absolutely no question about their undeniable loyalty to God's army, and our Leader, Jesus Christ. As stated by Viola and Barna "It is because of our love for the church and our desire to see God's people set free that we have written this book."
"At ease soldier!" It's time to pick up this book and do what the history of our unit is famous for --- it's time for additional training. It's time we adapt to the fact that we have much to learn. Hey, it takes courage to be a soldier in God's army --- particularly when you have a vested interest in the way things are yet your Leader desperately desires that you "move out!"
"Moving out" requires unburdening - leaving behind some of the weapons, tactics, myths and terrain we have become comfortable with and heavily vested in. Soldiering necessarily involves learning new ways of being a soldier in God's army. Are some of the implications of what these two authors are suggesting unnerving? Absolutely! "Buck up soldier!"
Viola and Barna are distinctly invested in the mission of yearning that the Church become all it can be. Their respective lives speak for this fact. I urge you to read what they have labored to produce for that simple reason. When you're done, you will be faced with what any soldier is faced with after training: "Will you act upon what you have read, or will you simply be informed by it." (p. 253).
Honestly, I'm still processing my active response.
Restrain your urge to make Viola and Barna fatalities of "friendly fire" until you've done what they've asked: Read the book and pray about your response --- intensely. That's courage in action --- embracing the need to learn new ways of being a Christian and His Church today.
It took guts to write this book and it takes guts to read it. "Transformation" is oftentimes an uncomfortable reality. It requires confronting the dimensions of truth and reality that only others can share with us, that we cannot derive for ourselves --- particularly if we have a vested interest in the status quo that blinds us to the necessity for change. Let's make sure these two courageous soldiers of Christ are addressed with the courtesy and respect they deserve. Somebody simply must ask the tough questions and illuminate the implications for the necessity to change. It's called duty.
For Tyndale to publish this superb work and say, "Our aim is for you to consider their conclusions and then pray seriously about your response." Well, that's valor.
Finally, my Bible is filled with stories of those who spoke God's truth about the way things are, how we got here, and the way ahead. More often than not, they were mocked and ridiculed. Yet, God ordained truth endures. This book is prophetic. I pray your consumption of it will be deliberate and your reaction to it will be constructive. That would be honorable.
Honor-Duty-Valor --- That certainly sounds like an order from Jesus Christ.
|Pagan Christianity: Exploring The Roots of our Church Practices|
A phenomenal contribution by Frank Viola and George Barna! Buy it.