George Barna and Frank Viola are getting a lot of heat for Pagan Christianity: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices. Although I think that’s fairly inevitable when you use that title; probably even what they were aiming for. Tons of reviewers have lit up the blogosphere with their opinions on the book, spoof videos have been born and Frank Viola has answered questions and objections on his own site.
Now, I’m as big a fan of the local church as the next guy, if not a bigger fan. But I’m 100% all right with the house church movement and with progressive church models. I think megachurches and modern churches have some great things going for them, but I also think that they have some glaring holes. All that is a total disclaimer of where I stand going into Pagan Christianity.
As far as readability goes, the brainchild of Barna and Viola is hit or miss. It gets a little dry and a little lengthy. It’s not exactly a page-turner, but it’s also not mind-numbingly boring. The book takes a look at the church building, worship order, sermon, pastor, dress, music, tithing, sacraments and Christian education to examine whether they are really so biblical.
Not surprisingly, they believe most are unbiblical. Their arguments, regardless of whether I agree or disagree with the conclusion, are often underdeveloped or simply weak. You won’t want to take some of these arguments to your local debate club. For example, they make much of the fact that we base things (sermons, buildings, etc.) on pagan culture. But in reality, if the pagan culture is doing something right, there is no reason the church should not learn from that and adapt.
The two authors, however, do a great job of adding in footnotes and citing reputable sources to lend credence to their arguments. So they get some extra points there for credibility. And what they’re doing–questioning tradition and pushing for progress–is infinitely valuable to the church at large. It’s always healthy to reexamine ourselves by the light of Scripture.
One of the biggest failures of Pagan Christianity is that it’s descriptive, rather than prescriptive. What I mean by that is this: You will walk away thinking some things have gone amiss in the church, but the book won’t give you any idea where on earth to go from there.
If you’re the rebellious type, you’ll probably get a good kick out of this book. If you’re the traditional type, you’ll probably kick this book to the curb. And no matter who you are, if you’re in church leadership, it’s worth the read to challenge your thinking and make you re-examine the ways you’re doing things.