Wednesday, January 16

"Pagan Christianity" by Frank Viola and George Barna

Is today's Church into a revolution that will someday be understood as greater than the 16th Century Protestant Reformation?

Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna will certainly add fuel to the fire of those affirming so. Most evangelicals would consider such a suggestion as absurd, or at best, exaggerated. Yet, undeniably, there is a grass roots revolution taking place on a global scale in Christendom about what it means to be the Church of Jesus Christ.

Basically the authors are making three points:

1) A great deal of what we do in church today does not come from the New Testament.

2) Much of what is practiced originated out of Greco-Roman customs and traditions (paganism, not Judaism), and/or human-made inventions.

3) Many of these practices actually hinder the church from being what God designed her to be.

The over-arching question the authors seem to be asking is: Do the practices of modern institutional churches reflect a God-ordained/inspired development, or are they a departure from it?

Of course, one must read the book to understand why Viola and Barna indeed question "church" as most of us know it.

Beware, though. This book comes with a WARNING:

If you are unwilling to have your Christianity seriously examined, do not read beyond this page...Spare yourself the trouble of having your Christian life turned upside down. (pg.7)

A glance at the content chapters will suffice as to the reason for the warning!

1-Have We Really Been Doing It By The Book?
2-The Church Building: Inheriting the Edifice Complex.
3-The Order of Worship: Sunday Mornings Set In Concrete
4-The Sermon: Protestantism's Most Sacred Cow
5-The Pastor: Obstacle To Every-Member Functioning
6-Sunday Morning Costumes: Covering Up The Problem
7-Ministers of Music: Second-String Clergy
8-Tithing and Clergy Salaries: Sore Spots On The Wallet
9-Baptism and the Lord's Supper: Diluting The Sacraments
10-Christian Education: Swelling The Cranium
11-Reapproaching the New Testament: The Bible Is Not A Jigsaw Puzzle
12-A Second Glance at the Savior: Jesus The Revolutionary
-The Next Step
-Final Thoughts: Q&A with Viola and Barna

If not already offended at some of the chapter titles, I can almost guarantee you will be after reading what is actually said concerning these staples of institutional Christianity! As difficult as it is to read material that questions church as we know it, this is a well documented book, with over 1200 enlightening footnotes from church historians, theologians down through the ages, the reformers and church fathers themselves, and an extensive eleven page bibliography.

Each of the above issues is traced back to its roots of origin and how it evolved over the years into what we have today. The traditions are then examined in the light of what the New Testament actually teaches. Each is shown--in its current form--to NOT be a New Testament practice, but rather, traditions rooted in paganism absorbed by the church down through the ages. Today, what we assume as "normal Christian practices," would have been strange aberrations for first-century believers.

Of all the chapters, the toughest for me to deal with personally was the chapter, Reapproaching the New Testament. The authors question the evangelical church's "clipboard approach" to the Bible where we cut and paste portions of text from one document into another to say "Scripture teaches..." I am still giving this whole issue some thought, but admit a lot of what they point out is true.

But I predict the most controversial chapter will be Chapter Five, "The Pastor" where the birth of the one-bishop rule is traced. Suffice it to say, this makes for some challenging reading, that will most certainly be hotly contested by many in our established church institutions.

One note of clarification: I do not hear the authors saying that because these practices are pagan, that they are wrong. Many things we do today are rooted in paganism (eg. our calendars, days of the week, etc.) What I do hear them asking is, which of these current practices/traditions actually hinder the church from being the church that God designed and ordained her to be?

Reviews of the soon-to-be-released Tyndale publication of "Pagan Christianity" are beginning to appear all over the blog world. If this title and subject interests you, check out some of the following reviews from people whose opinions I respect:

Pagan Christianity by Alan Hirsch

Pagan Christianity by TallSkinnyKiwi (Andrew Jones)

I Can't Believe This Book Is Getting Published a good review by Brant Hansen

Should we have a Pagan Christianity? by GodGrown

Pagan Christianity creates ripples by MessyChristian

Answers to questions and objections about PAGAN CHRISTIANITY by Frank Viola himself

Audio interview with Frank Viola on the Nick and Josh podcast shares interesting background material on why the book was rewritten and republished from the original 2002 "Pagan Christianity", along with some clarifications and insights from Frank

For those willing to "choose to 'take the red pill' and be shown 'how deep the rabbit hole goes'...if you want to learn the true story of where your Christian practices came from...if you are willing to have the curtain pulled back on the contemporary church and its traditional presuppositions fiercely challenged...then you will find this work to be disturbing, enlightening, and possibly life changing." (PG, page 7)

23 comments:

Wes and Ellen said...

Guy,

Thanks for bringing this book to our attention. I'm going to see if I can hunt down a copy.

Can I get a recommendation for a book that discusses evangelism and/or discipleship?

Wes

GuyMuse said...

Wes,

The best place is the website set up for the book http://www.paganchristianity.org There is a lot of other interesting material about the book there as well.

As for a book on evangelism and discipleship, try "Organic Church" by Neil Cole.

Rhea said...

Guy:

I first heard about this book a few days ago from "TallSkinnyKiwi's" blog, and immediately put it on my "must have" list. I'm very interested to see what the authors have to say. For some time now, I've wondered about certain things that almost every American church does...wondering where the Biblical basis for the behavior comes from.

Have you read the whole book? From the chapter names, the one that intreges (sp?) me the most is on baptism and the Lord's supper.

GuyMuse said...

Rhea,

If you have wondered about certain things that almost every American church does...where the Biblical basis for the behavior comes from... this book is for you!

Yes, I have read it from cover to cover. The book originally came out in 2002? and I read it with great interest then. Since then, George Barna has co-authored a rewrite of the book with Viola, and the book is a much stronger statement than the original.

The "Baptism and Lord's Supper" is an excellent chapter and I know you will benefit from it.

To get hold of a copy immediately before they come out to the public in general, go the www.paganchristianity.org site and order your copy (they're cheaper there)!

Pascal & Amy Stowell said...

Guy, Love your blog! Going home for STAS and hopefully we will see all of you! But when I get there I am getting a copy of this and reading it. Also, can't wait to see you at AGM 2009! Take care!
Pascal

Pascal & Amy Stowell said...

Guy,
I am getting this book when we go on STAS. Hopefully we will see ya'll! Also, can't wait to see you at AGM 2009. Want to talk church planting with you. Take care! Love you man!
Pascal

Harold M. said...

Guy,
I ordered a copy of the book from a local bookstore Monday and got it in today. I've already read the first three chapters and can tell that I'll be up late tonight. So far, I find the writing style to be a little choppy but it very well footnoted and interesting. The only thing I am wondering about at this point is what I will do with this info when I'm finished with the book. It is indeed informative but will it change the way I do church? Any thoughts from others who have read the book?

GuyMuse said...

Pascal,

Didn't realize you guys were headed Stateside. We are still looking for housing. So far, not any luck coming up with a place we can stay for 6 months. Hopefully our paths will cross, we'd love to catch up with you guys!

Harold,

Yes, the book is quite challenging. The last chapter deals with "what now?" Several suggestions are offered with what to do, now that you know. Obviously, one must seek the Lord's guidance. In our own case, all of this has been a ten-year process of change in the way we view, understand and "do" church. Keep us posted on your own journey!

WTJeff said...

I'm half way through the book and it has challenged my perspective to say the least. What I like most is that I typically don't agree with his conclusions when I first read them, but I wrestle with it for awhile. It's caused me to reexamine much of what I've taken for granted to be biblical. So far, it's caused me to reconsider my own life and practices, which is where any true reform of the church will start anyway.

Jeff

GuyMuse said...

WTJeff,

...it's caused me to reconsider my own life and practices, which is where any true reform of the church will start anyway.

Your words are key. If these things are only theory, and another book read, then nothing will change. Change comes about when application is made to our own personal life. What this looks like will have a lot to do with our willingness to be molded by the Father.

Alan Knox said...

Guy,

PC is a good book. I read the earlier version. I think it could be better if Viola would tone down the rhetoric. I was hoping that Barna would tone down the rhetoric in the new version, but apparently this did not happen. He has alot of very important things to say historically and biblically, but these important issues often get lost in rhetoric which borders on the vitriolic. I think that a more gracious presentation of this information would give him a wider hearing.

-Alan

GuyMuse said...

Alan,

You are the man who could write the kind of book you are talking about. Have you ever seriously considered doing so? I'd buy your book--and while you are at it, make sure it comes out in Spanish as well as English! :)

Alan Knox said...

Guy,

Thank you for the encouragement and the vote of confidence. I still have work to do for my PhD. After that, well, I'll trust whatever God has in store for me.

-Alan

David Rogers said...

I just placed my order. I have read in other places that this book is quite controversial. I look forward to reading it, and continuing to dialogue about what it says, as opportunities present themselves.

Darrell said...

Praise God for the courage of these men to write about this. No doubt stones will be thrown at them from many different places. I applaud their work. It may not be perfect, but at least they are doing something about problem.

This is not the first book with a similar message. I pray that sooner rather then later people will not just read books like this. Instead I pray that people will have the COURAGE of their convictions and make the changes that are needed in order to put the Kingdom first.

GuyMuse said...

David,

Glad you ordered the book. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts about the content once you've finished reading. Viola's original 2002 version of the book is available in Spanish at his website. I hope a good translation is made of this rewritten version as well.

Darrell,

None of us like having our cherished beliefs questioned. I know some of mine were in the chapter about the New Testament. As stated in the post, I am still wrestling with some of the things they write. But, I agree, it takes guts to write a book like this, and I am especially pleased to see a major publisher take the risk of putting this book out on the market under their name!

Alycelee said...

Guy, thanks for the heads up.
I'm buying it and passing it on to my pastor.
Alyce

GuyMuse said...

Alycelee,

It is a hard book to read, but worth the pain :) If you haven't already ordered, check out the site for the book at http://www.paganchristianity.org there are links to free chapters, interviews, Q&A, etc., plus the book can be ordered cheaper there!

J. R. Miller said...

Hi, an excellent alternative to Viola's book is "The Ancient Church As Family" by Dr. Joe Hellerman. His work is well researched and addresses many of the "pagan" influences on our faith. Dr. Hellerman's contribution is a blend of good history AND respectful discourse.

Bill Lollar said...

Hi, Guy. Just thought you and your readers might enjoy reading a new interview I just posted with George Barna and Frank Viola: The Thin Edge hosts joint interview with Barna & Viola. Thanks for your review!

J. R. Miller said...

Interesting perspective considering your background. I will have to read more of your stuff. Meantime, if you are interested, I am posting a 5 part interview with both George Barna and Frank Viola. Please feel free to pass the word and share your thoughts.

Jilliefl1 said...

The sequel to “Pagan Christianity?” is out now. It’s called “Reimagining Church”. It picks up where “Pagan Christianity” left off and continues the conversation. (“Pagan Christianity” was never meant to be a stand alone book; it’s part one of the conversation.) “Reimagining Church” is endorsed by Leonard Sweet, Shane Claiborne, Alan Hirsch, and many others. You can read a sample chapter at
http://www.ReimaginingChurch.org
It’s also available on Amazon.com. Frank is also blogging now at http://www.frankviola.wordpress.com

Anwar said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


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