Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Very Good Review of "Revolution"

I know this is long, but it's worth it. This was put together by some of my professors.

December 5, 2005

Students and friends,

Often in our classrooms we recommend book-lists which will enable you to grow on your own, apart from us as professors. This time we would like to take a moment and recommend a “NOT-list.” The first book we will bring to you is the newly released, Revolution, by the skilled-pollster (and amateur theologian) George Barna. Overall, this book is a critique (make that a full-body slam) of the church’s inability to impact the American culture in a positive (i.e., redemptive) manner. Thus, in this book he notes that due to the church’s lack of being an impact player, God must be calling His people outside of the church to utilize their gifts and serve the Lord. Barna now calls these Christians who no longer center their lives around Church “Revolutionaries” and believes they (his count of 20 million of them and growing) are the real future of the manifested body of Christ on earth. Barna also joyously admits that he is now one of them as well.

First, from a biblical standpoint, this text would fail any and all of our exegesis classes. He claims to have studied the scriptures on the subject but there is a glaring lack of any serious reference to what the biblical pattern for the church really involves. It is a wholly invalid process to critique what the church is NOT until he establishes a biblical baseline for what the church IS! This effort, to be of value, must begin with a clear and precise ecclesiology; stating what the Church is, not what Mr. Barna wants it to accomplish.

His practice is to silence the opinions of others with out-of-context proof-texts. Barna (mis)uses God’s Words to Peter, “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.” This reference specifically calls Peter to welcome Gentiles into the Church. In no way does it justify one to jettison the church in a wholesale manner or even to re-invent “Church” according to a new paradigm. Moreover, Barna simplifies (trivializes?) the church to be a series of quotes from the Book of Acts. Interestingly, Barna describes his understanding of the church from passages in Acts 2, 4, and 5. But it is worth noting that at that point the Gospel has not even been proclaimed to the Samaritans, God-fearers, or the gentiles. The true nature of servant-hood, forgiveness, and grace has yet to be encountered. Finally, loosely based upon these scriptures, Barna describes the attributes he finds in the early church (what he calls “seven core passions”, pp. 22-25). These are so resoundingly modern in their orientation that they would be unrecognizable to the apostles. Further, Barna writes, “This mission demands single-minded commitment and a disregard for the criticisms of those who lack the same dedication to the cause of Christ. [Can you hear the spiritual arrogance?] You answer to only one Commander-in-Chief, and only you will give an explanation for your choices.” (p. 27). Friends, there is no place in scripture which permits a Christian to function as a lone-ranger apart from the Body. We are called into fellowship not out of it. As I see it, Revolution is essentially autobiographical, not biblical. Barna’s approach is purely phenomenological; the fact that something is happening becomes its own validation. My suggestion to Mr. Barna; this book should have been co-written with a team of scholars who would join together with to utilize Barna’s sociological strength of reporting trends of culture and opinions of society; not interpreting scriptures and evaluating the church’s ability to meet his self-selected criterion for success. But that is the nature of what Barna is calling the future church to look like, not a unified Body but individuals working disconnected from one another and from the “head.”

Second, from a theological perspective, the ecclesiology espoused by Barna is plagued with problems. While Barna declares himself a “revolutionary,” espousing an innovative way of discipleship beyond the local church, he deludes himself. His ecclesiology, with a myopic preoccupation upon individual discipleship and a personal relationship with Christ, simply follows to its logical conclusion a shallow Americanized model of the Church, dominant in contemporary evangelicalism. Ironically, Barna’s stated doctrine of the Church is a product of the evangelical churches he critiques, both of which misunderstand the fundamental nature of the Church, distort the doctrine of grace and the means of grace, and ultimately succumb to Pelegian pragmaticism. As such, his book not only exposes his own inadequate ecclesiology, but highlights the deficiencies of many contemporary evangelical models of the Church.

Fundamentally, Barna sees the Church, the Body of Christ, exclusively as a mystical, spiritual community of “revolutionaries” without any direct relationship to the local church. The Church is a community that Christians spiritually join when they decide to follow Jesus, rather than one into which they are incorporated concretely through baptism and local church discipline. However, membership in the Church, the Body of Christ, is problematic without relationship to the local church. Why? Because as the Reformed, Lutheran, and Wesleyan forms of Protestantism have consistently recognized, along with the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions, the Church is the primary means of God’s saving grace and the Church is expressed concretely in local churches. Local churches are the means by which God’s saving grace in Christ Jesus given to the Church is made available to humanity. Through the preaching of the Word, the due administration of the sacraments, and the community rightly ordered (the marks of the Church), saving, confirming and sanctifying grace is communicated to people. For people to isolate themselves from hearing the scriptures read and the Word of God proclaimed in community, from participation in the sacraments of the Church, and from submitting themselves to the discipline, order and life of the local church is to cut themselves off from the primary means of God’s grace. As such, while a generation of “revolutionaries” may be able to sustain themselves for a period of time, grace capable of sustaining and nourishing Barna’s “revolutionaries” for the long haul, much less succeeding generations, will prove difficult, if not impossible.

In the end, Barna surrenders the biblically and theologically prudent understanding of the Church for an expedient model that ultimately cannot birth, nourish and sustain believers. Dangerously, Barna’s ecclesiology has more in common with the Donatist movement in the third century and Pelegianism in the fifth century than it does in orthodox Christian theology. While these movements flourished in the moment, having great spiritual zeal and fervor, they could not be sustained, and their followers in subsequent generations were left without access to the means of God’s saving and sustaining grace found in the Church.

Finally, from a practical effect (especially among younger people) is to encourage them to drop out of church attendance and practice a do-it-yourself religion. Among ministerial students it encourages them to seek other more exciting venues for their ministry instead of the old fashioned local church. To the laity it legitimizes dropping out of church and going golfing—just so long as they go on a mission’s trip with a Para church organization occasionally and have a neighbor Bible study with a few friends on Tuesday evenings so they can skip church and go golfing on Sunday mornings. The practical effect of the book is to elevate lone ranger religion to which the local church (and obviously districts and denominations) are totally irrelevant.
In pondering this book, it seems to only have come from the pen (laptop?) of a frustrated “boomer.” Moreover, his focus is so modern, western, and individualistic in orientation that it has lost all connections with the biblical times or text. Moreover, it s not global in focus, making it an American Christianity issue, not Kingdom. This is a call to selfish, self-centered Christians who want what they want, want it now, and are not willing to submit to one another. It’s a call to men (predominantly, Eldredge “Wild at Heart” types) who need adventure and an instant-spiritual-gratification spirituality. Faith, forgiveness, perseverance, and body-submission are no where to be seen. Life is measured by pure performance rather than biblical faithfulness.

This is a dangerous book scripturally, theologically and practically—which is why it may be a popular book. Encouraging our people to buy it would be like promoting a book that celebrated pre-marital sex and extra-marital affairs as the wave of the future. People do not need encouragement toward such behaviors. What this book promotes if far more serious than pre-marital or extra-marital sex: it is a dangerous book.

Jointly composed and sincerely Church-men,
Chris Bounds
Keith Drury
David Smith


Jonathan Yen said...

That's quite a lot to take in. I started reading the book about a month ago and got about half way through it. I did not see it the way that this essay makes the book out to be.

Of course, it has been awhile since I've picked up the book and I may have forgetten some of the ideas, but I don't believe that Barna is promoting dropping out of the local church at all. From what I got, he is simply stating that the trend of methods we use to build fellowship amongst believers and reach out to non-believers will lean away from the local church.

Does that make it any worse? If we build fellowship with one another through a Tuesday night Bible study, is that any less significant than fellowship through the local church? If we bring a non-believer to Christ through a weekly game of basketball on Friday evenings, is that any worse than bringing them to Christ through the local church? I don't think so.

I could see how the writers of the review could see Barna as promoting leaving the church because of its ineffectiveness, and that's one area that I don't agree. I still believe that you need a foundation in a local church. But, it's the extracurriculars, the activities, the small groups, the get togethers organized by the local church that helps bring people to Christ.

Some people go through life thinking church is the only thing that matters. I'm sure it's not what they mean, but the reviewers are making it sound as if a man who goes to church on Sunday, tithes is more righteous than one who builds relationships with believers and non-believers alike through means other than the local church, but brings these people closer to Christ. Which is better?

In Philippians 1:18, Paul says, "But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice." This is a bit out of context because he is talking about greedy teachers or teachers with different reasons, but I believe we can take the main idea and apply it here. Why does it matter how we spend our time with Christ as long as Christ is being preached?

This is probably getting a little long so I'll cut it short here. My main point is that Barna is not saying these "revolutionaries" are to be cut off from all people and devote themselves to a do-it-yourself Christianity (yea, I realize that is an oxymoron). It's quite the opposite: he promotes being connected with believers and non-believers alike, the first for fellowship and the latter for saving them.

Maybe I have it wrong and I don't remember the book correctly. But, I do know that everything I stated above is how I feel about my Christianity. I get involved in different things because it gives me different opportunities to spread Christ than if I had just stayed in the local church.

Jonathan Yen said...

There are a few other things that I thought of when I was writing above that I forgot to mention. This book is in no way comparable to something that encourages pre-marital sex or extra-marital affairs. That is a, in my opinion, ridiculous statement.

I will concede one thing: that Barna does seesaw between his ideas. In one page he'll say that it is ok to drop church and in the other, that it is not. Nonetheless, the overall theme is that the local church is not the end all of spiritual growth.

If someone goes to church and gains nothing, but goes because he should, is that good? Is it wrong to skip church because they get nothing from it and give God nothing through it? I don't know. I do know that it is not wrong to go golfing and take in God's creation and totally worship God in that way. In fact, I would encourage things like that.

Who is to define how, when, and where we worship God? Worshipping isn't even a single event, it is a way of living!

So then, what is the local church? Maybe this is something that should be easily defined and common knowledge, but I really don't know in definite terms.

I keep mentioning "local" because there is definitely a difference between that and the Church of Christ. We all belong to one Church. What defines the local church as being church? What is wrong with finding God through other venues?

I will continue to write as more ideas come to mind :).

Brandon M. Brown said...

"If someone goes to church and gains nothing, but goes because he should, is that good? Is it wrong to skip church because they get nothing from it and give God nothing through it? I don't know. I do know that it is not wrong to go golfing and take in God's creation and totally worship God in that way. In fact, I would encourage things like that."

Yes, it is wrong. That's a rather selfish view of the church and of the body of Christ. The day I go to church purely for what I can get out of it is that day I need to hear the message of salvation and love. I tire of warm, gooey feelings at church. Because, as nice as they are, they don't necessarily mean anything. If church is all about what I can get from God and what I can hope to fling in His general direction, as if I can hope to accomplish anything truly impressive at church, then someone needs to sit me down and read through the NT over and over again until I get the concepts of sacrifice, love, humility, and selflessness.

Because the Gospel is served by the local church. As much as I love people, I don't want a modern day Paul to have to write another Galatians. We need no false Gospels. And while laypersons might know what they believe very well, I've learned a few areas where I was a heretic through the two theology classes I've taken. Given that I had the theological depth of the average Christian before coming here, I'd say it is a safe bet that tons of other heretics, preaching the Gospel to their friends on the golf course, might miss the mark on a few things.

I'm not gonna rant anymore. This whole conversation frustrates me because it shouldn't be a conversation. Anything that opposes the concept of the Body of Christ is foolish. And I will pray for God's will in it, although secretly I'm hoping in my heart that He smites it, being the Almighty Smiter that He is (Bruce Almighty for ya). I'm just kidding about the smiting. Kinda.

Brandon M. Brown

Jonathan Yen said...

Have you read the book? Barna is not attacking and abandoning the church in favor of the "Revolution". He is simply stating that this is a trend that seems to be coming forth. Whether you are against it or not, it needs to be discussed if this truly is where Christianity is heading.

The potential for heresy is enormous. If going to church isn't about what you can give to God, then what is it? To adhere to something we just have to do? Things are done with a purpose. There should be a reason behind everything. Things should not be done simply because we should. Isn't this exactly what the Pharisees were doing? Almost everytime they pointed out something about the law, it was simply out of "because that's what we should do" rather than "we do this because of (insert reason here)". What I'm trying to say is, if someone goes to church and comes out the same way he went in, yet when he goes golfing and gives praise and glory to God, is church still better?

If church isn't about what you can give to God and/or what you can get, what is it about?

Brandon M. Brown said...

I personally find the analogy of church versus golf to be rather hard to buy. And a lot of church is about fellowship. That second greatest commandment exists for many reasons. If you go to church, learn nothing from the sermons, feel emotionally excluded from the musical portion of the sermon, and have good conversations with several friends at church, was it worth it? Yes. I wonder if the two greatest commandments are getting unbalanced here. Not that there can't be great fellowship outside of the local church. But it's different. I'm all for house churches, cell groups, whatever you want to call them. But such regular meetings could almost be called "the local church," even though I fear they might lack in trained, focused spiritual leadership.

I can't help but feel that the support of a movement that actively denies the thousands of churches that exist, big or small, is a slap in the face of the Body of Christ. Because too many of the people with whom I have spoken, the ones in favor of leaving "organized religion," seem to think that the entirety of the Body matches whatever poor experiences they have had. And the terrible fragmentation that began a couple of hundred years ago continues. The fringes become more excluded from good theology, perpetuating more stereotypes and making us more divided.

No I haven't read the book, nor do I plan to anytime soon. I'm not necessarily attacking Barna. Although I'm not a big fan of his ideas. I simply disagree with many of the ideas in the whole discussion.

Also, I'm not sure how coherent I've been, due to the limited sleep of pre-finals week. So sorry if I became unreasonably biased or offensive.

Brandon M.

Ben Robinson said...

I am going to join the discussion as soon as the pressure of finals lessens. I intend to show why I am in full, full support of the critique of Barna's book and why the danger is very real. Nonetheless, please continue. Let's keep this discussion open for a bit.

Ben Robinson said...

Finals are not over yet but I thought I'd post a link to a similar discussion on my professor's blog. He posted this review and there are some great comments here .

Jason said...

Let me first say that I have not read "Revolution." So my statment has no ground concerning the validity of Barna's book, beliefs, or lifestyle (but if the direct quotations in the response are not out of context, then Barna has some theological problems to deal with). I will say that Barna may not be the problem, he's stating a belief he has formed. What IS the problem is the reactions supporters will have to his book, such as you, Jonathan. I don't want to attack you or your ideas, but putting church and golf in the same playing field is problematic.

First off, God's creation IS something to be in awe of. No one is disputing that we can't relate and worship God in nature. Having said that, let me ask: When has observing nature ever been a vital substitute for studying and reading the Word of God? I hope your answer will be -never. When has observing nature ever been a vital substitute for baptism, communion, or any other of the sacraments of the church? Once again, I hope your answer will be -never. When has observing nature ever been a vital substitute for spreading the Word of God to others? You probably see where I am going with this.

The problem is not in the personal observance of nature. The problem is that it is ONLY personal. When has Christ ever called us to hide this treasure that we have found in Him? When has he ever told us to be alone, and worship God by ourselves? If that's the case, then we have a whole lot more wrong with our theology than just church attendance! The body of Christ brought together in worship, confession, prayer, and teaching does more than any golf outing will ever do! Ever!

A Tues. night Bible study is great, but do you feel is right to serve communion without an ordained pastor or priest present? I personally do not. Communion is a sacrament, not Pepsi and Doritos in the youth group, although some seem to think that Pepsi and Doritos are close enough! A Bible study is fellowship , but is it biblical teaching? Or is a time of personal interpretation of Scripture? Once again, that idea of PERSONAL comes to play.

"Revolution" may offer some great ways to enhance one's walk with the Lord, but it should never be the alternative to the collected body of Christ, or the training involved to be able to preach and teach and administer the sacraments.

You beg the question, "does it make it any worse?" Maybe not. But the question you should be asking is, is it making it better? The answer is simple: NO! The Church has its problems, I'll be the first to say that. Does that mean we jump ship and start trying to find God in whatever ways we find comfortable? Say, I got an idea! Why don't we go a strip club together on Sunday! It's fellowship, and we can reach out to those that don't know Christ, and is that any worse than bringing them to Christ in the local church? Okay, I went too far, but what about at a bar? What about during a boxing match? You see, these are things that you enjoy, golf, basketball, whatever, and thats fine. But does that mean that those venues are doing more to bring people to Christ than church? You bring me someone who was led to Christ solely through a basketball game. I don't think it's gonna happen.

You also stated this: "Some people go through life thinking church is the only thing that matters. I'm sure it's not what they mean, but the reviewers are making it sound as if a man who goes to church on Sunday, tithes is more righteous than one who builds relationships with believers and non-believers alike through means other than the local church, but brings these people closer to Christ. Which is better?" You tell me, is this a game where we keep score? Are you better than I am? Is that the question you should be asking? I sure hope not. In fact, we should do both. If your basis for abandoning the local church is because your way is BETTER, than you have some theological things to work through, my friend.

Jonathan Yen said...

I will just clarify first that I am no advocating the substitution of Church with other activities.

Secondly, I am not studying theology on the level that you in a seminary would, so I don't pretend to know all the theology jargon and in depth knowledge.

Why isn't it OK to have communion without an ordained priest or pastor present? I don't know the answer to that so perhaps you can enlighten me.

The only other thing that I can really think of to point out and clarify is that the "Revolution" does not propose a religion that you go about yourself. There is a specific section where he talks about needing to connect with other revolutionaries. The whole "do it yourself" religion in the review is way out of context.

Maybe I have a different view because I go to a small church. It's no more than 10 people on any given Sunday. And at our Bible Study, it's the same 10 people. So, to me, whether I'm with these people on an official Sunday at Church, or just out doing something else, I'm physically with the body of Christ regardless and I see no difference. When I have Bible study, the pastor leads it, so it's more than fellowship to me. These people are more than a "church family", they are family period. Whether we're out eating at Panera Bread or sitting at church, it's all good.

The last thing I'll point out is that I came back to Christ because of revolutionaries. In college, these people always asked me to hang out without ever mentioning church. Soon, I got involved in their fellowship group. They always emphasized at the meetings that it's important to go to church. But, my point is that I was pulled back because of what Barna describes as revolutionary ideas. They took me out to dinner, played basketball with me, got to know ME instead of seeing me as another number to the church. I think that's the main point of the revolution. To truly build personal relationships that lead to God.

One more point (I know I keep saying that), and I said this on the other blog, but, if there are supporters of it and the reaction to this book will be favorable, shouldn't we be telling people to read it and have an answer prepared for it? If you truly think this is wrong on all levels, then you should read it and know it so you can explain why. Ignorance never solves anything.

Jason said...

Jonathan, let me first reply by apologizing. I was a bit harsh in my response earlier. For one, you're correct in your statements that we are to love one another and share that love outside of the church. In fact, I will go as far as to say that most people are exposed to Christ and to salvation outside of the church. But, to expose someone to the love of Christ is great, but to never take those steps into setting that person inside of a local church is devastating. Discussions, prayer, and even Bible studies are great, but to never take that into memborship and activity inside of a church leaves this "new believer" to come up with their own conclusions as to biblical interpretation, practice of the sacraments, and even leaves the chance for a heresy to come about. I feel very strongly about the role of the Church, and this was what sparked such a response from me before. I would rather err on the side of caution in this respect, than to err by being too lenient on the role of the Church today.

Secondly, I have personally taken for granted the education I am receiving. You made a valid point about not receiving a specific biblical and theological education. I apologize for my swelled head, because in truth, I tend to think I am usually right (and darn it, I am! :) Let me thank you for asking the questions and sparking the debate. It is Christians like you that will learn the theology and will lead people like me to be able to answer the question: why? This is an important question, and one we all must be ready to answer.

Thirdly, I believe that Barna is free to make his own statements. I don't fear that you are taking it wrong, but what I do fear is that some will. They will read his work, and begin to question why the church should even be "the source" of the ministry of Christ. I hope and pray that this is not the response taken, but there's always that chance.

Lastly, your question about communion. It all depends on your view of communion. Do you view communion as a sacrament? A sacrament, in my opinion, serves 7 purposes. I will not get into all of them, but if you would like to know more, get in touch with Ben. He knows a heck of a lot more than I do, and he's a better teacher than I will ever be. But I will touch on the one purpose a sacrament serves that I feel is the most important, and the one most highly debated. A sacrament administers grace. This is grace that we cannot administer, but only God. In such a case as this, only an ordained minister or priest is able to truly administer the sacraments. One might be able to have bread and grape juice at a bible study, but it is my belief that if that bread and juice is not at least first blesed by the minister, than it is truly not communion in its sacramental state, but rather just another snack, taken in memory of the Last Supper. If that's not well explained (and it probably isn't), then hit up Ben for more info. or email me I will be glad to try to give you the best explanation I can.

Let me thank you for being willing to debate. It takes more guts to stand by a belief, especially against ministry students (the worst kind, I can assure you), and ask the hard questions. Hopefully, both of us have learned more through this debate and discussion. We play for the same team, it's important to remember that. I sometimes have to remind myself of that very fact. I look forward to further discussions in the future. God Bless, brother.

Ben Robinson said...

While I am interested in continuing this discussion, it has spurned more thoughts in my mind. Namely these.

Ben Robinson said...

I'm posting this link because Drury usually has a forum that you can post comments on. Unfortunately, that forum is currently down but I'm hopeful that it will be up again. I know I haven't given my thoughts yet but I'm wondering how much they even matter at this point.

Ben Robinson said...

Okay, I'm starting to take over my own comment boards so please, people, leave some more thoughts. :) Nonetheless, I was looking at the book on and was intrigued by the reviews of the book. The dangerous heresy that this book espouses is being seen as a refreshing breeze to many evangelicals. I thought it does not go without irony that the only person who gave the book a negative review is well trained in theological and biblical issues. I didn't think this book would be that big of a deal but it appears I'm wrong. Check out the reviews here. Yikes!