So, what has caused me to break my silence? The short answer: George Barna.
Now, I've never been a big Barna fan. Even though he and the Barna Group have done some great things for the Western Church he's always just rubbed me the wrong way. It all started when I had to read "The Habits of Highly Effective Churches" as a text in College. It ticked me off that he even attempted to measure "the presence of God" (pg. 84) and put it on a pie chart.
Don't get me wrong, I really appreciate the stats that the Barna Group have come up with... they truly can be quite helpful. But really? The presence of God on a pie chart!?!
Anyway, apparently Barna's newest gig is co-authoring books. I've recently been reading a couple of books on which his name has been slapped: "Pagan Christianity" (written by Frank Viola) and "The Rabbit and the Elephant" (by Tony & Felicity Dale). Both of these books were written by their real authors and Barna "co-authored" them by adding some statistics and a forward. I guess it doesn't take much to be a co-author these days.
I'll leave poor ol' George alone now.
My real beef with both of these books is that... well, let's just say that Viola could have had Dan Brown co-author this book. I think they'd get along pretty well.
Both of these books relish in vilifying the "traditional/institutional" church. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm a good little post-modernist; I enjoy deconstructing institutions as much as the next guy but I just believe you have to use your brain while doing so.
If you are going to attack God's Bride you had better have your ducks in a row.
The basic premise of both of these books is that the "New Testament model" for church is that of house churches. We horrible, evil, brainless Western Christians have corrupted God's church by making them corporations. The only true church is the small, dynamic house church.
Now, I should say that The Elephant and the Rabbit doesn't put things quite so aggressively as that, but that is the underlying tone.
And in the case of Pagan Christianity, I think Viola mistook including copious amount of footnotes as real research.
My real frustration with these books is that I want to like them. Honestly, I agree with 75-80% of what these people have to say... but:
1. Their arguments are filled with pride. Rarely is there a hint of humility which says, "you know, this is what we believe and here are the reasons why we believe this, but we know that other intelligent, God-loving, Christians have come to other conclusions and we believe the Holy Spirit knows what he's doing and will guide the church." Instead, people who are a part of "institutional" churches are described as "well-intentioned" and "mis-guided." Really? I don't know about you but I find that a touch patronizing.
2. Oh, the hypocrisy. In the introduction, Barna accuses the institutional-church of using the Bible and "proof-texting" (pg. xxviii) defenses for our way of church (and there's some truth in that). And in the first chapter Viola warns the reader that he/she is about to "be confronted by unmovable historical fact" (pg. 7). And yet, to anyone who knows even a smattering of Church History, it quickly becomes very clear that Viola has been doing a grotesque amount of proof-texting in his research. He simply found all of the books that push his perspective and included them in his footnotes. Not only is that mildly dishonest... it's just straight-up bad scholarship!
3. Bad Theology. I think one of the things that really damages Christianity in the Western world is a poor theology. This is reflected in both of these books. The problem is that people have no idea how the OT and NT fit together. There is very little sense that God's plan flows and weaves its way through human history as a seamless tapestry. People are so confused by the OT that they have no clue what to do with it. Thus, they (I'm assuming very unintentionally) push the OT to the back of their minds and say that Jesus fixed all of that crazy OT stuff. Even though that simply isn't true (X fulfilled the OT; it didn't require fixing) it has huge implications... like in ECCLESIOLOGY: the study of church.
You see, the OT has a lot to say about how people gather together to worship God. I can't get into it all now (this post is already WAY TOO LONG... sorry) but my frustration with these books is that they don't even think of considering OT ecclesiology.
For example, Viola loves to attack (often rightly) Constantine. But he takes it to the point
where it doesn't even make sense: "Constantine is also noted for bringing to the Christian faith the idea of the holy site, which was based on the model of the pagan shrine" (pg. 20).
Is this the only possible explanation for the early Christians revering specific places as "holy"?
Oh, just wait, there's like a million places in the OT where monuments and shrines are set up to be remembered by future generations. In fact the term "holy ground" (Ex 3:5) not only comes from the OT, but the whole idea is initiated by God Himself!
But Viola states his "facts" so confidently ("ooh, and it's even backed up by a footnote... it must be accurate!") that the reader is lead to believe that this is the only logical explanation. Oh, man, does stuff like that tick me off!
I'm going to wrap things up here.
Both of these books make idiotic leaps like this all of the time. It's like they wrote their books all in one sitting without giving them to an editor who had a brain.
And the frustrating thing, like I already said, is that I want to like these books. I agree with a lot of what they say... it could just be said so much better by people who could make real arguments for their stance. Instead a lot of people become mis-informed and even mis-lead.
That's it. I'm done.