It’s been a few years since I read Pagan Christianity, but, since I had recently finished the sequel to this book and I as planning on writing a review of it, I thought it might not be a bad idea to write a review of this one as well.
One of the greatest strengths of the book is the credibility of George Barna. Barna has been a well respected researcher of trends in society, culture, and the church for many years, and I can’t help but wonder if the reason he chose to co-author the book, aside from his own conviction regarding church history, may be that the statistics show that ‘the way we do church in the West’ may not be leading to the results we would either like or expect.
Aside from the credibility of Barna, Viola himself establishes a level of credibility by including hundreds of footnotes for the case he makes for how much of what we deem as ‘normal’ in our Christian faith gatherings may not as rooted in biblical tradition as we have been led to believe. Chapter after chapter, Viola and Barna offer an informed critique of these practices that they believe have stronger roots in Roman cultural traditions than they do in the scriptures themselves.
The book is definitely not a ‘light’ read, as no book with tons of footnotes could be considered light. It is also a book that I do not imagine many in the church will sit comfortably with. While it doesn’t outright condemn practices in the church, it does lead the reader to question “why?”, when it comes to the practice of our faith in the contemporary church, that we insist on certain trappings and practices.
As I read, it didn’t make me broad stroke question practices and structures in the contemporary church as much as it made me start to think about whether or not there may be better ways for the Church of Jesus Christ to help individuals grow in their love of God and humanity than the systems that are in place. It also left me thinking back to the times and communities in which I experienced my deepest growth, and ways that some of those structures and practices might better cultivate the growth of others in their faith.
One criticism I had of the book was that it didn’t really present a viable alternative. I was told that the alternative that Viola had in mind can be found in his book ReimaginingChurch. A review of that book will follow in the weeks ahead.
I believe that there is something to be said for traditions that have stood the test of time, in spite of the counterpoints brought up in the book. I do believe that one should regularly practice healthy scrutiny and criticism of one’s practices, but that it does not necessarily mean that the entirety of tradition should be jettisoned to pursue a new path. That being said, if you are interested in exploring church traditions and history, or you are interested in pursuing a different way of expressing faith in community, the book may provide some good food for thought.