I grew up in the contemporary American church, immersed in cultural Christianity. I won’t lie, I’ve had times that I was pretty much done with church…not my faith…but done with the whole church thing. My experience with and in church has run the gamut. I’ve been indoctrinated, patronized, accepted, deeply wounded and loved in church…and my experience is anything but unique. What does any of that have to do with God and being a follower of Jesus? Not much. So, I live wanting to make sure my life is about more than religious politics, pragmatism, propaganda and preaching. I read scriptures and books like this to challenge and correct my thinking, and ultimately to move me and make sure I don’t drown in a sea of spiritual complacency.
The authors brought some intriguing things about the current practices of Christianity to light. I was impressed with the depth of the research they did, of course I came into the book expecting thoroughness with Barna’s name listed as a co-author. There were quite a few things that I learned in this read as they looked at the origins of many traditions we see in the modern church.
The problems I had with the book may not be what the author’s expected though. They admit that this book will probably be controversial. I’m fine with that. What I found maddening was the overt soapbox the writers lectured from at about every turn and opportunity. Any author enters writing with a bias of some sort when presenting on a particular subject, but these guys weren’t able to even subtly mask their agenda and obvious opinions. I found this very distracting. While I was interested in the facts they were submitting, I felt continually assaulted by their conclusions…even when I found myself agreeing with them. Then I felt insulted by the Q&A at the end of most chapters where they would attempt to quietly step back and say “but we encourage the reader to make up their own mind on this.” It’s difficult to really let someone come to their own conclusions gently when strongly presenting one viewpoint as wrong and your perspective as the solution. OK, so there’s my rant about the way these guys wrote the book.
The writers basic conclusion is that the current institutional church is not biblical, and that everyone should join a house-church. They have made their case for the most part, but I feel there are a few flaws in their approach and some of their opinions. I won’t go into great detail here, but while there is merit to some of their concerns, there is also merit (I believe) in not throwing the baby out with the bath-water. The fact is that, agree with how we got here or not, we do have an institutional church currently in place. I also believe that God is asking us to look at how and why we “do” church, and that we can “be” the church in ways that reach our current culture and allow Jesus to be the Head of all that we do. Perhaps He’s calling some to leave the institutional church, but I’m sure He’s calling others (including me) to work toward change in church as we now experience it.
I think that this would be a good read for Christians and ministry leaders to evaluate the “why” in what we do. I’m confident that there will be things that incite you, and make you look a little closer at your faith expressions. I would also pre-warn you. Be ready to take a new look at some things that we’ve come to accept as the norm in the modern church, but also to be exposed to the blatant doctrines and theology of the authors. I’m sure God is wanting to connect deeper with His church, and maybe this book will be a catalyst towards some of that in your life as it has been in mine.
Have you ever wondered why we Christians do what we do for church every Sunday morning? Why do we “dress up” for church? Why does the pastor preach a sermon each week? Why do we have pews, steeples, choirs, and seminaries? This volume reveals the startling truth: most of what Christians do in present-day churches is not rooted in the New Testament, but in pagan culture and rituals developed long after the death of the apostles. Coauthors Frank Viola and George Barna support their thesis with compelling historical evidence in the first-ever book to document the full story of modern Christian church practices.