Have you ever taken a step back from something that you have always known and endeared so much that it would hurt to let it go? What if the very thing you are so certain of and cherish so much is exposed for what it really is, and you find that you have been essentially living a lie your entire life?
Frank Viola and George Barna collaborate together in this production from 2008 called Pagan Christianity. The book sets out to uncover deeply held beliefs and practices that many view as orthodox Christianity. Frank and George pull out all the stops in this treatise against the ‘institutionalized’ system of the Christian church and set out to trumpet a return to the church’s biblical foundations. Frank and George instigate the presuppositions of the church of our day by contrasting it with historical and researched data while all the while campaigning for a more ‘organic’ approach.
We are also making an outrageous proposal: that the church in its contemporary, institutional form has neither a biblical nor a historical right to function as it does. This proposal, of course, is our conviction based on the historical evidence that we shall present in the book. You must decide if that proposal is valid or not. (page xx)
This book is a solid left-hook to the presuppositions and deeply held church traditions of our day. A few years ago, this would have been an extremely difficult book for me to read. But after reviewing the evidence contained in the scriptures, the attestation of scholarship, and willing to be challenged, I have been more swayed now than ever. What I once thought was ‘church’ never resembled anything close to what is revealed in the New Testament. Frank Viola and George Barna have assembled an excellent survey of the current church characteristics in modern Christendom, commented on them, and backed up their argumentation with a solid list of references, all jam packed into each chapter. You can read the fist chapter of this book online for free, or purchase it from your favorite book retailer.
Some of the fundamental flaws of this book are its purpose and lack of depth in the exegesis of some of the entries. Granted, the book presents a survey of the problems the authors see in the institutional church, sometimes it would do well to elaborate further on certain proof-texts that are often cited in defense of institutional practices. Furthermore, the refutation of the latter would be better received with more detailed presentation of the points. To the defense of the authors, they consistently claim that those explanations will come with greater detail in the follow up book, Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity, Frank Viola’s positive follow up to the ‘instigation’ of Pagan Christianity.
All in all, if you are up for a challenging read, and you currently scratch your head every Sunday asking yourself, “Why do we do what we do?” You will probably find this book an intriguing, fast-paced, and invigorating read. I highly recommend it. Without agreeing to all of Frank and George’s propounded views in this entry, I would state that they have done their homework. Where there is disagreement, further investigation quickly becomes warranted, and that is just based on their references alone.