Since there has been so much hype and conversation about George Barna’s new book “Revolution” (Zondervan), I thought I would share some observations on his work. And since George and I are friends, I will try to be as tame as my conscience will allow. Having said that – here goes.
Barna’s major premise is something is happening today of such magnitude that it will fundamentally reshape American Christianity (I agree so far). He describes this phenomena as a growing number of under-the-radar (sound familiar), mini-movements in which the adherents are passionate about going as deep into what Jesus taught about how to live and who “have come to recognize that the local church, is not, never was, and need not be, the epicenter of their spiritual journey (again I agree). He goes on to divide these movements into macro and micro movements and gives some sketchy examples. Among the many reasons he gives for this revolution, his most important reason is the failure of the local church to produce Christians who live the Christian life (again I agree).
Like many books about change, “Revolution” makes a common mistake – Barna has overblown his research as “Revolutionary” and “new.” The problem is what he describes is nothing new (Tom and I have been saying this for two decades). This revolution has been underway at least since the 60’s. However he does do a good job describing the angst of many deeply devoted Christians over the state of the average local church and how they are responding. Both Tom and I have written at length about the spiritually yearning, alienated public.” My second book, How To Reach Baby Boomers, written in 1991, described the beginnings of the revolution about which Barna is now writing.
I was expecting his “new” conclusions to be backed up with hard statistics like the way he documented his findings on the condition of today’s local church. But not so – he deduced his conclusions from hundreds of interviews which are open to a wide range of interpretation based on one’s personal biases. And one of Barna’s stated agendas in the book is to convince his readers to join the revolution so you know he has read the interviews with a bias (Of course, we all have a bias).
Barna’s argument has one big flaw- he fails to acknowledge that all movements organize or they will die. Even the Church in China organized underground during the rule of Mao. His willingness to dismiss the institutional church so easily suggests that he isn’t reading his history very well. It’s well and good to talk about how this revolution will change the “Church” universal, but sometime, somehow, for the movement to retain momentum, it hasto organize. At that moment, the “church,” in whatever form it takes, is reborn.
The real question in the book worth noting is “How should the local church respond to these revolutionaries?” His and my hope is the local church won’t retrench and try to fight this revolution, but will learn from it and respond positively to what the revolutionaries will teach it. The vast majority of local churches are sick unto death and would do well to take on a new form of life- one focused on Jesus and not the church or denomination.
The book is full of many excellent sections.
- His evaluation of the condition of the established Protestant church is extremely accurate and backed up with research statistics.
- This statement is the heart of the book for me “If we place all of our hope in the church, it is misplaced hope….. Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the only hope for the world.
- His section on the seven passions of the biblical church is very good and well worth consideration by any leader in the area of discipleship.
- His summary of the biblical understanding of the “church” and “Church” are right on the money. What every Christian needs to hear is that; “going to church” isn’t a biblical use of the term; the bible never describes the “church” as we know it today; we should be thinking “Church” and “Kingdom” more than “church;” and that the bible never had a point of view on any form of institutional church – for or against – it just didn’t mention it at all; and Jesus should be the center of our faith, not our church.
The book is well worth the reading if for no other reason than to see a biblical picture of what a church should look like and what Christians should be doing with their lives.
Thanks George for a good book; its just not as revolutionary as one might think from the title.