It's Frank Viola's new and improved Pagan Christianity. And Tyndale is printing it, thanks to heavy-hitter and pollster-guy George Barna, who gets co-author credit.
This book is going to honk people off. Already is, even though it's not officially "out" yet (but you can get one now at their site.) They sent me an advance copy to review on Kamp Krusty, because of the enormous influence I exert in the lives of both of my readers.
Here's what's a-ranklin' church folk: They authors are basically saying -- get this, from a major Christian publisher --that the church, in its contemporary, institutional form, has neither a biblical nor a historical right to exist.
I'm pretty sure I'm aptly summarizing, because it says -- quote -- "the church, in its contemporary, institutional form, has neither a biblical nor a historical right to exist" in the preface.
And then things start getting controversial:
-- The "church building" concept is foreign to Jesus's idea of what the church is for. It has "stalemated the functioning of God's people since the 4th century," and "There does not exist a shred of biblical support for the church building." And -- oh yeah -- buildings cost American churches $50-60 billion annually. There's that.
-- Pulpits, altars, clergy vestments (shoot: clergy, for that matter), nuns, stages, sermons, performance-oriented worship, "sacred relics", buildings named after saints, and such are borrowed from pagan traditions, not from the church of the New Testament.
-- Making preaching the center of church gatherings has no biblical precedent. Christianity "still has not recovered" from John Calvin's insistence on leading worship services, himself, from a stage. Luther and Calvin believed each believer had access to God, not through the Eucharist, but through "the preached Word" -- something the writers say is not a biblical idea.
-- The order of worship now defeats involvement of all the believers, and instead focuses on a few talented people, in the face of the practices of the New Testament church.
-- Protestant churches get the ol' familiar "order of worship" from the Catholic Mass. And here they approvingly quote Will Durant, who says the mass was "based partly on the Judaic Temple service, partly on Greek mystery rituals of purification, vicarious sacrifice, and participation."
-- Then there's the chapter on sermons: "The Sermon: Protestantism's Most Sacred Cow"
-- And the one on the "office" of Pastor, which the authors say doesn't actually exist in scripture: "The Pastor: Obstacle to Every Member Functioning"
-- "Tithing and Clergy: Sore Spots on the Wallet" is a fun follow-up chapter. They don't see a biblical basis for tithing to an instutional church, or "tithing" at all, for the Christian.
-- We don't need Bible colleges. Never did. We've inhaled far too much of Athens' approach to knowledge, and the point of knowledge, and misapplied logical tools to the Christian life.
-- And don't get them started on the biblical basis of youth ministers. Actually: DO get them started on the biblical basis of youth ministers. It won't take long: There isn't any.
-- Also, feel free to get them started on "Sunday School", dressing up for church, worship "pastors", pews, the idea of "sacred spaces", and -- get this -- the "church fathers", who they treat less as all-knowing guides, and more as believers who imported their paganism to re-interpret the meaning of the church. (This will cost the authors hip points.)
-- Most modern church-people misunderstand how to read the Bible. They impart qualities to it that aren't biblical. They don't pay attention to context, and miss the point, and widely apply particular verses that were written for specific situations in a specific context.
Like I say, I'm amazed Tyndale is publishing this.
It's footnoted out the wazoo, but it's readable for high-schoolers. It's written to be accessible, which means, instead of saying it's "painstakingly documented", I can say it's "footnoted out the wazoo." Of course, this doesn't make it true, but some people care about quoting other people.
They're going to make a lot of people think. (What I've seen so far is a reaction against such a "negative" book, but not much refutation on the things that matter.) The authors' point is not -- insofar as I gather -- that a practice is evil to the extent that its roots are pagan. That's not it. The point is that what we consider proper "church" has more to do with surrounding cultures than what Jesus had in mind.
And honestly, now: "Too negative", as a central criticism, means, "I prefer the status quo, and...that's about all I got." As the authors point out, Jesus was a revolutionary, and a "negative" one at that, to those whose first interest was enforcing their version of religion. They got pretty mad at him.
The authors warn people up-front: If you think all the trappings of "church" are Holy Writ, the book may be too much for you. And they're right.
Did I mention I'm surprised Tyndale is publishing this? I'm glad they are.
(By the way: Before reacting to my bullet-point summaries, read the book. They make arguments I don't have space to repeat here.)
MY OFFICIAL REVIEW: Well, I liked it, doggone it. A lot. I like it because people need to think about this stuff. And this book will bug a lot of the right people. In love.
Mostly, I like it because I think they're right about pretty much everything -- that matters, anyway. I'm an honest reviewer, no?
The church Jesus envisioned was never about sacred buildings, sacred relics, sacred preaching, special clergy, spectator events, great orations, musical stars, non-stop knowledge accrual, and theological sophistication. The church is a people, called out for God's purposes, mystically bound together by Christ, and led by Christ.
In other words, they agree with me. So, obviously, I highly recommend.