I was planning on interacting with at least the first two chapters today, but I am sick and only have the energy to write up some thoughts on chapter one. Chapter one is a challenge to re-think our current practices in the church, an invitation to read the book. I guess we should all be thankful for this little book since without it the church remains doomed to misunderstanding who it is and what it should be doing. This is how the book presents itself. Since the death of the Apostle John no one got it right. At best, according to the authors, the Church Fathers syncretized just about everything the church should be doing with pagan practices to such a degree that the divine mandates have been lost. And no one since has done much to return the church to its Apostolic practices. The Reformers did not reform the church, the puritans did not purify worship, and your contemporary church with its building, paid staff, sermons, etc. is so far outside the will of God that the spiritual health of those attending your services is in grave danger. My response after reading the book - whatever.
I do not want to dismiss the authors' concerns, but it's hard for me to take them seriously when they so grossly overstate things.Don't get me wrong. I enjoy provocative books. I want others to challenge me and force me to re-think my practices and beliefs. The problem for me is that the book reads more like an ecclesiological version of the Loose Change conspiracy theories concerning the 9/11 attack. A lot of information is collected, assumptions are made, and in the end the final interpretation of history is simply wrong. Not only does their attempt to uncover the truth fail, but more importantly I fear their legit concerns will be ignored by many while others will read the book as gospel because it presents itself as unquestionable history with Barna's research seal of approval.
The book contains two early qualifications. The publisher is careful to note, "Tyndale does not necessarily agree with all of the authors positions." And though the authors are aiming at bringing about change, Barna urges caution on the part of readers with "rebellious hearts" who want to use this book to " wreak havoc" in their churches. He writes, "Our advice: Either leave your church quietly, refusing to cause division, or be at peace with it. There is a vast difference between rebellion and taking a stand for what is true." (pg. 5) This is part of my concern with the book, it actively encourages a polite divorce from the church. It suggests that the church, in its institutional form, is so far gone than the best option for many is to leave quietly. I think this is a careless and deadly suggestion.
In the next post I will interact with their remonstrance against "church buildings." I know, like we needed someone to come along and tell us the early church did not operate out of a building. But some of their concerns about our buildings are very legit. If you own one, it would do you well to seriously consider why and what you do with it.