Pagan Christianity – defining terms

pagan-christianity-barna-violaI recently finished reading Pagan Christianity, by the combined team of Frank Viola and George Barna. Being on vacation, I was not able to blog very much as I read it. I’ll be rereading it and this time sharing thoughts and quotes to give you an idea what you can expect if you choose to read this book.

To be honest, I was a little – well, a lot – taken aback by the contents of the book. There is a lot of interesting material presented. But overall, I’m not convinced by the authors’ arguments and main thrust.

I had skimmed a couple of the pages and found some of the text interesting, but had not given it enough preview to really understand what I was getting into. I had actually been more interested in Reimagining Church, by Frank Viola alone. But this book was billed as the precursor, so I thought I ought to see what it was about.

For me, the tone of the book was really set in the introduction when the following was stated while defining terms:


These words are used first and foremost as source statements and secondarily as value judgments. Biblical or scriptural refers to whether a practice has its origins in the New Testament Scriptures. References to unbiblical or unscriptural practices do not automatically imply error. These words can refer to the fact that a certain practice does not appear in the New Testament (in which case it should not be treated as sacred). But they can also refer to a practice that violates the principles or teachings of the New Testament. The context will determine how these words are used. We certainly do not agree with the doctrines of “the silence of Scripture” and “the regulative principle,” which teach that if a practice is not mentioned in the New Testament then we should not follow it.

With this definition, the authors seem to have justified their use of “unbiblical” or “unscriptural” for everything they find fault with. And any defensive reactions by readers and pundits can simply be ignored as a misunderstanding of the author’s intent. As I read, I must admit that I saw little ability to distinguish usage based on context, as they suggest. It all sounds like posturing to me. What do you think?

For example:

Let’s face it. The Protestant order of worship is largely unscriptural, impractical, and unspiritual. [Page 77, speaking on liturgical practices]

Nevertheless, despite the fact that the contemporary sermon does not have  a shred  of biblical merit to support its existence, it continues to be uncritically admired in the eyes of most present-day Christians. It has become so entrenched  in the Christian mind that most Bible-believing pastors and laymen fail to see that they are affirming and perpetuating an unscriptural practice out of sheer tradition. [Page 101, critiquing the sermon as a means for biblical instruction and background for assembling]

Instead of offering the cure to the ills of the church, our theological schools worsen them by assuming (or even defending) all of the unscriptural practices that produce them. [Page 218, speaking of seminaries and other locations for theological instruction]

The net effect of the clipboard approach is tragic. It has produced a raft of present-day churches that have no scriptural basis upon which to exist. (We speak of the institutional church  as we know it today.) But more, it has generated scores of mechanical pro forma house churches that are lifeless, colorless, and sterile. [Page 237, speaking of cutting and pasting scripture out of context]

Many people find themselves in a real dilemma today. They want to be the church, as God intended, but they are not exactly sure how. Especially in a day when unbiblical expressions of the church are the norm.

To put it in a question: Now that you have discovered that the institutional church is not scriptural, what is the next step? What should you do now? [Page 254]

Obviously, these quotes lose something out of their context. But in each I find it hard to distinguish whether the author is making a value statement or a source statement (subjective though it may be). And to be honest, I do agree on limited points with the authors… but in general I find their wording argumentative rather than unifying (and repeatedly calling oneself a Revolutionary seems to reinforce the point!).

Anyway, more to come as I go back through the text…


About George

I'm interested in theology, languages, translation and various sorts of fermentation.
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3 Responses to Pagan Christianity – defining terms

  1. Jill says:

    The sequel to “Pagan Christianity?” is out now. It’s called “Reimagining Church”. It picks up where “Pagan Christianity” left off and continues the conversation. (“Pagan Christianity” was never meant to be a stand alone book; it’s part one of the conversation.) “Reimagining Church” is endorsed by Leonard Sweet, Shane Claiborne, Alan Hirsch, and many others. You can read a sample chapter at ,
    along with a Q & A page at . It’s also available on Frank is also blogging now at .

  2. George says:

    Thanks, Jill. I’ve already got it and am going to be reading it soon.

  3. Nathan Stitt says:

    I skimmed through this book and had some interesting discussions with my pastor and friend about it. We also came to the conclusion that we were not convinced either.

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