Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Revolution by George Barna

A Brief Review of Revolution by George Barna – Colby Willen

Revolution is the result of the vast research that George Barna has done concerning the church, society and people, and, as such, the book reflects his research data and findings that support his view that the church of the 20th and 21st Centuries is a dying entity. Even in his beginning chapter, Barna attempts to paint the spirituality of two men in light of such findings, presenting one as a spiritually-growing man who has been "freed" from a traditional view of church while the other is presented as a spiritually-declining man who is struggling to keep up his church attendance and responsibilities.
While Barna does a fair job of presenting some of the facts of what is currently going on in America and America's Christianity, the basis for his presentation is a bit backwards. He rightly identifies that many Americans who attend church are not growing spiritually. He rightly identifies some of the changes in American society that lend themselves to different lifestyles today as compared to American lifestyle of generations past. He rightly points out the advantages that some of the "Christian Revolutionaries" have experienced in their approach to their faith and their non-traditional approaches to church. However, the book does not go beyond a surface analysis of what has taken place as the experience of some people, and the book hinges on experience rather than truth for the direction it would take the church.
The problem with this approach is that statistics do nothing more than to present the current situation. Barna's desire in writing this book, I believe, is to further open the door for Christians to find new ways to practice their faith that are untied from the traditional way of "doing" church. At the heart of Barna's findings is a similar finding that most Christian leaders in America would agree upon: the spiritual appetite of Americans is declining and the church in general is declining as well.
With Barna's approach, though, there is no basis for what a church should be, and at the heart of this approach are his fuzzy statements about Christian worship. The fact is that the New Testament's presentation of the early church and the biblical teachings on the church are not precisely mirrored in today's churches. No church is perfect, and the church universal throughout history has needed to be called back to its foundation many times. One example is Barna's description of "worship gypsies" and their practices on pages 65-66. This "worship" as described takes place absent of any prior congregation of people and with no attempt to necessarily reconvene the same individuals. The leaders simply show up and lead this "so-called" worship experience for whoever wants to gather regardless of denomination or belief or any further commitment to one another. Notably absent from Barna's analysis of Christianity and Christian worship are the numerous references to the church as a body where growth takes place among believers, not in isolation (see Ephesians 4 among others.)
But the problem goes beyond worship. The presence of postmodern ideas saturates the book. One example is on page 51 where he argues for the existence of God based on the "fact" of peoples' changes lives. Such evidence might be a good testimony on occasion but does not go far to prove the existence of God any more than any religious person in the world proves the existence of their god.
The very heart of Barna's thesis is that the church should be fluid—there are no absolutes for what a church should look like. Meanwhile, there is some truth to most of what Barna says. There are many areas in which the church needs to change and to truly seek ways to see peoples' lives changed by the power of God through the gospel in a more personal and possibly more culturally-relevant way. Biblical change, though, must be a truth-based reform. Throwing out traditions, traditional meeting schedules, and old buildings is going to do nothing less than water-down the Christian faith even further in a world of relativity. Change for the Christian church comes through revival—a return to the truth of God, not through new programs or new "sensitive" ways of doing church.
Also apparently absent from what Barna envisions is the structure of biblical shepherding and discipleship. While there are certainly countless examples of poor church leadership to be found in every denomination, where would the church be today without the God-ordained leadership given through pastors? In a structure such as what Barna seems to advocate, each individual would appear to be responsible for his own spiritual direction, something contrary to the New Testament's teaching and examples of the early church and the structure of discipleship. In essence, he is advocating that the sheep can take care of themselves—an obvious affront to the biblical picture of sheep and their needs.
Finally, though limited in scope and depth, Barna's book does serve a purpose in turning a light on for the church. There is a value in recognizing the trend that Barna describes and addressing the spiritual needs of our culture and the shortcomings of the church in meeting these spiritual needs. Barna's book should serve as a wake-up call to all of us who give testimony to God's salvation in Christ and the urgency of what we are called to be as the church.