The authors go through a list of evangelical "givens"; the church building, order of worship, the sermon, the pastor, Sunday morning costumes, music ministers, tithing and church salaries, Baptism and the Lord's Supper and Christian education and show the roots of each to be, not in the New Testament, but in the pagan world and culture that it shared.
In contrast the authors discuss the vibrancy and new life experienced by the New Testament church. The authors hope to stir their readers to better grasp the revolutionary nature of Jesus Christ as well as "exposing what is wrong with the contemporary church so that Christ's body can fulfill God's ultimate intention." The authors point out that passive religion is more the norm in today's church rather than vibrant earth changing revolution. This, they believe, hearkens back to the pagan practices hanging over the churches head because these practices encourage passivity and irresponsibility.
The afterward is a prescription for change and a road map for getting back to the Biblical roots of church. A thought provoking read and one that, as I've said before, puts words to my own disquiet.
My husband attended a world renowned seminary for his Masters and Doctoral degrees and so we were surrounded by seminarians for over half a decade, many of whom were getting their M.Div's and professional church licenses. One evening a friend and I were talking and she shared some difficult circumstances in her life with me. I asked her if she wanted to pray together. She looked at me in disbelief and then said something to the effect that she couldn't believe I would offer to pray with her given the fact that I was not in the school of ministry (like she was) and that I was "just a Christian." That has always stuck with me, cause, heck, I thought that those of us walking in the wake of the Shepherd were all "just Christians."
But I've encountered that attitude so much in the last 2 1/2 decades. People shocked that I offer to pray and mean "right now," "out-loud," "with faith." "and fervor." Cause I'm not part of the professional clergy. I'm "just a Christian." pshaw. Wasn't Paul. And Silas. And Peter and John, and Mary and the woman at the well? And you and I?
Maybe it's cause the church is so bloodied and beat on and discouraged about the depravity of man and the confusion caused by living out faith. Could be. I've felt it myself lately. Battered and bruised and raw and just sick of working out my faith and life with fear and trembling. Part of me wants to hide in a hole, cover over the entrance and hang out a sign that says, "leave off." But then I read something like this and I want to plead, like the little girl at the end of "Iron Will," when Will has fallen and is bloodied and bruised and wrecked, "GET UP," passionately imploring the church," C'mon now, GET UP." And really, I think that's the heart cry of Viola and Barna. They see the church of today as a sleeping giant. We've forgotten the power and passion and intimate, life-changing love affair with Jesus Christ that we had at first. We've become the church in Revelation who has forgotten our first love. And Viola and Barna are passionately imploring their brethren to get up, wake up and LIVE!
I welcome this book and the message contained therein and hope that many others who have had a life changing encounter with the One True Living God will read it, take it to heart and prayerfully consider how to live it out.
For more on this discussion and what's next, check out: Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna