[*] George Barna, meet Jim Rutz (1 of 2)

One of the keen things about selling books for a living is getting free books. At the catalog show I attended with my wife last week, I got a free reader's preview of George Barna's new book called Revolution. As I am a fan of the work Barna has done cataloging the foibles of American christianity, I took the promo copy with some interest (and, of course, for the opportunity to blog on the thing).

Two of the outstanding feature of this book are chapters 3 and 4, which outline what the church ought to be like and what the church is actually like in real life -- neither of which should be news to readers of Barna's surveys or to those who fancy themselves apologists. However, if you're a noob to the apologetics blogosphere, or a noob Christian who wants to get a lay of the land, so to speak, regarding the Christian church in America, you should read these chapters when this book comes out in October.

I know I promised that, after reviewing Mega Shift with much kvetching, I would review some book which I thought a lot of which would edify you readers and give you something to look forward to, but what happened between me making that promise and me typing this is that I read this new book by Barna. I take full responsibility for that, but responsibility means "do something about it", so I'm going to give you the kitchen tour of Barna's book (one two measely posts), and then get myself back on schedule.

The thesis of this book is simple: why doesn't "church" "work"? That is to say, there are a handful of megachurches in the US which seem to have a lot of people attending, and about 70% of people who call themselves "Christian" attend church once or twice a week, but by a long shot, Barna's research indicates that (in the best case) all these people tend to be hearers of the word but not doers also.

Barna's conclusion is an interesting one: the "old model" of church doesn't work, but that God is still alive and active, transforming lives today in our society. This is where I heard the Twilight Zone music -- because suddenly I wasn't reading George Barna anymore: I was reading Jim Rutz's Mega Shift with a less-offensive statistical methodology.

See: Barna bases his conclusion on the premise that there are 7 "passions" of "revolutionaries": intimate worship, faith-based conversations, intentional spiritual growth, servanthood, resource investment, spiritual friendships, and family faith. As far as these items go, I'm 100% confident I don't have any problem with any of them as characteristics of disciples of Jesus Christ. Who could? The problem is that Barna fails to take a comprehensive look at other critical issues in the life of the believer from the basis fo Scripture, in particular the definition and meaning of "church" in the life of the believer.

Those who pick up the book and read it will say, "well, cent, pinhead, Barna begins Chapter 3 of his book with three scriptural references about the life of the first-generation church straight out of Acts. He certainly has covered the Biblical defintiion of church." Oddly, I would agree that he cites Acts in order to establish his definition that he applies in the rest of the book. The problem is he stops with Acts. What about Titus? What about the letters to Timothy? What about the admonitions to the Corinthians and the Thessalonians? What about Galatians or Ephesians? In the best case, Barna has keyed on one aspect of church life without demonstrating that there is actually some instruction in the NT about the basis for calling some group of people "the church" apart from the fact that they have made a confession of faith.

And in that, Barna goes down a road which frankly demonstrates why we have to open a Bible when we start reasoning about the relationship between God and man. For example, in Chapter 10, Barna points out that a Christian revolutionary should be "part of a community" (it's a subheading of the chapter -- and fwiw, the copy I have has no page numbers because it is a proof; I hope those who are keeping track of my citations will take that into account when they refer back to the final copy they will have to compare my review to). When I saw that, I thought I was going to have to rethink my negative impression to that point because Barna was about to make the point about accountability and being subject to one another. Instead, what we get is this:
Integrating into a pool of change agents has tangible benefits. Each Revolutionary's impact is multiplied by being part of a larger, harder-to-ignore gtoup of compatriots. ... Both the cause and the individual are better off because of accountability in relation to thinking, message, behavior, and resource use.
What the thinking reader of this blog should do is compare this to Paul's adminition to the church in Eph 5:
    1Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

    3But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7Therefore do not associate with them; 8for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9(for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

    "Awake, O sleeper,
    and arise from the dead,
    and Christ will shine on you."

    15Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, 20giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Now think on that a minute: out of reverence for Christ, we ought to submit to one another. What does that mean? How does one submit to others -- that is to ask, what must exist in order that there is a basis for submission?

The answer is simple: some kind of visible social structure. For example, Paul uses this exhortation to describe the relationship between husband and wife -- the visible social structure being marriage. But before he does that, in this passage he says that believers are set apart from the world in such a way that they ought to be able to disassociate with unbelievers in order to repudiate the sins of unbelief -- foolishness, sexual immorality, idoaltry, etc. The implication is that there is a local community of believers who have some way to distinguish themselves from others and have a way to see if they are doing something (to use Barna's term) revolutionary or not.

--- More later: my kids just woke up --