More on Barna’s “Revolution”

Barna Book Barna Pic

George Barna’s book, Revolution, is a good read. The pluses are:

1. It is going to grandly irritate those who are blindly clinging to the deck chairs on the Christendom Titanic.
2. As always, his stats and research are the best and very illuminating. He backs up what most intuitive observers of the church scene in the West have been feeling and saying for many years.
3. Because he is a researcher and not just a polemicist, he will be hard to argue with.
4. It’s a tight, concise, no-holds-bared volume. He pulls no punches.

Two critiques and a question:

1. Throughout the book, I believe he uses the term “church” in too limited a manner. Barna uses it almost exclusively to describe the institutional, traditional form that he so effectively dismantles. The ecclesiology and the definitions that he appears to embrace are too narrow. The language and the way he so hesitantly uses the term “church” sows confusion as to biblical realities.

“Alternative Faith Communities” are church. “Cells” are church. “Spiritual Mini-Movements” are church. “Family Faith” expressions are church. The term “church” is not exclusively owned by the traditional, institutional, attractional, congregational form historically dominant in the West. Let’s get beyond it. Call these new forms what they are – the church in its local form – and give them forthrightly the biblical legitimacy that they deserve.

True revolutionaries are therefore not rejecting the biblical church. They are rejecting a caricature. They are rejecting an institutional form and as an alternative, are embracing new forms that are equally (and in many cases even more authentically) “church.” Barna gets close to this admission when he says “The congregational model, which is the dominant form of the “church” experience today, is rapidly being joined—and, for millions of Revolutionaries, replaced—by various alternatives.” However, I find this admission too infrequent, too oblique, and too tentative in the book. He doesn’t go far enough.

In addition, I wish there was a fuller understanding in the book of the legitimacy of the vast additional array of missionary entities that make make up the sodalic, apostolic other half of the “church” not in its local form. I suspect Barna is there emotionally but it seems he just can’t quite bring himself to bless all these other forms of the church as equally legitimate and necessary. On the other hand, I sympathize. He’s already got his head in a cuisinart with the establishment with what he is advocating. I can appreciate why he wouldn’t tweak that audience any further by attacking the “supremacy of the local church” sacred cow.

2. While I greatly appreciate his intent of forcing personal responsibility for individuals to live as “revolutionaries,” Barna’s overall tone seems a little too individualistic. Like all of us, he is a captive of his culture. For example: “The failure to develop a robust spiritual life becomes the responsibility of the person God intended: you.” (pg. 104) While such prophetic punch is good, there is a relational and communal aspect that needs an equal emphasis regarding discipleship and spirituality. I would like to have seen more of an emphasis on the communal nature of the church.

The question: I wonder who interacts with George Barna about the interpretation of his data? Obviously, from the appendix, he had personal dialogue with a couple of pastors about the book. But as I read, I kept thinking that more interaction with those already out on the edge would have helped bring a bolder ecclesiology to the volume. It could have helped the book speak even more powerfully as an advocate of things to come. If some of his ecclesiology and nomenclature were more precise, the book would be exponentially more effective.

Bottom line: This book is a good contribution to the honest discussion about what God is doing for the future. It’s hard facts that only a researcher of Barna’s stature could produce. But it doesn’t go far enough. I don’t believe it is revolutionary enough.

3 Responses to “More on Barna’s “Revolution””

  1. Greg Russinger Says:

    Hey sam,
    thanks for your honest reading and words about this book. I would agree with
    your musings, not that my agreement is needed. Enjoy your reflections.

  2. Sam Says:

    Greg:

    Thanks for the feedback. I’d value your perspective, particularly since Barna is in your neighborhood. You have more firsthand knowledge of this than I do.

    Enjoyed connecting just briefly with you when you spoke at the Emerging Church course at Fuller. Blessings to you and all those in the community at the Bridge.

  3. Andy Gray Says:

    I think you may enjoy this link from a blogger’s dinner with Barna:
    http://desertpastor.typepad.com/paradoxology/2006/02/my_lunch_with_b.html

    I also want to recommend “The Way of Jesus” by Jonathan Campbell. If you haven’t picked it up yet…

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