Digging Deeper: Barna Deconstructed

First off, I don’t place much value in the type of research that Barna does commerce in. I think polls are about as inexact and subject to manipulation as you can get…. and still hold creedance with thinking people. But… I think that some of what is being said in Varied Musings post is worth discussing.

Varied Musings | Barna’s Finally Gone Too Far

Barna’s Finally Gone Too Far
Posted by Paul

Move over Jabez, there is a new book that is far more dangerous to the Church: George Barna’s Revolution. This is unbelievable. The whole article is available at Christianty Today’s Website.

Barna expects to see believers “choosing from a proliferation of options, weaving together a set of favored alternatives into a unique tapestry that constitutes the personal ‘church’ of the individual.” The phrase “personal ‘church’ of the individual” must be the most mind-spinning phrase ever written about the church of Jesus Christ. At any other point in church history, “personal church” would be nonsensical. In today’s America, it’s the Next Big Thing.

Barna actually argues that since all research indicates (correctly) the American Church has failed to develop mature disciples, we should actually draw away from the church and focus on a personal godly life.

Don’t get me wrong. Personal godly life is good. And necessary. But what about what the Bible says about church involvment? As with so many pragmatists, the Bible text is secondary, or simply ignored.

…It is true that the Bible doesn’t tell us exactly what our church experience should look like or what day of the week we have to meet. We can meet Sunday or Tuesday. We can wear suits or tie-dye. Sing hyms or have a marching band. Meet for 20 minutes or 2 days. God has left the method up to our convictions and our culture. However, the Bible is clear on the message and the obligation (and joy) believers have to the local church body, and using our spiritual gifts within that body.

I want to look at a couple things. One is the American Church.

Paul, of Varied Musings is predicating his view of Church on the Bible. That part is good, but he is working off the old model that whatever state our institutional Churches are in we have to attend and work with that. This is where I would question his thinking and where I feel perhaps Barna is making a valid statement.

Perhaps there is a revolution and perhaps there needs to be. I am not ready to give my seal of approval on that thinking, but I believe we need to give it consideration. At this point I think of the Reformation and I think also of the idea of revolution versus reformation.

Another point I would like to consider is that “pragmatists” often ignore the Bible. I just don’t think that is a true statement. On my side of it, as one who considers themselves strongly pragmatic, is the idea that there is a type of pragmatism that holds very fundamental views on the Bible and uses it as the standard, and the most referenced source for ones course of action. On pragmatic reasons alone, the Bible is the most trustworthy basis.

I understand that in the Christian discussion of today, “pragmatism” is given a different meaning, one more in the line of temporal and temporary “whatever works”. That, I feel is a misuse of the term when it isn’t clearly given definition.

But now, looking at the original article…

The No Church? No Problem – Christianity Today Magazine says this:

Are you worried about the church where you were baptized, taught, married, and given Communion? That’s only a “congregational-formatted ministry,” one of many ways to “develop and live a faith-centered life. We made it up.” Writes Barna, “Whether you become a Revolutionary immersed in, minimally involved in, or completely disassociated from a local church is irrelevant to me (and, within boundaries, to God).” He doesn’t reveal God’s expectations for church involvement, but they don’t seem hard to get over.

And immediately I thought of an article I read recently on “Mega-churches” which stated that “denominationalism” is over. That the culture is moving away from that, and when I read it I thought “Isn’t that what we’ve all been touting all along? that we wanted this? Hasn’t everyone wrung their hands over the division within the Church?

And now they are bellyaching about the loss of those distinctions. It reminds me further of the children in the marketplace- they pipe to you and wonder why you don’t dance when they say “dance” and why you don’t mourn when they change the tune. If you are familiar with that teaching of Jesus, you know that you don’t come down on the complimentary side of that.

Why mourn when something so resistant to God’s Word is coming to an end? Because we get comfortable with our traditions. So getting back to the idea of the Reformation and the difference between the words reformation and revolution. There was a time when the Roman Catholic Church was pretty much all there was. It was the institution. And it had moved far from the scriptures and from healthy organic Christianity. The Reformation began as a desire – much of it engined by sincere and godly priests- to return the Church to the oversight of Christ and His Scripture.

If you look at the Catholic Church today you can see that eventually that did happen. I am not talking about Vatican 2 in particular, but in the devotion that many Catholics give to learning about the Faith, studying scripture in their own language, giving service to God on the individual level. Those are influences of the Reformation -however oblique. Today you can find high levels of scholarship among the Catholic laity. I read alot of their blogs, and their skill and intellectual virility is impressive. Very impressive…which I say coming from a Calvinistic Reformed tradtion- the highest and most rigorous of those who use intellectual pursuit and Sola Scriptura as their rule.

But what if the Reformers had just tried to preserve what they were familiar with? And history shows that because they did not they were condemned as heretics for the most part. That is what the love of the status quo will do in a religious context.

So I am in no hurry to lambaste this idea of “revolution”. I further have the influence of my experience in this contemporaneously. It isn’t just an abstract for me. I genuinely understand why people are turning from the institutional Churches. And to be very clear this is mostly a Protestant phenomenom …although the Catholics have their ups and downs.

But when you have Presbyterians denying the very historicity and the need for Jesus Christ Himself…just what do you really have of the true Church? You still have the shell of the events, the programs and the social structure…but just why should we Christians try to salvage something resistant to the person of Christ Himself?

And don’t give me that we should fellowship. The Bible says stuff about the criteria for fellowship that is flatly ignored. FLATLY ignored ( in case you missed it the first time said). Where is the Bible verse for that? That we ignore what we want and support what we want?

Sometimes there is a moving away from the understanding that was handed to us. And sometimes, yes, it is God doing this.

I don’t think it is fair to judge things as if we have an overview. We are in the stream, now… and it is a matter of the individual sincerity of the Believer. But wasn’t it always? Isn’t that what we have missed when we concentrate on the institution and the political force? When has Christianity ever been anything but a personal experience and walk with God? It moves together in a body, yes, but that is a spiritual body and man has been very remiss in recognizing that to the detriment and bloodshed of that Body.

“So where are the Revolutionaries going? To “mini-movements” such as home schooling, house churches, Bible studies at work, and Chris Tomlin worship concerts.”

When two or three are gathered… so what is so wrong with a different aspect of grouping? smaller numbers? Is this truly new? I think I hear the protests of an agenda here.

“First, who are these 20 million people defined as Revolutionaries? “

This is a very fair question. And the real answer is that they are a mixed multitude. Some are going in the right direction and really led by God…some are along for the ride… and some are the wolves. You just can’t get away from the fact that there are predatory elements in any big upheaval. But who is to blame? The revolutionaries for moving out when decade after decade there is nothing but devolving away from the spirit and toward the bog of the fleshly? When more and more the institution serves to promote Wicca more than Christianity? Or soul killing seminaries that perpetuate their own foul apostate teachings? How long? How long O Lord?

So I am willing to say that the Lord has given a trumpet call that souls are moving toward. But yes, there is much danger. That is apparent.

“The second question: How vital can a Christian revolution be that views the local church as optional?”

Um. It depends upon whether that is a static factor. And whether that is the primary point of the revolution. God will not allow it to be in His plan… we see that part clearly in the Bible scriptures that Varied Musings brought out in his protest. He is right about that. But that doesn’t translate in the perpetuation of the local churches that we now have. Some of them will thrive and some will fall.

If you look at the way this has played out over the past few decades it means that Churches that are more fundamental and encourage personal growth of faith are going to grow and benefit. As long as they don’t mistake their programs as the engine of Faith rather than the Person of God.

Big ‘If’ for us right now.

“We flamingly disregard 2,000 years of guidance under the Holy Spirit. We elevate private judgment above the collective wisdom of apostles, martyrs, reformers, and saints.”

Speak for yourself, Christianity Today Evangelicals. And if it were true of you, isn’t it the paternalistic attitudes well evident in this article that cultivate that very response within the larger spectrum of the Churches? Isn’t it this view of the minister/scholar who somehow is the only one who ought to read Foxes Book of Martyrs and feed their own interpretations of original writings, etc? I mean how many of the Evangelicals encourage reading of Brainerd’s diary or Edwards “Sinners in the Hand of An Angry God” ( Besides blogger Rebecca Writes). I read alot of these through passionate desire of my own ( I had dual interest in American history and in Church history), but also buttressed by such Charismatics as Keith Green and Leonard Ravenhill.

But I have seen little of that anywhere…in any of the mainstream churches. They are lucky if they get to know the teaching of their own founders. Is this what we should try to salvage?

“The third question: Is this Revolution motivated primarily by the Spirit of God, advancing the kingdom beyond the walls of the stiff and often ineffective local congregation, or by the anti-institutional and individualistic drives of our time?”

Excuse me, but just how do you intend to tell? I return to Gamaliel, who was quoted in Acts:
“And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought:
But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God. ”

On that note I end this particular post. To say the local church, the institutional church is over is sensationalistic. Which is what feeds the buzzlogs, but the actual reality is that Church as we know it is in for a change.

And I say “high time for it”.

12 thoughts on “Digging Deeper: Barna Deconstructed”

  1. Great discussion, and I suspect we aren’t as far apart in our views as we might first appear.

    I agree that the church needs reform (at least) and perhaps a revolution as well. And perhaps I should have been less reckless with my use of ‘pragmatism.’

    Reform is needed. But upon what will we base that reform?

    My contention is that abandoning the local church isn’t an option God has given me. It may change (as it always has under all sorts of extremes throughout church history), but I still need to meet with my fellow brothers and sisters.

    Hebrews 10 and 13 come to immediately to mind, but many of the epistles speak of submitting to spiritual authority, using the gifts the Holy Spirit has given me and the need to continue to meet corporately. And in chapter 10, the people being exhorted to continue corporate worship are in fact under threat of extreme persecution. Their very lives are in danger.

    The church needs to be different – yes. But I think it still needs to be biblical. And I don’t see how a ‘church of one’ can be reconciled with the Scriptures.

    Is the cure worse than the disease? And is it a cure at all? Is there a better cure? Can’t we get to work fixing the problem without dismantling corporate worship?

    And didn’t Barna’s Marketing of the Church help contribute to this problem?

    I’m still thinking! Thanks for the insight.

  2. THe BIG missing ingredient in Barna’s book is the place of the Emergent Movement. I think many of us are finally realizing as you are also, it seems, that there has to be a change in our churches to attract not only the young people under 30 (in another report Barna says only 9% of evangelicals between 18 and 30 go to church), but also many other age groups that are dropping out.
    However, what concerns many of us, including moi, is how some of these people are changing the gospel to the NO Gospel. THAT is the big conundrum.

  3. I truly don’t think that the Church should alter its ways specifically to attract anyone. It should teach the Gospel accurately and with love and fire, and let The Holy Spirit do the drawing. It’s a personal belief of mine that attempts to reach and serve specific parties beyond the point where it should have gone has become a major problem for the Church today.

    For example, take music. Many churches add a special service that utilizes modern music specifically to attract the younger crowd. That’s not a good thing. The problem is that churches weren’t adopting new stuff to add to the traditional as they went along, and suddenly some said “hey, we’re outdated! That’s the problem!” So they went too far in changing. Rather than a balanced approach, they split the crowd.

    They split up the people by their well-intentioned actions.

    These changes are why so many today are seeking places where they can hear the Word of God in plain, direct language. People who are ready for it will respond to it as it is. Young people respect those who don’t alter what they do just to get attention. They are drawn to people who hold to the matter at hand and don’t fluff it up.

    There are enough problems with the denominational splits to add more reasons to separate. We mustn’t split for even more reasons. Let’s stay in our churches and pray faithfully and work hard to make prayer, instruction, salvation, and care for the poor and sick things that we all do together.

    I am so thankful that God put me in a non-denominational church from the very beginning. I think that’s what’s helped me from having any special feelings for or against any God-honoring denomination, and wanting to see them ALL drop their walls and get back to the business of making disciples of all nations.

  4. “Barna actually argues that since all research indicates (correctly) the American Church has failed to develop mature disciples, we should actually draw away from the church and focus on a personal godly life.”

    ~I agree that discipleship is desperately lacking in most churches I visit and hear about. However, the answer is to stay there and implement it, not to draw away.

    Just to be clear, there’s no place I’ve seen in the Scriptures which indicate that a person must stay at one congregation all their life. They should attend one regularly to enjoy the extended benefits of fellowship, (people who can recognize your behavior, hold you accountable, encourage you for growth, help fix your roof!) but you don’t have to be hand-cuffed to a pew.

  5. Great comments- I appreciate the different PoV’s. I think because we all see the shift and care about where this is going.

    Paul, neither of us seems set in concrete, and as you and Mark bring up… the sticking point seems to be the form of fellowship. I didn’t detect that the debate was over whether one should pursue a “lone wolf” ( wow-what a bad connotation there) form of Christianity… but that may well be one transition point for many.

    Although the Emergent Church wasn’t named, I believe it is lumped into the category of “revolutionaries”. And Diane, I agree, we don’t want a no-gospel contentless faith. If you think about it that is the logical conclusion of the mainstream church error, such as the named Presbyterian one. In a sense some of the emergents who theorize in that direction ( no-gospel) are simply taking their direction from that to its logical conclusion. It wouldn’t surprise me if they ended in the despair of the old “God is Dead” movement of the past. Although as long as they eschew rigorous intellectual thinking they could delay that conclusion.

    But I think the question is larger than “seeker-friendly” vs. “traditional”. It is bigger than what music is played, Mark. There is a crisis within- and without in the culture. And in the “they” you mention, the ones in charge of changing things, who are the they? I would submit that it is the rigid structuralists of whatever institutional church you would name. This is why it gets bogged down- don’t you think that God may well be capable of cutting that Gordian knot? That maybe He won’t waste time trying to unravel people who are so stiffnecked that they will not listen and change? So that He may ultimately heal all these people? I don’t think God is as tied to our structures as we are.

    He has His own pattern in mind.. and it is time to compare patterns. Is the American form of denominationalism salvageable and will it ever portray God’s pattern as is?

    The big contention of those who are “revolutionary” that I would sympathize with is that the “they” has become usuper of the He, of God’s Holy Spirit. That there is a resistance to letting God direct His Church. This bigger problem leads directly to the disaffection of those within the culture and alienation of those who are passionate about their faith within the churches.

    On forms, what about the historical significance of smaller group forms growing into valid structural ones? The Vineyard churches started in home Bible studies… now it has one distinctive but fully expressed body. Why can’t this be one valid manner of reform?

    Then there is the criticism of the mega-church. Why is it not considered valid by many?

    Lots of the arguments are hinging on purely personal preference of traditional type- the type that leads to vicious types of sectarianism. IMO.

    I think at times we have to give a lot of rope- and perhaps Barna is onto something, but it seems pretty inconclusive to me. What is on the radar is that there is a massive shifting within Christianity. I have some ideas on where that is going.

    Mark- you said a few things that I definitely have to think about. And Paul, I totally agree with “The church needs to be different – yes. But I think it still needs to be biblical. “Thanks Diane, for an important point.

    Does anyone else out there feel like they’re on the whitewater rafting trip of their lives?

  6. “But I think the question is larger than “seeker-friendly” vs. “traditional”. It is bigger than what music is played, Mark.”

    ~Oh absolutely. I was just using that as an example of the hot topics of contention.

    “There is a crisis within- and without in the culture. And in the “they” you mention, the ones in charge of changing things, who are the they?”

    ~Hopefully without sounding trite, “they” is literally whoever has the stroke to change things. In some churches the pastor’s word is law. In others with a board of elders which keeps the pastor accountable, ideas are voted upon. There are others, but that’s basically what I mean.

    Have a great weekend!

  7. You are so sweet and I am so contentious;) I would say I’m just kidding, but it true.

    I know you see this, but do we as a whole church see how bogged down we are in the bitty questions when we should be addressing the larger contexts?

    In the “they”… there have been many attempts to deal with this structure without disrupting real authority. Perhaps this topic, ‘authority’ is something we are talking aobut without really talking about it.

    Right now I am synthesizing some of the conversation of this and of the Reformation in the Catholic’s context.

  8. “I know you see this, but do we as a whole church see how bogged down we are in the bitty questions when we should be addressing the larger contexts?”

    ~In conversations with various leaders of large numbers of church people, (“church people”…how come that sounds so funny?) it seems as if most of them understand the big things that need to change, but have so many tiny fires to put out on a constant basis that they aren’t able to move to the big things. A discipleship problem maybe. Kinda like the problem when the widows weren’t getting their share of food and the position of Deacon was created to free the Apostles to focus on keeping the Church online.


  9. I find that very interesting because my pool of interaction with church leadership is limited, so it helps to have a perspective on that.

    My question in light of what you have said is “Isn’t that what leadership is, to see the big picture and address the larger issues?” Is it a case of micro managing? If so, isn’t that an ego sitution, a power hoarding situation? Because when it isn’t just some individuals, but a problem spread out over the Church within the West – the major section of the Church globally- isn’t this more than something that is dealt with and then solved?

    Because the situation with the widows in the early church might have started out as a bunch of bitty things, but it became big enough that something effectual was done. I think if the Lord is consulted, if the leadership is sincere that it doesn’t take decades to move beyond the problem.

    And I’ve watched this develop over decades as a beleiver. From the laity point of view, as Protestants most of us have a doctrine of the priesthood of the believer… so I am not sure in what way discipling is a factor- but I can see how it could be. Do you mean we tend to not mature in our churches? If we would establish that idea, my question immediately is to say ‘why is that?’ Because then we could get to the root of what we might do within the institution, perhaps. And that would go a long way to eliminate worry when I hear advice to just keep sticking it out in the troubled and troubling structure of churches as the original topic submits it.

    At some point I think we have to ask- has the candle stand been taken away… and if so what is the response of those Christians who desire to continue serving and honoring the Lord? Do you have thoughts in light of the Revelation message to the churches?

  10. “My question in light of what you have said is “Isn’t that what leadership is, to see the big picture and address the larger issues?” Is it a case of micro managing? If so, isn’t that an ego sitution, a power hoarding situation? Because when it isn’t just some individuals, but a problem spread out over the Church within the West – the major section of the Church globally- isn’t this more than something that is dealt with and then solved?”

    ~I see this as a 6 of one, half a dozen of the other most times. It starts with a very caring individual who has a firey passion for God and serving Him, but doesn’t have(or in some cases listen to) a wizened older leader to show him how to handle certain situations (discipling) and because of that, this leader decides out of true caring, to handle each issue himself. Eventually, it either goes to his head and results in an overblown ego, or burns that leader out completely due to stress. There are also plently of examples of a person who thinks with their ego from the very beginning, and God has to break them in order to bring them into line with a healthy relationship with Him.

    I agree with you that when the little things are allowed to fester, they become a big thing. It’s like dealing with mice. By the time you can easily see them, there are more than you think, and if you wait much longer, they could take your home away from you. If churches would follow a more biblical model of daily function there’d be many preventatives in place so that the problems would be defeated before becoming major.

    I like the idea of having a board of Elders, of which the Pastor of the individual church body is the Elder most gifted for the position, and who handle the most major issues of the church spiritual and material, a board of Deacons below the Elders who handle the material cares of the flock as they did in Scripture (not saying that they couldn’t handle spiritual situations that arose in the course of things, ’cause they must be godly individuals) then below them your Sunday school teachers, church staff, etc;

    I’m not saying that this is something commanded by Scripture or even that it is the best solution everywhere, but in my experience (not that I’m a world traveler) this has been the most satisfactory way of having someone accessible at all times to address issues that arise.

    The lines of proper communication and details would be worked out by the individual church of course, but having the pastoral head, the board of Elders to whom he is responsible even as they are responsible to him, a board of Deacons and a group of teachers, church staff and so on seems to form a great net to catch the brothers and sisters who need to be upheld.

    When there is devotion to the Truth of God’s revealed Word based on a belief in it’s accuracy gained through faith and study, an accountability structure for all involved, and a heart for seeing God’s will given flesh in the lives of people, a whole lot of petty problems can be resolved/prevented, leaving time for the leaders of the church to be exploring the depths of God’s Word and examining how it can be best carried out in the life of that particular body, and in conjunction with believers all over.

    “Do you mean we tend to not mature in our churches? If we would establish that idea, my question immediately is to say ‘why is that?’ ”

    ~I don’t want to lay that blanket on as a whole, however I do see proper discipling of believers lacking in a great many of the people I meet. In the NFL years ago a program began in which the veterans would be given a rookie to take under their “wing” in order to help him adjust to the sudden fame, influx of money, the sudden group of people who want to hang on him for his fame and how to live now that their life has been radically rearranged.

    This program came about because so many promising young players were crashing and burning simply because they did not know what to expect, and most didn’t have the personal training to handle it. The result was often drug dependancy, criminal behavior, bankruptcy and yes, death.

    Since becoming a Christian is a change not only on the outside, but the inside as well, it’s that much more important to have that mature believer around to help that baby through the early stages of growth. I am so very grateful that God placed me in a church with believers who are high on discipleship. From the day I was saved He surrounded me with people who would answer my questions, correct my misunderstandings and help me to grow.

    So many times I have seen in certain ministries that a person will be saved by Christ, and basically be told “Here’s a Bible, now go tell the world about Christ”, when the honest truth is that they don’t truly know Him yet. They don’t know what’s in the Bible yet either, and so are easy prey for Satan, the world and their own flesh.

    How many people would be following Benny Hinn if they had solid discipleship and a knowledge of the Word?

    (I am talking on and on here…I hafta fly for now but thank you for bringing up such a very important issue! I’ll be back later.)

  11. that was a meaty comment. I am going to have disruptions in my blogging, but I will try to continue this discussion. It has taken a turn -I usually handle that by posting the comment in a blog and going from there.

    Thanks for your thought process – you obviously have invested time and have much experience in this.
    I covet such additions!

  12. “Revolution” will be discussed this Friday night (2-3-06) on the nationwide Moody Broadcasting Network. “Open Line” is a call-in show which is aired at 8-8:55 pm CT. The phone number is 312-329-4460.

    For station and time of broadcast information see http://openlineradio.org.

    The programs are archived for download if you can’t tune in.

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