Pagan Christianity: Preface to the New Edition

Yesterday, George Barna and I did our first interview together since Pagan Christianity released four years ago.

Recently, Tyndale House released the paperback (softcover) edition of Pagan Christianity. I love that the softcover edition is the same size as the constructive follow-up books, Reimagining Church, From Eternity to Here, and Finding Organic Church.  So they look nice on a bookshelf. :-)

Frank Viola

After the hardcover edition of Pagan Christianity sold 100,000 copies, Tyndale sent me a special leather-bound, gold-leafed edition of the book commemorating the sales mark. This was very classy of Tyndale to do, and I wanted to thank them publicly for this thoughtful gesture.

What follows is the new preface to the softcover edition followed by a list of free resources for the book. I’m publishing the preface here because it’s so important to the conversation.

As many of you know, Pagan Christianity is not my favorite book. It’s simply a curtain raiser for my other volumes. 

Therefore, if I could wish a Christian wish, it would be that every person who has read Pagan would go on to read my most important works: From Eternity to Here, Jesus Manifesto, Revise Us Again, and Epic Jesus.

Only then will readers have a complete picture of the Christ-centered subtext that stands behind Pagan Christianity.

Here’s the new preface (I wrote it last June).

 

SINCE ITS initial release, the response to Pagan Christianity? has been electric. Cataclysmic even. During the first year of its release, debate over the book burned up the blogosphere.

It was venerated and vilified. Hailed and hammered. Commended and criticized. Some people made the interesting observation that it was the most reviewed book by those who had never read it.

Most readers, however, responded positively, saying things like, “This book articulated what I’ve been feeling about church for many years. And it gave me biblical and historical merit for those feelings.” Interestingly, George and I received countless letters from pastors saying the same thing.

Without a doubt, the book struck a chord. And a few nerves.

Because of the raft of questions and critiques we’ve received about the book, we created a FAQ page where we have responded to each question and objection. You can view that page at www.PaganChristianity.org.

Five important observations before you begin to read this softcover edition:

1. Over the last four years, Pagan Christianity? has changed the way scores of Christians understand and practice church. Many people have told us that since reading the book, they have found the freedom to question commonly accepted church traditions and to test them against the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. In addition, many organic expressions of the church have been planted all over the world. In these communities, believers are discovering the experience of the body of Christ and what it means to gather under the headship of Jesus.

2. Pagan Christianity? was never meant to be a stand-alone book. It is only part one of a conversation. Part 2 is found in the constructive sequel, Reimagining Church. Pagan deconstructs, while Reimagining constructs. They are two sides of the same argument. Consequently, reading this book alone is like hanging up after hearing only the first half of a phone conversation. The second part of that discussion (Reimagining Church) is the part where viable and biblical solutions are offered.

3. After four years of rigorous critique (and, sometimes, misrepresentation), the arguments in the book still stand. Despite the many objections that have been leveled against it, Pagan Christianity? has yet to be credibly refuted or discounted.

4. George and I wrote this book out of a profound love for the church. We also wrote out of a vision that burns within our hearts. The style of writing, therefore, is one that is intended to challenge. Some readers who aren’t used to this style of writing may misinterpret the tone to be angry. But our challenge was motivated by love and born out of many tears and a broken heart for the restoration of God’s house.

5. As you read this book, you will note that some of the common misrepresentations about it are not true. For instance, George and I do not argue for “house church” as the correct model for church. We instead point to the “organic expression of the church” (“organic church” for short), something different from a house church. We do not argue against preaching or teaching but endorse both. Yet we challenge the modern sermon on historical, biblical, and pragmatic grounds. Also, we do not believe that, just because a practice has pagan roots, it is wrong. We instead argue that those practices that contradict the teachings of Jesus and the apostles should be discarded in favor of what they taught. 

Pagan Christianity? was not written to divide the body of Christ. Instead, George and I wrote the book to encourage you to rethink your church practices in the light of Scripture and to pursue the Lord corporately in fresh and creative ways that are biblically faithful and that magnify Him. The constructive books that follow this volume are designed to help you reach those goals. Our prayer is that this book will begin to free you to experience God’s best and highest for His beloved church, just as He intended.

Frank Viola

June 2011

Answers to Questions and Objections about Pagan Christianity & Reimagining Church

Audio Interview with George Barna and Frank Viola (35 min.)

Audio Interview with George Barna and Frank Viola (68 min.)

Print Interview with George and Frank: 1

Print Interview with George and Frank: 2

Print Interview with George and Frank: 3

Print Interview with George and Frank: 4

Scholarly Debate I: Jon Zens. vs Ben Witherington III

Scholarly Debate II: Frank Viola vs. Ben Witherington III

Audio Interviews & Messages

43 Endorsements by Scholars, Historians, Pastors, and Teachers

Pastors Weigh-In on Pagan Christianity

Discussion Guide to Pagan Christianity

Sample Chapter of Pagan Christainity

Sample Chapter of Reimagining Church

Audio Chapter of Pagan Christianity

Audio Chapter of Reimagining Church

Spoof Commerical (Video)

10 Straw-Man Myths About Pagan Christianity & Reimagining Church

Why I Love the Church: In Praise of God’s Eternal Purpose

A Word to Authors – Aspiring and Actual

The Cost of Challenging the Status Quo

The Disconnect Between Eastern and Western Medicine: An Analogy

Misrepresentations

Response to Mark Driscoll

Willow Creek on Pagan Christianity

Order Pagan Christianity & Reimagining Church on Discount

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Comments

  1. Jason Hall says

    Frank,

    I want to sincerely thank you for messages in these books. The thoughts you share are challenging and changing my beliefs about Jesus, the church and my part in the body of Christ. Growing up in a denominational church and recently being a part of a charismatic church for over 12 years, your books are drawing me back to Jesus Christ. I am revived again about the deeper Christian life. For this, I am deeply grateful. Keep up the great work.

    Jason

  2. David S says

    Just read Pagan Christianity for the first time. A gift from my daughter for Christmas. I know it’s not your favorite work, but it is important in that re-educates us as to the roots of our faith in an honest and compelling manner. I don’t always agree with all of the conclusions, but the facts you detailed cannot be ignored. Kuddos for making the Church think. More importantly I appreciate your heart for the Lord Jesus. It shows in your writing. The continual restoration and renewal of His Body and His teachings are a never ending process and your work reminds us of that. I would like you to consider the possibility of offering your works for free however. I know nothing is really free, subsidized for the poor perhaps fits the thought better. but in the spirit of the Savior and the Apostles I find the “selling of Jesus” (words of Keith Green) to be the last obstacle of the institutionalized church today. It seems to me that publishers, musicians, authors, and speakers, are the new “Pastors and Priests” of the 21st century. In the New Testament the truth was presented freely and to take a profit from it appears frowned upon if not forbiden. Am I off base here? Your thoughts on this subject would be appreciated.

    • says

      David: Thx. Glad you liked the book. Be sure to read the constructive companion volume/sequel “Reimagining Church” to get the whole argument. I answer your question about makign resources free on my FAQ page. Scroll down to where it is and see my answer: http://frankviola.org/faq

      Btw/ I always smile when people say, “I don’t agree with all of your conclusions . . .” but never state what they disagree with exactly. So I’d be interested if you gave me one example and let’s see if we really disagree or not. :-) Thx. again.

  3. Jan says

    We are from South Africa, Port Elizabeth. Pagan Christianity came out on the racks in November 2012 at CUM books. I was almost knocked off my feet. Thank you Frank and your publishers for making this possible.
    Blessings to all.

  4. Mike Livi says

    After a third bad experience with church 5 years ago, I began the journey of questioning church. I found your book, Pagan Christianity. An eye opener. Now reading it with some christian friends who are experiencing disillusionment with church. Looks like a home church is now developing. My hearts desire. Did you ever consider having this book turned into a tv documentary?

    • says

      Pagan C. is incredibly (and deliberately) incomplete. It’s not a stand alone book and it can and has led to misunderstanding if read by itself. So I hope your group will also get the other side of the argument and take on “Reimagining Church,” the companion volume. Honestly, I’d be scared stiff if someone used “Pagan” on its own to start a “home church.” You’ll want to see the whole series at http://www.ReimaginingChurch.org for that project.

      I have no interest in making Pagan C. a documentary. I’d rather see “Jesus: A Theography” made into a documentary. It’s a much more important book.

  5. Dave Quinn says

    My wife is reading Pagan Christianity at the moment. She is loving it and it is really eye opening for her. I am looking forward to having a read when she is finished.

  6. says

    I have to say, Frank, that it’s at moments like this that apparent agreement looks sketchy.

    From where I’m standing that #1 looks like an embodiment of Erasmus’ worst fears (which I think were already realized before Luther even uttered “Here I stand”): that the break from apostolic authority would put a pope in every pulpit.

    If there are multiple and competing versions of what it means to discover “the experience of the body of Christ and what it means to gather under the headship of Jesus,” to what authority can I look to help me out, to help point me on toward a solid foundation of the truth?

    • says

      That sounds like the Eastern Orthodox argument and logic. Shredded by Bruce Shelley among others. If you find it convincing, you should join the EO. :-)

      I find problems with it myself. Erasmus’s “fears” are embodied in Protestantism *and* in the splits within Catholicism, the Pope notwithstanding. Bottom line: if the preface doesn’t lead you to want to read both volumes, then I would leave them alone. They’re not for you. But the answers to your fundamental questions are addressed in those volumes along with many other common objections.

      If I may: where you’re concerned in the journey right now, I don’t believe my books on the church are suited for you. You’d probably be a better candidate for Hauerwas’ work, Radical Orthodoxy, postliberalism, or even the apocolypic Barthian school of thought. My sense is that these are better tooled for where you’re at right now, given your attraction to “mindy” expressions of the Christian faith. :-)

      There is one volume I have coming out later this year, however, that I think you’ll appreciate. We’ll see.

      • says

        I appreciate that response, Frank. Thanks for the taking the time to make it. Btw, I don’t have the patience for Radical Orthodoxy—it sounds like gibberish to me!

        • says

          Lol. Well, Milbank, Jamie Smith, et. al are “mindy” like you are. ;-) I appreciate “the economy of the gift” being emphasized by that camp. I think that’s a valuable insight.

    • says

      Chris,

      Authority has been a problem for Protestant Christians over the years, that’s for sure.

      For us, the authority comes from the Word…alone.

      It is the gospel Word (law and gospel) which creates faith in people.

      Far too many Christians have turned the Bible into a paper-Pope, and the inability of Christians to recognize and distinguish the proper uses of the law, and the gospel, is a big problem today.

      My 2 cents.

      Thanks.

  7. William Timmers says

    Cool, I wish I have that paperback! I got that in Kindle a while ago, I wonder will that be updated to include updated Preface in the Kindle Edition?

  8. says

    I was surprised to learn that this was not your favorite book. As with what some of the others wrote, this book really liberated me to think differently about church. Prior to reading this book, I had feelings that something was wrong, but this book confirmed much of what I was feeling.

    • says

      Thanks. Yes, I realize it’s had that effect on many people. Perhaps an analogy will help to explain why it’s not my favorite book by far.

      There’s an old house that has cracks in the foundation. Step 1 is to torch the house down to the ground. Step 2 is to build something beautiful in its place. “Pagan Christianity” is like step 1. The others are like step 2. Torching down a house isn’t my favorite thing to do, and there’s nothing constructive about it. The other books seeks to build something beautiful and glorious. My ministry and heart is far more constructive than it is deconstructive. While PC may change a person’s view, the other books have been said to change people’s lives.

  9. Jason Guinasso says

    While Pagan Christianity is not your “favorite book,” for me, it has been the gateway drug to all of your other books, blogs and podcasts. Your work makes my heart yearn to know Jesus and to express His life in new and unexpected ways. Thank you for all you do to serve Christ and His bride.

  10. says

    I should have carried a case of this book with me to Uganda. Pastors are asking me for a copy. Haven’t found it in a book store here yet. The book is opening eyes to what many people always felt deep in their hearts. Thanks Frank.

  11. Don says

    Brother,

    If I may make an observation. I’m guessing it was humbling, difficult, and exhilarating to be a part of the robust discussion and debate surrounding Pagan Christianity?. I can promise you that this work was eye opening and revolutionary in my walk with Christ and my views regarding “the Church.” It also blew open the floodgates with many others in my circle regarding discourse over the case you present, and whether or not we agreed, we certainly all grew. 

    However, here is my observation. I recognize that I may be way off base here, so take it for what it’s worth. It seems, based on some of your interviews, blog posts, and comments that you spend a lot of time apologizing (or stopping just short of doing so) for certain aspects of the book. My guess is that this comes from the often brutal nature of the attacks sent your way. A man can only take so much of that without being humbled to some degree. But regardless, I get that sense. 

    And to be honest, I don’t really like it. You shouldn’t apologize for anything in that book, exclamation points or anything else. Even without Reimagining Church (or any of your other works), Pagan Christianity? is eye-opening, discussion-fueling, and revolution-starting. I find it hard to believe that anyone who actually reads it would be driven away from Christ. If a person agrees with it, they gain new insight and learn to ask questions and seek God in a way that might be more authentic for them; if a person disagrees, they feel more convicted about their current ways of practicing their faith and seek God more deeply in those ways. Either way, it’s a win. 

    Now, I recognize (and have experienced) that some readers might experience a certain level of angst after reading the book. But again, I don’t think this is a bad thing. It is merely the first step of a personal paradigm shift, and is therefore healthy. Angst isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I am thankful daily for the angst felt by Paul, Jesus, Martin Luther, and others throughout history. Sometimes we need to have a fire lit beneath us to get us to move. 

    So there are my $0.02. Fall in love with Pagan Christianity? again, Frank. I love and have read your other books, so I know what you are saying about the overarching mission you are on and what you are trying to present. But re-embrace the original for what it is and what it has meant to people. 

    If you actually read this, thanks. 

    -Don

    • says

      Thanks for sharing, Don. I’ve never apologized for the book – I am glad I wrote it and am happy that God chose to distribute it in ways that exceeded my imagination, not to mention the countless people it’s helped.

      But I would be lying if I didn’t answer the question about what could have been better, saying that I wish I have had more Q and A and not as many exclamation points (given the way people read them today), and more talk about the follow-up.

      I regard humility to be an aspect of Jesus Christ and never want to get to the place where I think my work is flawless. To me, that would be a scary place to be, and pride in other servants of God leaves me cold.

      So I find your comment really interesting. Most people (who like the book as you do) have appreciated my openness about how it could have been better if I were to write it again and that I don’t consider myself or my work to be the best thing since sliced bread, yet at the same time holding to my integrity that I stand by every word of the book.

  12. Robyn G says

    It’s a little amusing to me that one of the most impactful books I’ve ever read, aside from God’s Word itself, isn’t one of your favorites…I’m smiling…but I guess sometimes opening the wound, ripping off the bandage, isn’t always a pleasant memory…I promise I am going to move forward into your other works this summer…I’m so grateful for “new skins” that come after exposure and healing :)

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