Anyone who has carefully read Pagan Christianity and Reimagining Church (both published in 2008) knows that the following ten statements are false. We state so much in the books themselves and in other places such as the Answers to Objections page.
Nevertheless, it’s been rightly observed that if an argument cannot be refuted on its own ground, applying a blow-torch to straw man city is the only option for dismissing it, despite the fact that this technique is deceptive and intellectually dishonest.
(One pastor was fed some of these falsehoods by his leadership team along with some others I didn’t list. As a result, he didn’t read Pagan Christianity for a long time. When he finally did read the book, he told me it changed his life. A remark I’m always humbled and surprised by.)
Proverbs 18:17 says, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (ESV).
We hope that this list helps to separate fact from fiction.
Myth #1. Barna and Viola believe that if a practice was invented by a pagan, it’s bad and shouldn’t be observed.
Truth: This statement is not only false, but it’s just plain silly. If we believed this, we wouldn’t be using computers or blogs. Barna and I argue against this idea in the beginning of Pagan Christianity, citing pile carpets, chairs, and our Western calendar as examples of things that were created by pagans, but are useful and approved today. What we are arguing in the book is that many practices that countless Christians deem to be biblical did not originate with Jesus or the apostles, but instead, with the Greco-Romans, thus they are not sacrosanct. Secondly, some of these practices contradict the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, thus they should be discarded in favor of what Jesus and the apostles actually taught (much of which is ignored today). See also page xxix in the free sample of Pagan Christianity.
Myth #2. Barna and Viola don’t believe in preaching.
Truth: We not only believe in preaching, but in both books we clearly talk about the importance of preaching, teaching, exhorting, and prophesying. In addition, George and I practice these things. However, in Pagan Christianity, we distinguish New Testament preaching, teaching, exhorting, and prophesying from the modern sermon. They are not the same.
Myth #3. Barna and Viola promote “house church” as the only correct model for church.
Truth: We do not. I’ve stated numerous times in my other books, audios, and my blog, that I’m not an advocate of house church. Instead, I advocate the “organic expression of the church,” which is the church we find in the New Testament. In Pagan Christianity, Barna and I actually state that house church and organic church are not the same. Reimagining Church does the same.
Myth #4. Barna and Viola believe that God doesn’t use the institutional church and never has.
Truth: We believe that God has and is using all forms of church, even those that He doesn’t approve. This point is stated in both books.
Myth #5. Barna and Viola are against pastors and believe that God doesn’t use pastors.
Truth: In Pagan Christianity, we assert that the ministry of the shepherd/overseer/elder is in fact biblical and continues today. Our point is that the modern office/role of pastor has little in common with the shepherd of the first century. Despite this fact, we state clearly our belief that most pastors are good men/women who love God. And the Lord is using them despite that we believe the form of the office isn’t derived from Scripture. In addition, George and I have good friends who are pastors, some of whom we have co-worked with recently in different capacities.
Myth #6. Barna and Viola believe that 2,000 years of church history has been wrong on every count.
Truth: Not so. We acknowledge that there have been many helpful discoveries over the last two thousand years in the Body of Christ. I state this again in From Eternity to Here and use the gold vessels of the temple that were taken to Babylon as an example. Yet like the Reformers and (more closely) the Radical Reformers, we believe that the church is still in need of radical reform and restoration. And God still wishes to fulfill His Eternal Purpose concerning it.
Myth #7. Barna and Viola are against “church” and believe that folks shouldn’t be part of a believing community.
Truth: Nothing could be further from the truth. We state in Pagan Christianity that we wrote the book precisely because we love the church. Also, in both books, we argue our belief that local, face-to-face community is God’s perfect will for all believers, and it is the Christian’s native habitat. In this regard, both books do not advocate the post-church perspective. However, depending on the spiritual season one finds themselves in, face-to-face community can be extremely difficult to locate, and so “post-church” expressions may be all that’s available to a believer. But from the New Testament perspective, we don’t believe its the ideal, and the good should never become the enemy of the best.
Myth #8. Barna and Viola believe that the first-century churches were perfect and we should imitate everything they did just as they did them.
Truth: We believe no such thing. The early church had many problems. However, despite the problems it had, the principles that guided the early church were often much closer to what Jesus and the apostles taught than what we have on the earth today. In addition, we stand with those early church practices which fleshed out the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. My book Reimagining Church goes into this in great detail and contextualizes those practices for our 21st-century context.
Myth #9. Barna and Viola believe that a church must meet in a house to be legitimate.
Truth: We never assert that the church must meet in a house. In Reimagining Church, I argue that the idea that says a church must always meet in a home is specious and without biblical merit.
Myth #10. Barna and Viola don’t believe in any kind of church leadership.
Truth: We believe very strongly in leadership. Almost half of Reimagining Church is dedicated to the subject. However, we believe that the hierarchical form of leadership and the concept of a single, CEO-type leader in the house of God is unbiblical and contrary to Divine life. And Jesus Himself taught directly against it. In Pagan Christianity, we trace where this form of leadership came from and how it became absorbed by Christians.
Four Closing Points
1. Pagan Christianity is not a stand-alone book. It’s only the deconstructive, first part. If someone reads it, they’ve only heard the first half of the argument. Reimagining Church is the constructive sequel and gives the second half. It discusses the issue of contextualization and culture in detail. Both books go together. One is not complete without the other.
2. Neither “Pagan” nor “Reimagining” are my most important books. I regard my most important to be God’s Favorite Place on Earth, From Eternity to Here and Jesus Manifesto. Those books present the motivation and grand theme that stands behind all my other work.
3. If you know anyone who has critiqued these books using any of the 10 straw-man myths listed above, by all means, invite them onto this blog to a civil debate with me. I’d be more than happy to dialogue with them. Of course, this assumes that you can actually comment on their review. If their negative review doesn’t allow comments, that speaks volumes. The attitude of “don’t confuse me with the facts” isn’t a Christian one as it only perpetuates false information. As always, I could be wrong in what I’ve written, but we won’t really know unless we dialogue.
4. Finally, take a look at the spoof video. It’s in the spirit of “agree with your adversaries.” 🙂
For more details, see . . .