Thursday, April 23, 2009

George Barna as pastor and theologian (Part 1)

A big thanks to Brad Buhro who gave me a link to Dr. Oord’s article (click to read it) on entire sanctification that helps one understand Dr. Leth’s article and what he is trying to do and say. Sounds like a battle of the theologians is brewing in our Denomination over this. Assembly this summer could be interesting.

I had a chance a month ago to sit down and read Revolution by George Barna (It's a pretty popular book on Amazon and readers think pretty positively about it). You are probably familiar with the many stats you hear from George Barna's research group. So, what happens when Barna stops surveying churches and becomes pastor and theologian?

I just finished learning about something in education known as Frankena’s Boxes (click to see a list of his books). It’s a great tool for evaluating the content and message of a book. Frankena set these five boxes up as a visual way to explain why we do what we do (our philosophy). You start with the Ultimate Box (your goal/mission/vision go here) and move to the Direction Box (what you will do because of what your goal/mission/vision) to the Routine Box (specific things you will do). Along with this you have the Nature Box (what you believe the nature of things to be) and Education Box (how you believe people learna and grow). I’m going to use Frankena's Boxes here to evaluate and critique the philosophy of ministry in this book (I’ve divided this critique up into 2 parts so it won’t be quite as long).

Book Summary
In a nutshell, the book describes a coming revolution, something as great at the Reformation (according to Barna), that will forever change the Church and the church. Barna defines the Church (capital C) as all believers in Jesus Christ, including those that don’t attend or participate in a local church. He defines the church (small c) as the local congregation-based faith experiences which involve formal structure, a hierarchy of leadership, and a specific group of believers. This revolution, according to Barna, is coming to both the Church and church whether we like it or not. We can either change our local churches to adapt to it or we can resist it and watch our local churches whither and die.

Ultimate Box
What is driving George to write a book like this? Every philosophy of ministry has an ultimate that is directing and guiding it. For George, that ultimate is found on page 30, “Every human being was created by God primarily to know Him, love Him, and serve Him. All other activity is superfluous.” This sounds good, right? I mean who wouldn’t say a loud, “Amen!” to this if they heard it from the mouth of their preacher? Barna continues on page 39, “Do whatever it takes to get closer to God and to help others do the same. Obliterate any obstacle that prevents you from honoring God with every breath you take.” We would probably say an even louder, “Amen!!!” to this and maybe cheer. However, a closer examination at where this philosophy leads reveals the cake isn’t as good as the colorful and pretty icing.

Nature Box
The nature box is what we believe about certain things (e.g., what is the nature of the church? Man? The Gospel?). It also includes the cultural and social influences and settings. In this book the nature of the church (both capital C and small c) is greatly expounded upon. I believe that it is here, the nature box, that George makes his greatest mistakes. To help clarify my reasoning for believing that, here is what George believes about the nature of the Church and church:

Nature of the church
- The church (small c) is man-made and unnecessary for believers. It was created not by God, but by religious leaders centuries ago.
- Only one of God’s many instruments, a mechanism according to Barna (p.36), to bring us closer to Him.
- An abiblical idea (not addressed in Scripture) according to Barna (p.37).
- Nature of the Church
- The Church (capital C) consists of all believers in Jesus Christ who have professed Him as Christ and have a lifestyle to back it up.

Barna suggest looking to the book of Acts (2:42-47, 4:31-35, Acts 5) for answers to this question. In summary there are seven characteristics George gives to the First Century Church: Intimate Worship, Faith-based Conversations, Intentional Spiritual Growth, Servanthood, Resource Investment, Spiritual Friendships, and Family Faith.

Nature of humans
- In need of Christ and others to hold them accountable and help spur on growth.
- Not made to do this alone.
- Possess a sinful nature and will be sinners until death.

I thought George did a terrible job of trying to be discrete in his overtly obvious attempts to bash the local church and get us to drift away from it to something better. I thought his beliefs about the nature of the church were confusing at best and heresy at worst. Believing that our local churches are just man-made institutions leads to horrible conclusions (i.e., you don’t need it to grow spiritually or to mature in the faith; you’re ok if you don’t attend). As a matter of fact, George seems to indicate you are probably better off without the local church.

George seems to have missed the rest of the New Testament’s teachings on the local church and the role it played in shaping believers. The local church is the Body of Christ on Earth. It’s not the entire Body, but it is His manifestation of it in a particular town/city. George does not get this, but sees the church as an obstacle to true growth in Christ. Even the apostle Paul, on his many missionary journeys, was trying as hard as he could to establish local churches in the cities he visited. He even wanted them to contribute to each other (i.e. Ephesus) and hold each other accountable for meeting together on a regular basis.

This is where George’s philosophy of ministry gets dangerous. He says he has studied the Church of the New Testament but his presuppositions regarding the local church have tainted his findings. Instead of seeing local churches being established by Christians all over the Roman Empire, he shuts his eyes to this tedious work and concentrates on just the characteristics of believers.

Next week we'll examine his direction, routines, and education boxes.

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