January 16, 2006
George Barna's New Book 2: Defining the Debate
The review's subtitle, "George Barna wants commitment to the local congregation to sink lower than ever," is inaccurate. It was added by an editor after my last read of the copy and does not represent the book's views or my understanding of those. It would be accurate to instead say, "George Barna predicts commitment to the local congregation will sink lower than ever." Or it might be accurate to say, "George Barna is not overly concerned about declining commitment to the traditional local congregation, given that the traditional local congregation has not effectively produced mature disciples."
A second editorial change made just before printing is likewise inaccurate. I originally wrote, "Barna's early books (he's written more than 35) promoted Marketing the Church and The Power of Vision, so many perceived him as an ally of the megachurch. But in Revolution, his support for fluid movements and his direct challenge of a statement often used by Bill Hybels (?The local church is the hope of the world') make him now seem an ally of the emergent church." But in the printed copy the final phrase changed to "?make him now seem a foe of the congregation."
That's not fair to Barna. As I read Revolution, I don't take George to be a foe of the congregation. He predicts its decline; and he welcomes "spiritual mini-movements" that may or may not involve believers in the local church; and as he says, "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)." That does not, however, make him "a foe of the local congregation," and I regret that those words were inserted.
So if you're looking for someone to dislike George, I'm not it. In fact, I should add that I'm a phone friend of Tom Black, a key leader for the Barna organization and a major influence on the book. (As you might guess, Tom doesn't agree with my take on the book. He was expecting this kind of objection but says that so far he's gotten positive feedback.)
Since the review was posted, many have sent me email, hailing me as a genius or decrying me as an idiot. Among the latter, one pastor felt I had defended the traditional, institutional, programmatic church and attacked the nontraditional, organic, house church. In subsequent emails with him, I explained that I have nothing against house churches and fully support them as a model.
I'm a defender of church, local church, but not of buildings and programs. I view church this way:
(a) traditional church: building, staff, programs.
(b) nontraditional church/house church: as long as these efforts are (i) local, (ii) have eldering/shepherding/overseeing in some form, (iii) preach the gospel, (iv) share the sacraments, I love and respect what's happening and recognize that many of them realize the potential of the local congregation as much as or more than model (a) above.
(c) do-it-yourself "church": the individual says, "I determine what will fulfill me spiritually" and floats from conference to small group to listening to sermons on his or her iPod. The person is not involved in a regular local gathering, not under someone's eldering/shepherding/overseeing, is not sharing the sacraments. This last option, unlike the first two, will prove to be a dead-end for spiritual development and kingdom expansion.
Bottom line: I oppose (c), but don't read that as opposition to (b).