George Barna's New Book: Revolutionary or Revolting?

The blogosphere has offered plenty o' chatter on George Barna's latest book, Revolution. For favorable comment, read my occasional-email-pal Andrew Jones (full disclosure: the Tall Skinny Kiwi once named me "Best Emerging Critic Ever"). For unfavorable comment, read Sam Storms or the re-posts by Kevin Michael Cawley (full disclosure: I ate lunch with Sam once and agreed with virtually everything he said, which must make him wise).

In my review in Christianity Today, I first tried to summarize the book's thesis:

Storm the barricades! According to researcher George Barna, we're in the midst of a "spiritual revolution that is reshaping Christianity, personal faith, corporate religious experience, and the moral contours of the nation."

Who's leading the coup d'?tat? Some 20 million people, dubbed Revolutionaries, who live "a first-century lifestyle based on faith, goodness, love, generosity, kindness, and simplicity" and who "zealously pursue an intimate relationship with God."

If true, this is amazing news, the best for American Christians in generations. But before we break out the party poppers, we should note that, like every revolution, this one has a loser: the local church.

Unlike the Great Awakenings, which brought people into the church, this new movement "entails drawing people away from reliance upon a local church into a deeper connection with and reliance upon God." Already "millions of believers have stopped going to church," so Barna expects that in 20 years "only about one-third of the population will rely upon a local congregation as the primary or exclusive means for experiencing and expressing their

faith." Down will go the number of churches, donations to churches, and the cultural influence of churches.

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 boundaries for church involvement, but they don't seem hard to get over.

Barna illustrates with two fictional characters who "eliminated church life from their busy schedules." Why? They did not find a ministry "that was sufficiently stimulating" and "their church, although better than average, still seems flat." Too bad for the lowly local church that people today insist on "unique, highly personalized church experiences."

So where are the Revolutionaries going? To "mini-movements" such as home schooling, house churches, Bible studies at work, and Chris Tomlin worship concerts. What matters is a godly life, so "if a local church facilitates that kind of [godly] life, then it is good. And if a person is able to live a godly life outside of a congregation-based faith, then that, too, is good."

January 11, 2006