A friend handed me a copy of this book, which basically suggests that Christians need not belong to a local church, and that to do so is empowering. There is a review of it all here.
I’m committed to read all the way through it, but I have some questions after only 30 pages.
To me, it smells of brimstone. Let me explain.
One of the things that I am forced to do when browsing online is to see atheist literature, and I always notice their flaws. These items always rely on tricking the reader, combined with flattering him for his knowingness in “seeing through” that which he does not wish to believe anyway. After a while, you learn to spot the points at which the writer switches the meaning of a word, or deliberately confuses two things together. So I tend to read all books with an eye for these tricks.
Few are aware that the devil puts out books from time to time, which are supposedly designed to help Christians but in reality are designed to deconvert them. The authors, indeed, may not be aware of what they are doing, or may have no such intention. That isn’t the point.
I have a feeling that putting out these books is a standard Satanic ploy. But I haven’t researched it enough to know. Here are a few ideas, off the top of my head.
Tertullian ca. 215 AD references a similar idea in the opening words of “Adversus Praxean”.
Manifold are the ways in which the devil has sought to undermine the truth. He is now trying to crush it, by pretending to defend it.
Some will remember John Robinson’s “Honest to God” from the 1960’s, in the middle of the permissive revolution, which apparently convinced many that abandoning Christianity was the right thing to do, and that they should go off and indulge in the vices being promoted in that period.
Others may remember Dave Tomlinson’s “The post-evangelical”. Now I don’t know what effect that had in general, but I do remember a girl who was tottering in her faith being recommended it, and losing her faith and her morals immediately afterwards, and indeed worse followed. She at least thought that the book helped her along the road to ruin.
Knowing that such things exist, and that the devil really does want Christians not to go to church, I have a feeling that “Revolution” may well be one of these nasty items.
You see, I notice that the first 30 pages consist almost entirely of flattery of the reader. There were a number of points at which he attributes specifically to his “revolutionaries”, for no apparent reason, things which are generally true of all Christians, as if to suggest that not going to church is the only way to Salvation. He doesn’t actually say that; but the reader is led to believe it. God doesn’t use these techniques, but Satan does.
Now I have no idea how much “tricky” literature most of us get to read, but I thought that I would put people on their guard. I’m not writing the book off; but something is not right here. We’ll see what the remainder of the book looks like.
UPDATE: Well, I’ve read the rest of it. And … it doesn’t contain an argument. It really does not. Instead it relies on the methods of persuasion familiar to us from advertising: show us something, use loaded language to suggest sub-rationally that it must be good, bark a bit at the “fuddy-duddies” who try to resist, and adopt a tone of piety. The purpose, remember, is to say that not bothering with church is a good thing, or at least an indifferent thing; but he doesn’t actually say so directly.
I’m a simple soul. If someone wants to persuade me of something, I want to see his argument, laid out fair and square with no weasel-words or loaded language, and the evidence for it. Then I can evaluate his case. When an author doesn’t do this, I get mighty suspicious.
The proposition of the book seems to be that (a) millions of US Christians are abandoning the churches, (b) they call themselves — or he calls them (he is vague on this) — revolutionaries (no loaded language, then), (c) abandoning the local church is a good thing (nowhere stated, contradicted at least once, but inferred throughout), (d) if you abandon the church you will be moving positively forward with God (despite bit tacked on the front portraying, as an alternative, a backslider), and (e) if you try to resist, you must be deficient or angry or threatened (recognise the ad hominem argument in this, and the attempt at emotional manipulation of a reluctant reader who senses something is wrong but not what).
The reader is led to suppose — it isn’t stated — that this is all happening, therefore it must be good. I’m sure we all recognise the classic fallacy of “this happens=this is right”. Quite a lot of things happen, in the way of trends, which are disastrously wrong. I admit to utter disinterest as to whether “millions” (who counted them? did they fill in a form?) of Americans are all now Barna-ian “Revolutionaries” (do they all get vetted for quality? By whom?), or indeed whether they all dance the hokey-cokey. In matters to do with God, I want to know whether something is right, not whether it is popular. And this question is simply not addressed.
Throughout the book plays fast and loose with the reader, by talking about things that every Christian should expect, as if they are only things that people who don’t go to church can experience. This is very naughty.
It’s filled with great quantities of irrelevant material. I want to see the argument; I want to see the evidence. Instead I find things like chapter 5 (Spiritual transitions in the making) which has no apparent relevance to the question at all. Likewise the material in chapter 6 (God is active today) is true, whether or not going to a local church is a good idea, a bad idea, or the kernel idea for a mini-series on NBC about mud-wrestling. In other words, it’s irrelevant to the thesis being advanced.
One element of Chapter 6 amused me, cynic that I am. Barna suggests starting on p.53 that “mini-movements” are important, and show how obsolete the church is getting. But … they’re so important that he only describes them in one sentence on p.54! I was left wondering what he was on about. Clearly they are NOT important to him! If he was enthusiastic about them, he’d have said more. Based on number of words devoted to each, this said to me that it is getting rid of the local church that matters, not whatever these mini-movements might be.
Let’s step back a bit. It is absolutely right to notice that some committed Christians get bored with their local churches, and tend to stop going. Many of them remain fervently committed to Christ. It would be a very good thing to find some way to linking these up in such a way that they can get fellowship in whatever ways work for them. Local churches certainly can be awful places. We can all agree on this.
But … Barna’s book goes a very long way beyond this. A reasonable reader will suppose that the local church is actually a barrier to spiritual development. The book seems designed to inculcate this message. The object is to get Christians to think that they are moving forward with God, simply by sitting at home on Sunday morning (for no concrete proposals are offered for anything else). And that is not merely nonsense — it seems pretty clear whose agenda that statement serves. It isn’t God’s, of that we may be sure.
I find myself rather angry, in truth. This is not an honest book, in my opinion. It’s a piece of contrived poison. How on earth did a Christian publisher put this out? Have they no duty to their readers?
I fear that George Barna has unwittingly acted as an agent for Hell here. If so, of course, he needs our prayers.