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Revolution Hardcover – February 28, 2006
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From the Back Cover
Millions of believers have moved beyond the established church . . . and have chosen to be the church instead.
Research by renowned pollster George Barna points to a hidden revolution―one that will impact every Christian believer in America. Millions of committed Christ followers, looking for more of God, have stopped attending church on Sunday mornings. Why are they leaving? Where are they going? And what does this mean for the future of the church?
In this groundbreaking book, Barna examines the state of the church today―and compares it to the biblical picture of the church as God intended it to be. He documents how and why a new band of devout “Revolutionaries” is abandoning the local church building while attempting to become the church that Christ commissioned us to be.
Revolution will challenge you with
Maybe you’re afraid of the changes to come. Maybe you’ve been waiting for this moment to arrive. Either way, the Revolution is here.
--This text refers to the Audible Audiobook edition.
About the Author
George Barna is the founder and directing leader of The Barna Group, Ltd., a California-based company that offers primary research and strategic assistance related to cultural assessment and transformation, faith dynamics and leadership development. Barna's firm has worked with hundreds of clients since its inception in 1984, ranging from Disney, Prudential, Ford, and Visa to numerous churches and denominations, the Billy Graham Association, World Vision, Campus Crusade for Christ, Focus on the Family, Prison Fellowship, and American Bible Society. He writes the popular biweekly Barna Update regarding his current research related to faith and cultural dynamics, available at [www.barna.org]. --This text refers to the Audible Audiobook edition.
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George Barna is one of the most listened to voices in the organized and institutional church for the past 25 years. This is evidenced by the sale of his many books as well as the multitude of references to his books by other authors. He has been a featured speaker in many venues. His articles have appeared in almost every major contemporary journal and magazine. I know as a young pastor beginning in the late 1980's that it was almost impossible to have a meaningful discussion of the state of the church and the perceived needs and future of the local church without being aware of what George Barna had to say about the demographics and psychographics of North American society. Barna's research and insights combined with the Church Growth movement headed by C. Peter Wagner and John Wimber was foundational for churches and pastors of all bents and persuasions to practically prepare and respond to the emerging trends in society. Many churches used a lot of what Barna had to say to respond with marketing and programming within their local churches and even denominations to attempt to stay ahead of the curves that Barna was identifying as relevant. What is more, many of those efforts succeeded; at least by the measure of "butts in seats" and revenues to the church or organization that are typically cited and sought as practically necessary at an organizational level.
George Barna, however, equipped with the ability to observe and assess the changes that were taking place over time, ironically based in part on his input and counsel to churches, saw something that deeply disturbed him. These changes in numbers and revenues while encouraging to the immediate organizations experiencing them, were not in turn having much impact upon society. Measures of things like divorce and a biblical world view were statistically indistinguishable from society at large. Despite that fact that Barna had built a very successful business and presence upon the observations and counsel he had given and could continue to give without interruption, Barna did something that humanly makes little sense. Barna decided to ask the question of himself, if what he was doing was meaningful and right.
This lead him on a journey that cost him. His going to the New Testament to ask if the church structure and practice that his work was supporting was Biblical was counter-intuitive to many of his own best interests. Yet in doing so, he came to the conclusion that something was seriously, seriously wrong and what is more he could no longer directly contribute to the success of that system. He took his successful firm of over 100 employees and cut and restructured it to 8 employees and then began speaking out and writing about his observations.
Further, Barna became aware that far from being unique in his observations and concerns he was part of a large and growing group of people who felt the same way and were either leaving the institutional church or who had never been a part of it in the first place and were deliberate in their choice not to be, because they saw the institutional church in many regards, not as a neutral factor but one which would actually be negative to their spiritual walk and growth. Further, when Barna applied the measures he had to the typical institutional church in comparison to society it became apparent that these "revolutionaries" were walking in a manner that made a difference in their own lives as well as the lives of those with whom they came in contact.
Revolution, is Barna's statement. More than that, it is his declaration of separation from that which had previously defined him. Not only is he speaking of the revolution, he is declaring himself to be a revolutionary.
That said about the author, the book itself is remarkably brief and targeted. A natural criticism from this, especially from those threatened by and reacting to what Barna has to say is that it is "too" brief and not documented "enough." However, this book is not simply an academic or theological treatise. It is more of a heart cry and explanation as to why this change has taken place.
Themes presented within the book include an examination of revolution as historically observed, as well as the reaction to the establishment. A definition of success by what God expects as opposed to what is humanly or socially feasible lays a foundation for additional interactions with what Barna observes of how the local church is doing, what transitions are taking place and what is taking place outside the context of the local church. Building upon these themes Barna presents the alternatives to traditional institutional churches that are emerging from these trends. Implicit within these observation and then explicitly tied in is strong speculation as to what parallels most strongly with the message and style of ministry that Jesus exemplified. The book then moves quickly to conclude with what the revolution looks like today and gives a good prediction of how some will respond to this message, including those who used to sing Barna's praises so effusively but now see him as a traitor and heretic for abandoning the cause of their institution.
However, lest this approach be seen as all negative, Barna makes some strong statements as to how local church can see and respond to these factors and in doing so, Barna reveals that while his heart has been moved in such a way that he has ceased formal association, he has neither abandoned those fellow revolutionaries who still remain and work within and through the local church.
Coming late to this party as I mention, I have the benefit as well of being able to see some developments since that time. In particular, the criticisms wielded against Barna as to his qualifications to speak to these issues. Surprisingly, some of those very people who used to sing Barna's praises and invite him to speak and write to their accolades, with the change in opinion have now decided that Barna is "just a market researcher" and not qualified to address these "weighty issues" of ecclesiology and theology. This despite the fact that in addition to Barna's extensive training in this area he is also trained at Dallas Theological Seminary.
For those however who have concerns and want to see in plainer language the ecclesiology and theology upon which much of this movement is built. Barna has coupled with Frank Viola in a subsequent book Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices and then Viola goes on his own to write Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity. These stand in response to the charges that Barna is simply seeking to tear down and not build up. Those responding most vehemently appear to have confused the institutional church (little c) with the Church universal (big C) and to have presumed that God's plans and purposes can't be accomplished without their help or their model.
In conclusion, whether a reader agrees with all Barna has to say going into the book or coming out, Barna cannot be ignored. Those who listened so hard and so long to what he had to say to build the institution of the local church in the past, owe it to themselves to hear what he has to say now and why.
5 Stars. A must read!
Additional books to read in this genre include: The Cost of Discipleship Roaring Lambs Truly the Community: Romans 12 and How to Be the Church Restoring the early church A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey Christ and Culture (Torchbooks) Megashift: Igniting Spiritual Power Too Christian, Too Pagan: How to Love the World Without Falling For It Church in Emerging Culture: Five Perspectives Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity From Eternity to Here: Rediscovering the Ageless Purpose of God
I come from an areligious background. That has been advantageous in that I don't have emotional baggage that keeps me bonded and protective of a certain theological model of the church local or Church universal. I am pretty free to evolve with G-d's plan for planet earth. But I do have certain Biblical convictions that I think that Mr Barna is missing in this book.
I'm not sure of Mr Barna's theological studies and background, but this text seems to major in Biblical references to explicit passages about what the church is and isn't. There's a whole lot of implicit teaching that leads down a different path in describing church polity.
In Mr Barna's vision of how the "revolution" is unfolding, he sees the majority of the "revolutionaries" operating outside of the historical church structure. Yet, much of the New Testament teaching on that structure is taught based on an understanding of what it already was in Jewish tradition. And that tradition was the synagogue.
Next, Paul teaches about deacons and elders. Jesus taught in Matthew 18 about how to handle the sinfully rebellious. None of that teaching is possible in Mr Barna's "open structure" of the local church.
Letters from Paul and the other New Covenant writers don't make sense with Mr Barna's lack of any structure in his vision of what the church should be. All of life has organization and rules. The local church is no different.
I'm sympathetic with Barna's vision of what the church is and should be. I can't argue with his thesis in any way when we examine where we are, and where we need to be. I agree that present church denominational setup and control can militate against the evolution he prophesies. But I don't agree with throwing the baby out with the bath water.
How can I be accountable to other brethren unless there are those who are officially recognized as having the giftings who can disciple me? Where are the elders who can lay hands on those they recognize are called to certain ministries as the elders laid hands on Paul and sent him out? Where are those who have a depth of Scriptural knowledge that can keep His people from straying into cultish behavior?
Stepping outside the established church may in some cases be the right thing to do. It's very difficult to "build on someone else's foundation." If my local congregation isn't operating in a Biblical manner to achieve the objectives that Barna is advocating, the I would suggest it's time to move, but I would stop short of moving to a group of people that don't have the structures in place to to effect the Scriptural model of a local congregation.
If I had any recommendations for George Barna, it would be to examine what I call the "missing theology." What is missing in the local congregation is COMMUNITY LIFE. Much of what George Barna is describing is that which can't possibly be accomplished unless an intimacy between believers is established that is much more than "hello's" and "good-bye's" that are built around the Sunday morning services. Little in the New Testament can be operationally applied and lived without a serious community life that forces believers to be accountable to one another. Without community life, I can't confess my sins "one to another," and find the healing that James suggests is available in the Body dynamic.
A simplistic viewpoint? Yes. But relationships are not simple. Relationship is the basic Biblical teaching on which all other theologies depend. Relationship on the vertical and the horizontal is why G-d sent His Messiah to save us, so to reconcile us to one another, and to Him. Only a return to the realities of relationship will accomplish what George Barna is looking for. Barna has the right answers, but it appears that his questions need to be reframed.
With these caveats in place, I heartily recommend this book.