Revolutionary? Revolution: Worn Out on the Church? Finding Vibrant Faith Beyond the Walls of the Sanctuary

This book is about a paradigm shift that is causing, according to George Barna, “the biggest revolution of our time.” That may be a bit of an overstatement, but what does he mean? “Droves of committed believers are foregoing Sunday mornings to live a 24/7 faith unfettered by the clutter and bureaucracy within the church walls.”

Who should read this book and why? It should be read by pastors and other church leaders who have responsibility to lead the church in a manner that will serve God’s purpose to this generation in the hopes that the rising generation will have a clear understanding and commitment to God’s Word in their daily lives.

Why should we read a book that will appear to beat up on the local church? Because whether we like it or not, we are going through a transition where many who profess to be Bible believing Christians are seeing the church as a hindrance to their spiritual lives. We need to understand what the “revolutionaries” as Barna calls them are saying and why they are saying it. If there is merit in what they are saying about the local church, then it is a sad commentary on how we arrived at this state. This book should be read but with much discernment and carefulness.

He says that he wrote Revolution first to inform people of the radical changes that are reshaping the church and where things are headed. Second, to help “revolutionaries” gain a better understanding of themselves. Third, to encourage people who are struggling with their place in the Kingdom. He further writes that Revolution is designed to advance the Church with a capital “C” and redefine the local church.

He describes the seven passions of those he labels “revolutionaries,” whom he defines as genuine believers who may or may not attend with any regularity church services but eagerly want to advance the Kingdom of God. They want more from God than they are finding in the church. Barna claims that they want to serve Christ every minute of their lives but the local church is keeping them from developing in that direction. Barna further explains that this spiritual revolution is in step with today’s cultural context. I’ll proceed to underscore some of Barna’s main points and make some evaluative comments at the end. Read both parts!

Barna says that one of the startling things about these revolutionaries is that they want to return to a first century lifestyle based on faith, goodness, love, generosity and other “quaint” values. They are not satisfied to play the religious games and go with the flow. They want to look to God’s Word for guidance and not the church. And by large they are unimpressed with the local church because the people involved are really not demonstrating the spiritual fruits that should transform their lives.

He lists what he has identified as seven passions of the revolutionaries. I’ll list them but you can read about them in the book. 1. Intimate worship. 2. Faith based conversations. 3. Intentional spiritual growth. 4. Resources investments. 5. Servanthood. 6. Spiritual friendship. 7. Family faith. These are the things that revolutionaries seem to conclude the local institutional church is lacking. They do not see these things integrated into the lives of the people who attend. “Show me the fruit” is their motto.

Barna says the revolutionaries raise a good question, “If the local church is God’s answer to our spiritual needs, then why are most churched Christians so spiritually immature?”(page 30) In other words, if the people in the church are spiritually developed, they would reflect the principles and characteristics Scripture tells us are the marks of Jesus’ true disciples. From there Barna sites many statistics that relate to that judgment.

Barna gives seven trends that are leading to what he calls a “New Church” that will facilitate this revolution. I’ll list them and you can read them in the book. 1. Changing of the guard. 2. Rise of new view of life. 3.Dismissing the irrelevant. 4. Impact of techonology. 5. Genuine relationship. 6. Participation in reality. 7. Finding true meaning.

While Barna tends to describe the revolutionaries as those trying to grow their spirituality outside the local church, he does admit that there are those who are still in the local church but their primary ministry is not within the congregational framework, but in the raw world. The emphasis, so they claim, is not to draw people into the local church for teaching and experience but to draw them away from reliance upon a local church into a deeper connection and reliance upon God.

Here is my general evaluation of Revolution. There is very little described in this book that cannot be found throughout church history. But it has been accelerated today because of modernity and the postmodern philosophy. The church has always had to struggle with being what the “bride of Christ” is suppose to be and do what God has instructed the church to do. Scripturely, there is no basis for a professing Christian to abandon the church or demean its role in the Christian faith.

It is true that the Western church has caved in to dualism which has tended to separate our religion from the rest of life, and the church has not always understood its role in the Kingdom of God framework. The church has become so inwardly focused that it has not followed Christ’s instruction to make kingdom disciples or equip the membership for kingdom living. That is a valid criticism of the church; however, while we understand the difference between the Church is the capital “C” referring to the universal body of Christ and the local church with the little “c,” we do not cut the umbilical cord between the two. The local church is to contextually represent the Church universal; hence while we analyze, criticize, and help sanctify the local church, Christians are not to forsake the church. And, while the church should always be reforming according to the Word of God, which would involve people living 24/7 for the Lord in all areas of life, we do not help the situation by criticizing and then leaving. Also, we admit that because of the slide into dualism, the church does need to do some serious evaluation or reforming based on that reality.

A second problem I have with Barna’s book is he seems to caution those who are in the church not to be too critical or judgmental of those revolutionaries who criticize the church. He says that God may be ministering to them in different ways; however, at the same time he fails to offer the same caution to those revolutionaries regarding their criticism of the church. The church is not perfect. It does have faults and flaws. God is not finished with the church even though he may be breaking it out of a modernistic, enlightenment model from which things like dualism have been transmitted, but he does not call us to abandon the church. Certainly in many cases the church does need to look differently and people need to demonstrate the characteristics that the revolutionaries are questioning. And certainly we agree that the church is not the savior but Christ, but we also agree that such as are saved are added to the church.

If we understand the connection between the church and the kingdom, God assigns the church to equip its disciples to be kingdom minded, and that has not been done effectively in the past couple of centuries. While some of the revolutionaries are saying that the church is not helping us to develop spiritually, therefore, we must do what we must “to get closer to God,” we have to be warned of risk in doing that apart from the church. When David said in Ps. 139:17 “how precious are your thoughts to me Oh God…” he does not say, how precious are my thoughts about you oh God. We must think God’s thoughts about himself and to be certain that we are attempting to do that requires accountability and that is one of the roles of the church. George Gallup Jr. says that while most Americans believe in God, most do not trust him, I believe because they do not really know him as he reveals himself to us in his Word and the world around us.

Barna says that he writes to encourage the church to listen to the revolutionaries and seek ways the church can add value to the revolutionaries. Then he says he hopes the reader will reflect on what it means to belong to the church and then your particular church. He has a valid point with those statements because I believe we must learn how to listen to what is being said and attempt to carefully understand without becoming so defensive that we wall off the very ones we should reaching. His challenge in the end is to be Kingdom minded, and so is ours except we would offer that within our understanding of the church’s role to make kingdom disciples.

Revolution has some helpful and challenging thoughts, but we must read it carefully less it cause us to downplay the place and role of the local church in the kingdom and encourage us with the idea that we do not have to be a part of the church. The church is the bride of Christ and as such it is the heart of the kingdom, and people’s effectiveness in the kingdom largely depends on the church’s effectiveness in making disciples.

Charles Dunahoo pastored churches in Georgia and Alabama before being called to his present position as Coordinator for the PCA of Christian Education and Publications (CEP).

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