Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Pagan Christianity

Frank Viola and George Barna collaborated on a book in 2008 entitled Pagan Christianity, and it may mark the final nail in the coffin of a deconstructed Christendom.

Essentially, the book recites in detail how the church developed historically, and how its structures and actions and hierarchy were surreptitiously co-opted from a New Testament presentation by an add mixture of pagan thought and ritual, and therefore all we now do as church is by their account, not at all "by the book." 

It is clear Mr. Viola welcomes the demise of Christendom, hoping, it seems, that in its death rattle we will somehow hear the sound of an unspoiled church rolling toward us, something as pristine as the New Testament model. One wonders if he sees the irony in making money by selling books to the churches and people he hopes will soon go into the tank, but that is not said to diminish his argument, this is still America, after all. 

In fact, I have often argued in this blog that the death of Christendom is imminent (go here and here).  And, as I say in the description of this blog: "we who are saying grace at the graveside of Christendom must give an account to the future. we must tell the story of these days of loss and transition, and we must get out of the way of those who will take us to the next church." 

The difference between us is quite clear, however. Besides being much smarter than I, Mr. Viola has no vested interest in the survival of Christendom (other than selling books) -- having left it long ago, while I am still paid by Christendom. So, like all good revolutionaries, he can strike the match that begins the fire, but I am here holding a squirt gun in a match factory. We all have our roles in this drama.

To be sure, the church of tomorrow will hardly resemble the church we see today. (For an excellent description of this transition see The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tickle.) But, what also is without doubt is the truth that the church now emerging to replace Pagan Christendom will merely be a station on the way to church next. And what will also be true -- though I'm neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet -- is that church next will not be some fundamentalist wet dream of an unspoiled Christian community. The wheel is still spinning very quickly indeed. 

Said another way, to ask, "What would Jesus think?" as if the problem in the church is merely wrong thinking, truly misses the basic understanding of the desperation of the hour. Simplicity and statistical analysis will not cut it. Neither will house churches or foundational theology, not when we are so marginalized sociologically and not when our ideas and doctrines are hollowed out with age and senility.