Book Reviews -- By: Matthew S. DeMoss

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 166:662 (Apr 2009)
Article: Book Reviews
Author: Matthew S. DeMoss

Book Reviews

By The Faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary

Matthew S. DeMoss


Pagan Christianity: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices. Rev. ed. By Frank Viola and George Barna. Carol Stream, IL: Barna Books, 2008. xxiii + 295 pp. $17.99.

Viola and Barna argue that a large number of church practices today are unbiblical, for they were unwittingly borrowed from pagan culture and rituals. They say this has been occurring ever since the fourth century. Those who have propagated these practices include many church fathers (Ignatius, Chrysostom, Cyprian, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria), Constantine, and many modern-day leaders (e.g., Billy Sunday, D. L. Moody, and Billy Graham). According to the authors, practices promulgated by these leaders fail to emulate first-century church practices recorded in the New Testament, much of what is practiced in local churches today developed in several centuries after the apostles, and first-century practices are the only truly biblical ones for the church.

Barna is known for his research on American religious trends, and Viola’s expertise is in church strategies. Both men exhibit a passion for a clear, biblical perspective on the church. They seek to be faithful to the Scriptures and to make Christ central in church practices. They spare no effort in exploring numerous historical, theological, and biblical resources. Clearly they have a love for Christ and the church.

The pagan practices they cite include the use of church buildings, the physical arrangement of sanctuaries, the Sophist-like sermonizing by pastors, passive congregations, a misplaced emphasis on Christian education, an incorrect understanding of tithing, and more. Viola and Barna claim “that much of what we do for ‘church’ was lifted directly out of pagan culture in the postapostolic period. . . . Contemporary Christianity has fallen into the errors of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (p. vii). Only the early church and churches of their ilk have it right.

Viola and Barna maintain that the first-century church was a “living, breathing organism that expressed itself far differently than the institutional church today” (p. xix). “The practices of the first-century church were the natural and spontaneous expression of the divine life that indwelt the early Christians. And those practices were solidly grounded in timeless principles and teachings of the New Testament. By contrast, a great number of the practices in many contemporary churches are in conflict with those biblical principles and teachings” (ibid.).

Of course current churches are not beyond legitimate criticism and

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