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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pagan Christianity ?
An interesting and compact book packed with bags of references should you doubt what they are saying. (although so compact that I needed a magnifying glass to read some of the references.) You may be challenged by this book and its slightly provocative approach as it charts the pagan influences which have shaped many of the practices of the Church to this day. At the end...
Published on 8 Dec 2010 by Tom Turner

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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good points, but the wheels come off in Chapters 4 and 5
The three stars are not because it's a dull book! It is required reading for anyone who needs to ask `how should we do church?' Reading the book for me was like being on a rollercoaster. One minute I am shouting a firm AMEN! The next I am shaking my head in disgust because there is some serious bad teaching. Then I am saying, 'Yes... and... so what?'

There are...
Published 15 months ago by J McMurdo


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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good points, but the wheels come off in Chapters 4 and 5, 7 Aug 2013
By 
J McMurdo (Northern England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Pagan Christianity PB (Paperback)
The three stars are not because it's a dull book! It is required reading for anyone who needs to ask `how should we do church?' Reading the book for me was like being on a rollercoaster. One minute I am shouting a firm AMEN! The next I am shaking my head in disgust because there is some serious bad teaching. Then I am saying, 'Yes... and... so what?'

There are some extremely important facts in this church which need to be disseminated widely. And yet I frequently felt that the authors* spoiled their message by going too far with their conclusions, creating an unfair straw man representing many churches or interpreting the Bible incorrectly. To me, this book is written by a man* with an agenda rather than someone who I can trust to come up with the whole truth.

Do not give this book to an immature Christian. Most of the book is what I would regard as Romans 15 territory. I need to say:
- You are not guilty because you dress smartly to church
- You are free to go to an East-facing church with an altar if that is where you need to be
- Your haven't sinned because you tithe to a church that owns a building and employs a pastor
- Don't look down on your brother because he goes to Bible College and likes listening to sermons.

In the wrong hands, this book can make one person self-righteous, falsely guilty, or it can even cause someone to withdraw from church completely - one family I know did just this because of Frank Viola's teaching. They later regretted this and joined an elder-led church.

Let's start with what I like about it.

I `get it'! A revolution in our church life needs to take place. The old wineskins are strangling what remains of the Christian church. To the extent that (as the authors* put it) this is a `conversation starter', it is a graet book. And it's a conversation we urgently need to have. I totally, totally agree that:

1. We are wasting far too much money on buildings
2. One-man leadership is unscriptural
3. Too many people are in paid ministry
4. Discipleship begins in the home
5. Church leaders need to spend time in the real world and have vocational skills
6. Many of the most revered men in history - `church fathers' - were false teachers, guilty of paganising, Romanising and Philosophising and intellectualising our faith into something very different form the simple faith our earliest brethren had.
7. We have for years been making believers into dumb, passive spectators, consumers of entertainment even, and we have failed to make them into true disciples.

The chapter on education was one chapter in which I profoundly agreed with the authors*. To quote one sentence, 'Plato and Aristotle are the fathers of modern Christian education'. It would be an eye-opener to many within the church to see how deeply immersed our faith is in Greek Philosophy and I believe a strong case is made. There's also a useful section questioning the role of the Sunday School and the Youth Pastor.

Now comes the health warning. There are some issues on which I profoundly disagree with the authors.

I was bracing myself for their attack on the sermon. And yet what they said did not really impress me.

Quote from Page 88:

'...apostolic preaching recorded in Acts possessed the following features:
- It was sporadic
- it was delivered on special occasions in order to deal with specific problems
- it was extemporaneous and without rhetorical structure.'

Wrong, wrong, wrong!

Firstly, we need to distinguish preaching (announcing the gospel to unbelievers) from teaching (primarily directed at Christians). This is a common error - the Greek words translated thus are consistent here. The chapter indicates that the authors* are actually referring to teaching.

In what way is teaching daily in the temple courts and 'filling Jerusalem with their teaching' and concentrating on the ministry of the word (see Acts 2:42,46, 4:2,18, 5:28, 6:2) sporadic and on special occasions? Is this characteristic of Paul, who taught the Ephesians 'the whole counsel of God' (Acts 20:27)?

Are you seriously accusing Paul, who wrote the incredibly tightly argued Romans, Galatians, Ephesians etc. of not having rhetorical structure??? Bear in mind here that these letters were dictated and not written. And look at how he deals with the crowds and the Roman officials in Acts 21-26. Paul was surely one of the most brilliant speakers of his day. And how could Appollos refute the Jews in public debate without the use of rhetorical structure? (See Acts 18:28).

Whilst I agree that teaching in the early church was more interactive than in the modern church (and I would welcome a return to this), it is simply wrong to suppose that teaching was an 'every member' function. It was reserved for 'faithful men' (1Timothy 2:2) who were suitable qualified. To open up teaching to anyone was to give a platform for false teachers, who were to be silenced (2Timothy 2:16-18, Titus 1:9-10, 2:15, 3:10).

Teaching is not a free-for-all.

My other big gripe with the book is the weak teaching on eldership.

Quote from page 123-124:

'Elders... were recognised by virtue of their seniority and spiritual service to the church. According to the New Testament, recognition of certain gifted members is something that is instinctive and organic. Every believer has the discernment to recognize those within his or her church to carry out various ministries.'

No! No! No!!

If that's the case, then why does Paul warn the elders in Ephesus for three years night and day with tears to be on their guard against false teachers (Acts 20:31)? Why does he bother sending Titus to Crete to examine the character of men before they can be appointed as elders?

The reason is this. It is often the pushiest characters, the cleverest schemers, the most plausible talkers who end up getting positions of prominence in the church. And they can easily fool the majority and end up ruining churches. Elders are appointed and recognised publicly. They need to be above reproach and be tested. Non-elders are commanded to respect and honour them. The process of appointing them is neither 'instinctive' nor 'organic' (whatever the latter term means).

Two other points. Paid ministry is perfectly acceptable scripturally (1Cor 9, Gal 6, 1Tim 5, Luke 8 and 10). And short quotes, 'proof texts' are used frequently by Jesus and the apostles throughout the New Testament. Again, the authors* make some good points here, but carry their arguments far too far.

Most of my Christian life has been spent in less formal churches, led by unpaid elders, or leaders of some description. And it hasn't always been pretty. One of the main problems has been the lack of church discipline, poor knowledge of scripture and sloppiness when it comes to who is allowed to teach and lead. On occasion, plausible leaders have ended up falling into serious sin because nobody bothered testing their character as the Bible says we should. The authors seem to advocate the very type of church I would now run a mile from rather than take my family to.

By all means get the book and see what you think. I believe there are far better books that cover similar ground however. I for one would recommend Steve Malz's book How the Church Lost the Way: And How it Can Find it Again as well as David Pawson's Word and Spirit Together: Uniting Charismatics and Evangelicals and The Normal Christian Birth. Also look out for his excellent talk on 'De-Greecing the Church' by doing a google search or purchasing the CDs from his website. All of these materials cover the better parts of 'Pagan Christianity' in a more complete and balanced way.

*There are the names of two authors on the front cover. But whenever the author refers to himself, he says `I (Frank)'. I'm left wondering how much of it George Barna actually wrote. A mischievous part of me asks, 'Does Frank take over his `organic church' meetings in the same way?'
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pagan Christianity ?, 8 Dec 2010
This review is from: PAGAN CHRISTIANITY HB (Hardcover)
An interesting and compact book packed with bags of references should you doubt what they are saying. (although so compact that I needed a magnifying glass to read some of the references.) You may be challenged by this book and its slightly provocative approach as it charts the pagan influences which have shaped many of the practices of the Church to this day. At the end of each chapter there is a Q & A section where possible objections to their views are countered. Although I have not researched all of their assertions many of them are common knowledge and accepted or debated by many Christians (e.g. The influence of Constantine-good or bad?). However there are one or two surprises, such as the pagan origins of the sermon.The main question as I see it however is whether it is still a pagan practice or merely a reflection of the culture in which the church is emersed. For example, when Paul was in Athens he debated philosophers on Mar's Hill and quoted their own poets to them, was this pagan or Just Paul giving a Christian message in a culturally sympathetic way.
The authors do have some valid insights, especially regarding the practice of the apostolic church of being a "sharing" community, which included open and sharing ministry one to another.Quite how valid are most of the points they make will undoubtedly vary from reader to reader and may depend on how much of one's faith is invested in the institutional church itself. An interesting and informative read, if only from the historical perspective.
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So that's why I never liked "church" :: Barna & Viola pull back the curtain, 14 Feb 2008
By 
William D. Lollar (Pensacola, FL) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: PAGAN CHRISTIANITY HB (Hardcover)
A growing number of people have made it clear: they like Jesus, but they do not like "the church" or the whole "church/chapel culture." Barna and Viola pull back the curtain to reveal the unbiblical (in fact, "pagan") roots of today's institutional church practices. These guys have done their homework and I hope it makes the impact worldwide that they are hoping for.

Having a relationship with Jesus Christ does not require all the trappings of religion: in many ways, we've been sold a bill of goods that cannot be supported by the New Testament, whether you look at the teachings of Jesus or the apostles. This book clears the table, so to speak, and encourages us to go back to the Bible for our guidance rather than the accumulated traditions of the past 1,700 years.

So if you're sick of religion, get this book! As someone recently warned about its volatile content: don't drop it, because it might explode!"

Bill Lollar
The Thin Edge
"Pushing the limits of the status quo"
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36 of 41 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Unbalanced and unbiblical, 29 July 2010
This review is from: PAGAN CHRISTIANITY HB (Hardcover)
The title of this book is somewhat misleading. The subject is not Christianity in general but two aspects of the church: its structure and the form of its services. The authors are against both: any hierarchical structure, and any order within services.

Although this book bears two names as authors (Frank Viola and George Barna), frequently the author writes in the first person singular, usually putting "I (Frank) ..." (e.g., p. 234, 263, 266, 268 - I only started noting these down when I got near the end of the book.)

The book gives some interesting historical information and makes some valid points about the customs and practices of Christianity. Unfortunately, the author vastly undermines the credibility of his arguments by two most regrettable techniques:
1. He exaggerates his point.
Thus, for example, he describes the practice in some churches of having special garments for choir members as "dehumanizing" (pp 148-149) - whereas in reality in many cultures such garments are worn with pride.
2. He does not present balanced Biblical teaching.
He frequently totally ignores Bible verses that contradict what he says, and on other occasions relegates such verses to footnotes which are printed in a truly minute font size, listing the reference but not quoting the content, or he refers to such verses only in the appendices to chapters, which are also in a smaller font size and will inevitably be skipped by many readers, especially given the section title, "delving deeper", which implies that this is additional material for those who have the time to investigate the concepts more fully.

Although with my reading glasses I have normal vision, I had a to keep a powerful magnifying glass by the book for the purpose of reading the footnotes. However, even with this aid they are so tiny that I frequently gave up and skipped them. I am sure that many readers will have done the same.

Viola also shows a lack of basic awareness of first century conditions, such as when he says, "The first-century Christians ... met in ... living rooms" (p. 149). He is similarly unaware of the nature and style of churches in the 21st century outside the United States of America. (In fact, the end of the book clarifies that this book has been written with Americans in mind (p. 258).)

The basic assumption of the authors is that if they can demonstrate that a practice had what they term "pagan" origins, it has no place in Christianity. Thus, for instance, they state that the rhetorical principles used in sermons were invented by "pagan Greeks and Romans" and therefore must not be used. This is to ignore the abundant evidence in the New Testament of the use of these very "pagan" rhetorical techniques both by the New Testament writers and even by Christ himself. The frequent use of alliteration and plays on words in the original Greek text will not be obvious to those who read the New Testament in translation, but other rhetorical principles used by Christ are frequently clearly evident, for instance, in his teaching known as "The Beatitudes" (Matt 5:3-11). (A good starting-point for a study of this topic might be Bailey's "Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes" or Witherington's "New Testament Rhetoric".)

In this review there is only space to give a few examples of the style and claims:
p 37 "all Protestant architecture produces the same sterile effects that were present in the Constantinian basilicas. ... they encourage the congregation to assume a spectator role. The arrangement and mood of the building conditions the congregation toward passivity."
My comment: "all Protestant architecture"? Has the author seen "all Protestant architecture"?
In many, many churches, the members of the congregation are not spectators and are far from passive. See, for example, Kingsgate Community Church, Peterborough, HTB, St Andrew the Great, Cambridge, Reigate Baptist Church, Bunyan Baptist Church, Stevenage, to mention just some that I personally am familiar with.

The author's descriptions are inaccurate and his vocabulary seems to have been chosen to cause maximum offence to as many Christians as possible. For instance, p 76: "the Protestant order of worship strangles the headship of Jesus Christ. ... Jesus Christ has no freedom to express Himself through His body at His discretion. He too is rendered a passive spectator"

Statements such as "the Sunday morning service ... has remained frozen for five centuries" (p 76) are factually inaccurate.

His language is inflammatory in the extreme. Here is an example from page 77:
"Let's face it. The Protestant order of worship is largely unscriptural, impractical, and unspiritual. It has no analog in the New Testament. Rather, it finds its roots in the culture of fallen man. It rips at the heart of primitive Christianity."

Viola frequently makes statements that are non sequiturs. i.e., the conclusion does not logically follow from what has preceded it. For example, (pp 82-83) "if you were to attend an organic church gathering that met in New Testament fashion, you would have both the right and the privilege to share whatever the Lord laid on your heart in the manner in which the Spirit led you. Not only that, but you would be expected to." And here comes the non sequitur: "In other words, Jesus Christ would be the functional head of that gathering." This conclusion does not follow from the statements that preceded it.

p 83 question 8. The author re-defines "church meetings" to exclude Paul's discourses to churches, since he has claimed that such discourses should not occur in "church meetings" and are "unbiblical". He then invents the (unbiblical!) term "apostolic meeting" and says that it was in this type of meeting that discourses took place. (repeated on p 103)

p 100 "Teaching is to come from all the believers". Again, the Bible references given (1 Cor 14:26,31) do not support the assertion made, as they do not talk about teaching. On the contrary, in 1 Cor 12:29 we read the rhetorical (!) question, "Are all teachers?", to which the only answer allowed by the structure of the Greek words used is "No". (This is not my interpretation; it is the undisputed meaning of the original text.) On p 103, Viola repeats his assertion that "All are free to teach, preach, prophesy, pray and lead a song". Again, 1 Cor 12:29 asks, "Are all prophets?", to which the only possible answer is "no".

After a chapter in which the preaching of sermons is condemned as "pagan", in small print at the very end of the appendix to the chapter, Viola concedes that "We strongly believe in preaching" (p 104). He does not explain how it is possible to preach without delivering "a sermon".

Chapter 8 condemns the payment of salaries to ministers. However, the author then writes "Paul was an itinerant apostolic worker. Therefore, he had a legitimate right to receive full financial support from the Lord's people." (p 185) I gather from the main author, Frank Viola's, comments elsewhere in this book that he views himself as "an itinerant apostolic worker" and I conclude that he therefore considers that he has "a legitimate right to receive full financial support from the Lord's people". It is interesting how people can re-define terms so that they are not affected by the new rules that they wish to impose on others.

There is no discussion of any of the New Testament passages on this, for instance Mt 10:10, Lk 10:7, 1 Cor 9:9, 1 Tim 5:18 (referring to Dt 25:4), 2 Tim 2:6, Gal 6:6, 3 Jn 5-8.

p. 261 "In organic church life, the meetings look different each week. While the brothers and sisters in an organic church may prayerfully plan the focus of their own meetings, ... they do not plan a specific order of worship."
It is difficult to see how one type of planning ("the focus of ... meetings") is OK, while the other type of planning ("a specific order of worship") is wrong. The authors do not even try to present any "Scriptural" support to justify the criteria for different types of planning.

p. 263: "The DNA of the church produces certain identifiable features. Some of them are: the experience of authentic community, a familial love and devotion of its members to one another, the centrality of Jesus Christ [TRA: why didn't this one come first?!], the native instinct to gather together without ritual, ... the innate desire to form deep-seated relationships that are centered on Christ, and the internal drive for open-participatory gatherings. We believe that any church practice that obstructs these innate characteristics is unsound, and therefore, unbiblical."

An appeal to "native instinct", "innate desire" and "internal drive" to justify the style of church favoured by the authors sounds "innately weak", with no support by reference to Scripture or to the traditions recommended on the previous page.

p 263. "Healthy organic churches never produce a clergy system, a single pastor, a hierarchical leadership structure, or an order of worship that renders the majority passive. To our minds, such things rupture the church's genetic code and violate her native expression. They also run contrary to New Testament principles."

The language is colourful, even vitriolic and malicious. It also ignores verses such as Ephesians 2:19-20: "You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone." A discussion of the meaning of "built on the foundation of apostles and prophets" would surely help us to clarify what "New Testament principles" there are with regard to "leadership structure".

Other relevant New Testament passages would include Eph 4:11-13, Ro 12:4, 6-8, Acts 6:1-6, and of course many other New Testament passages that refer to apostles, deacons, elders, bishops (or overseers), pastors, etc.

It would be possible to give many more examples. The book is not historically accurate, ignores most of what the Bible says on the subjects raised, and serves merely as a vehicle to promote the particular type of church that the author works in. The final paragraph gives a web link and encourages readers to "relocate" to join such a church.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars You should read this book, but..., 16 July 2009
By 
Winchester (Sheffield, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: PAGAN CHRISTIANITY HB (Hardcover)
...there are some sweeping comments made. What is said is well referenced and the authors use respected historians such as Robin Lane Fox. However, every so often a comment is made like, "...the Gothic cathedral fostered a sense of mystery, transcendence, and awe. All of these features were borrowed from Plato and passed off as Christian" (page 29).

So at the Transfiguration of Jesus for example there was no mystery, transcendence of awe because Jesus didn't want to borrow from secular philosophical thinking? I think not.

Some of what is said is very worthwhile, but the authors fail to acknowledge that religion has to be mediated to human experience and that some aspects of human experience are common. In other words, humanity engages with ritual and order (after all God created an ordered and hierarchical world out of disorder and chaos). So just because something happens in pagan religion or Judaism doesn't mean that it is an anathema to Christianity.

There are other examples, on page 24 there is a dig at incense. Because incense was used by Emperor Constantine who then "introduced" it to the church Viola and Barna seem to think it should not be used any more. Perhaps is shouldn't, but their argument is weak. Incense is explicitly mentioned some 112 times in the Bible, and in particularly on three separate occasions in Revelation. You could call incense a Jewish practice, but you can hardly say that it is soley pagan. And because it is Jewish it is highly likely that Jesus would have used it as part of his worship in the Temple.

Much of the challenge in the book is worthwhile and the Church should engage with it, but don't read this very accessible and entertaining book with an uncritical mind.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An important and useful book for all Christians., 20 Aug 2014
By 
J. Hughes "Justin" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Pagan Christianity PB (Paperback)
This book is well worth the read for all spiritual Christians. If you are just a church person then it will not make any sense to you.

I could have written this book myself, and it confirmed for me much of what I have known for years, so well done the authors.

I give it four stars as whilst it is correct as far as it goes it could go further and include the reason why churches go wrong in such ways as spoken of. The reason being that most professing Christians are not born again, even when they think they are. Therefore you get worldly thinking, inclusion of all sorts of wrong things etc., in an effort to approve themselves before God.

Almighty God does not licence mixture, evil, or sin, and wants things done HIS way, but most church people take the view that they could not care less what God wants, and think that church licences all manner of wickedness. To most if 'church' is done 'unto the Lord' God will accept it, even though it is not His will or way. Nothing could be further from the truth.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars seismic earth shattering facts that will smash traditional church foundations, 9 April 2008
This review is from: PAGAN CHRISTIANITY HB (Hardcover)
This book will totally rock the way you see Church across the board including Pentecostal, Charismatic, Baptist and every kind of established church organisation out there. It will make you take the bible that little bit more seriously and rely on the Holy Spirit's brand of Church headed by Jesus Christ. Please beware because this book will not leave you the same after you read it so please pray before you read it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally, 20 April 2013
By 
Miss P. Rawlins "Lettie" (London, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: PAGAN CHRISTIANITY HB (Hardcover)
A difficult book to find and I bought this as a copy to loan. It's a difficult book to read and it does challenge your thoughts and traditions but it is well researched and well put together.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 5 stars and heres why, 6 Mar 2013
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This review is from: Pagan Christianity PB (Paperback)
Many say they are angry at this book. Personally i beleive it to be well researched and sincerely written. It probably saved me from a lot of misery because i had doubts to the way things were going on at church and didnt have the knowledge to question it as it was tradition and who was i to question tradition ?

This book is power to the unsuspecting dumbed down sheeple in christianity, and please forgive me for that phrase but i was there before myself. This is how passionate i am about this book. Clergy / laity is not really biblical in a sense that they are the mediator between you and God but many try to fit that position. This is a clergy nightmare book but i believe it should be taught in church instead of wanting to brush it under the carpet as some would have done.

Many pastors will try and tell you this is a bad book, i say its one of thee most relevant books in the modern age for any chrisitan.

This is the longest review ive ever written, i dont usually review, it was worth it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So Refreshing- challenges religious beliefs and traditions to the core!, 11 Jan 2013
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This review is from: PAGAN CHRISTIANITY HB (Hardcover)
Dont read this book unless you want your whole concept of church, why we do what we do, to be challenged! If you do decide to follow these truths, expect to lose religious friends and family, which is maybe not a bad thing- not for the faint hearted!
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PAGAN CHRISTIANITY HB
PAGAN CHRISTIANITY HB by VIOLA & BARNA (Hardcover - 27 Feb 2008)
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