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4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 7 August 2013
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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on 7 April 2017
I'm bout half way through this book and so far I'm enjoying it. It looks at the history of modern and contemporary Christianity and it's pagan origins. It's definitely a good read however I do find that even when trying to be neutral the authors are still biased.
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on 18 July 2017
Great challenging book, do not delay buy it today.
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on 29 April 2013
the book was an excellent study of the subject. I would strongly recommend it to others, have in fact bought several more copies for friends who have been interested in the topic.
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on 3 August 2011
Although much in this book exposes the dead traditions of men which have been accepted in the traditional denominations like the Roman Catholic Church, and other churches affected by her, that is not the target of the book. This book is aimed specifically at challenging the practise of genuine believers within various Evangelical groups.

Like most things real poison can be hidden beneath truth. There is poison in this pot (or should I say book). I believe with all my heart that any practise amongst genuine believers can be challenged and must be challenged if it is not according to scripture. But that is a far cry from challenging normal practise and replacing it with other things less scriptural.

In this book the Lord's Table is turned into a social meal. They call a separation of a full meal from the Bread and Cup a pagan-rite. Actually close study will show that Christ separated the two. "After Supper...supper being ended." Secondly they constantly make laws and commands where there are none in the whole NT. There is no command to only meet in houses. There is no command to have a full meal with the Bread and Cup as an insignificant part. A third point is the removal of teaching and preaching from the local church and reserving it more for the function of apostles. I could continue on many points but this is not the place.

This book may dangerously sway multitudes of genuine believers to doubt many clear scriptural practises which are twisted to the authors own thoughts. Viola has recently promoted forms of Catholic prayer no-where seen in the Bible. Barna for years has written books that promoted the church as a business and techniques no-where found in the Bible. Should we follow such men in calling things blessed of God for 2000 years in many reformations and revivals pagan when they are clearly biblical?

I would strongly suggest that you Google: Pagan Christianity - A Response and read the biblical responses by Keith Malcomson before purchasing this or as an addition to reading it, or even if you have already read it.
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on 8 December 2010
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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on 14 February 2008
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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on 6 October 2013
A good read for a mature Christian. The content of the book will benefit someone who will not solely base their beliefs and understanding of the faith on someone else's opinions.
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on 6 March 2013
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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on 17 June 2012
Having just finished reading this book my response is that although I agree in principle with many of the authors observations and criticisms of institutional religion, I felt strongly that the author failed to give a convincing alternative.. Even the so-called house fellowships make the same mistakes as the more organised churches. This book raises more questions that it does in providing constructive answers and therefore can be easily misunderstood. My view is that just because a modern church practice is not backed up by a specific verse of scripture, doesn't necessarily make it wrong. Equally, those house churches that try and model a biblical pattern of church life often end up falling into the same trap as the churches that they have left. One final point..Why does the author charge us to buy his book..after all, no one sold books in the NT and made a commission on each sale..Therefore modern publishing should be disregarded as unbiblical!
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