Monday, March 17, 2008

Pagan Christianity

Three books by Frank Viola have had a profound influence on me and on how I understand the church: Rethinking the Wineskin, Pagan Christianity and Who's Your Covering? In these books, Viola pulls no punches and gets right to the point of examining why we "do" church the way we do. I first read them a few years ago as an associate pastor wrestling with the question: What is church supposed to be like? Viola's books gave me encouragement, comfort, insight, useful information and much food for thought.

It used to be that you had to search out Viola's books by going to his website, His books were self-published and not available in bookstores. It seemed as if no Christian publisher or retailer would touch his books due to their incendiary content.

Recently however, George Barna (founder of The Barna Group, a highly respected Christian research firm) teamed up with Viola to revise and re-release Pagan Christianity. This time around, it is being published and distributed by Tyndale House (brave souls they must be).

Pagan Christianity traces the roots of our most commonly accepted church elements--from church buildings to choirs to sermons to worship leaders to clergy to tithing--and finds that they were not a part of the New Testament church but were later imported into Christendom from the surrounding cultures. That in itself doesn't make such things bad, but it does make them not inherently Christian and not necessary for a church to exist and function.

Viola and Barna go further to show how some of these practices actually are detrimental to the proper functioning of the Body of Christ. For example, church buildings are oftentimes a drain on resources and, considering the ratio of time that they are in use versus their cost, bad stewardship of God's money. Another example: The emphasis on ministry being performed by professional clergy actually thwarts the growth of Christians into mature followers of Jesus by turning them into a passive audience.

I picked up a copy of the revised Pagan Christianity last week and have thoroughly enjoyed reading through it again. I can't recommend this book highly enough. If I were a rich man, I would purchase millions of copies, delivering them free of charge (and in plain brown wrappers) to church pastors everywhere and hiring volunteers to hand out free copies in church parking lots. I guess it's a good thing I'm not a rich man.

You can find out more about Pagan Christianity, and read a sample chapter, at the following website:


Blogger Jilliefl1 said...

The sequel to “Pagan Christianity?” is out now. It’s called “Reimagining Church”. It picks up where “Pagan Christianity” left off and continues the conversation. (“Pagan Christianity” was never meant to be a stand alone book; it’s part one of the conversation.) “Reimagining Church” is endorsed by Leonard Sweet, Shane Claiborne, Alan Hirsch, and many others. You can read a sample chapter at
It’s also available on Frank is also blogging now at

3:25 PM  

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