So many reviews of this book have been biased on both sides, so I was thrilled to see this well balanced review today. I highly recommend it. Howard Snyder is not only well-educated enough to know the early church was very different from today's traditional forms. He's also confident enough in his own faith and practice that he doesn't mind saying so! I wish all reviewers were this honest, this even handed and this much unafraid about God's people. I say, "Speak the truth. Hang the consequences. And trust the Lord."
For the record, I think I totally agree with nearly every bit of Synder's review. No educated person should say or imply that traditional forms of church today are based just on the bible. Also, nobody should say that we *must* do church in any one certain way. And all groups of christians should do their best to live out God's life among one another whatever their context. Yes, all habitual patterns of behavior are "ritual" - that's fair to say. And any group rituals are in fact 'institutions'. Neither ritual nor institution *automatically* inhibits the moving of the spirit of God among a group of people. That is, not necessarily. Not always. But Snyder himself agrees that it does happen, often. Indeed, far too often.
I have only one thought to add of my own: The problem I see with "institutions" comes only when men attempt to establish *permanent* institutions. The goal seems to be that "THIS must outlive us." The belief seems to be that we can make it so. But "THIS" is just God's Life in People. And no ritual or institution will ever outlive the moving of the spirit of god within contrite human hearts. Nor should it. Because Christ in "us" is THE hope of glory. But the surprising thing is, establish-ers actually know all this. They constantly remind themselves to put more emphasis on people than they do on programs. They pray to God and exhort one another that each new generation of their congregation must revitalize the institution.
My questions are: 1) how long can that last? And 2) will the vitality outlast the institution?
So let's take Howard's "third view" - renewal. First of all, praise the Lord! For as long as the Lord dwells among you (y'all) that institution will be a living one. But the moment the spirit departs - or the people in touch with the spirit depart - you (y'all) will have left behind an empty, dead institution which will continue to go on without you. It might keep on pretending to be the house of God on earth. It might even get revitalized again, at times. But at all other times it will stand there, regardless. I simply suggest that such an empty 'christian' institution, left for dead - if it keeps on going - will be or have the potential to become the very enemy of God on this earth.
Frank Viola and George Barna may or may not attempt to establish any *permanent* institutions of their own. I hope not, but time will tell. I am rooting for them, but I am not in their corner. I am in God's corner. I stand for the church. I stand for any group of God's people who wants to get together and try to know Him together. Failure will come. Faith must persist. And the family of God must adjoin to her Head!
Christ in an "us" is THE hope of glory. The rest is just details.
So what happens next?
Protestant ministers are used to relying on the Bible as their source of authority. Poorly educated men (and dishonest men) are used to saying (or implying) that today's form of church is based just on the Bible. This is false. Such voices should at least be more careful with their claims. For their own sakes, they should read Howard Snyder's review AND take his advice to read Pagan Christianity.
Simple groups of believers should be free to continue experimenting. There are many ways for christians to pursue Jesus Christ. Also, Snyder's questions about contextualization are not to be answered in theory alone, but in practice. Professional clergy members should know in their conscience they must let God's people GO! Speak the truth. Hang the consequences. And trust the Lord.
Finally, any believers who want to constantly revitalize their institutions should continue to do so as well. A group of christians living out the life of the church is a wonderful thing to behold, no matter how it's organized. Personally, I wish we had NO permanent institutions. The picture Moses got of God's house was a Tent! But whatever. God will be God. And I trust Him to move in his people wherever they meet. There are challenges in both views of these things.
Frank Viola and George Barna have written a book that all christians should know the truth about. I desperately hope many will be inspired to try new forms of 'church'. But I also agree with Snyder's hope that many will revitalize the institutions they are part of. (At the very least, it's far better to have them stand alive, rather than dead, though expecting constant revitalization seems daft to me. I'd rather dismantle things into a movable "tent" status. But I don't expect all to adopt that odd view.)
Honestly, I deeply hope and pray, as Snyder said, that many things may change.
But I only have two predictions:
1) I predict the main impact of Pagan Christianity will be to force many within the 'institutional church' to grow up, religiously, and claim authority from their traditions - instead of to keep trying to claim things that aren't true about the Bible. In fact, this ought to happen eventually anyway.
2) I predict God will continue to work within any body of believers who will let Him work and work with Him. And Praise His Name for doing so!
If you haven't yet, please read Howard Snyder's review.
And then go buy and read Pagan Christianity.