Friday, February 22, 2008

Books: "Pagan Christianity" and "The Biblical Basis for the Catholic Faith"

So I purchased two books at Barnes & Noble yesterday; they're probably polar opposites: "Pagan Christianity: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices" by Frank Viola and George Barna (details), and "The Biblical Basis for the Catholic Faith" by John Salza (details). Now, the former deals with the practices of "the church" in general, whereas the latter deals with the Catholic faith, so they're not entirely comparable, but think the juxtaposition of the two books was humorous. ("This guy must really be torn in two!" some B&N clerk must have been thinking.)

Why am I reading a book that claims that "most of what present-day Christians do in church each Sunday is rooted, not in the New Testament, but in pagan culture and rituals developed long after the death of the Apostles"? Well, I had attended a mens' Bible Study at a local non-denominational Christian community regularly in the past (not so much lately), and I regularly get a weekly email update for the group's members. This week, the facilitator sent a link to the article I linked above for the book by Viola and Barna. I looked at the bullet-points in the article and responded to them in a reply email to the group. At the end of the email, I admitted I had not read the book, so I didn't know if the authors defended their position and refuted my explanations. I bought the book so I can read it and comment on it here.

It turns out the book focuses on "the central practices that define mainstream Christianity today" (page xx, bolding mine); footnote 7 on page xx clarifies this statement (bolding mine):
This book focuses on Protestant Christian practices. And its main scope is "low church" Protestantism rather than "high church" denominations like Anglican, Episcopal, and some stripes of Lutheran. By high church, I mean churches that emphasize the sacerdotal, sacramental, and liturgical Catholic elements of orthodox Christianity. The book touches on high-church practices only in passing.
I'd like to make two comments right away. First, the authors' definition of "mainstream Christianity" is "'low church' Protestantism", which is helpful to know. Second, I am pleased they consider the "sacerdotal, sacramental, and liturgical ... elements" as a part of "orthodox Christianity", recognizing at least Catholic practices as Christian. You can never be too sure who will call Catholics Christians, these days.

Anyway, I'll be responding to the claims of each chapter on my blog. My general statement is this:

The Church is (as the authors state) organic, and as such, it grows over time, not merely in membership (size) but also in its ability to convey the message of the Gospel and in its ability to better direct worship to God. I don't think it is practical to assume the first-century Church was the epitome or ideal or summit. Certain practices that have since come into the Church that are not explicitly mentioned in the New Testament (or the Old Testament) are not necessarily wrong for that reason. That they existed in pagan (i.e. non-Judeo-Christian) cultures does not necessarily condemn them either. Furthermore, after seeing a brief list of the "additions" to the Church's practices, I think the authors have failed to incorporate the (scriptural) Jewish worship practices and the contents of the New Testament epistles. In the end, it appears that if it wasn't written in the N.T., it wasn't done, even though the N.T. is not a manual for describing Christian worship. I am very interested to see if this book paints a picture of "true Christian Biblical worship", since genuine first-century Christian worship (for at least a dozen years) was done without any "New Testament" literature, and was done without Bibles.

And I'm betting (and I thought this before even opening the book) that the authors completely neglect the development (or even existence!) of Eastern Christianity.


Tim A. Troutman said...

Jeff, I would bet all of your assumptions are correct - I'd go into that book with low expectations.

I heard Mr. Barna speak at a conference in LA last month. I didn't know he was that much separated from historical Christianity but his narrow view of Christianity was apparent when he repeatedly referred to the "Church in America (with a capital c)" as basically anyone who called themselves Christians.

None of what he talked about factored in Catholicism at all.

To the extent that ANY of the "Christianity borrowed from paganism" is true, if it proves anything, it proves too much. You'll find Judaism did that (to a small degree) as well. Whereas most of that stuff is complete hogwash and I can tell you right now - Barna doesn't know Church history. I don't know about the other guy.

Anyway - I'm interested to see what you have to say about the book.

David D. Flowers said...

I encourage you to actually read the book when you get the chance. Much of what has been said by you and your one commentator... is pure speculation and it is made very apparent that reading the book is not necessary before your words carry wait against it. This doesn't make any sense to me.

Check out my review at amazon and please stay open when reading the book. Don't be afraid of the challenges or the new information that it may bring to the steps of your understanding of Christianity and the church.

David D. Flowers

japhy said...

I have already completed the first two chapters, and will try to write something by the end of the day.

Moonshadow said...

whether it is more important to follow biblical guidelines and examples or to instead maintain human traditions and preferences

This reminds me of David Currie, when he discovered that he could not reconstruct the process of a sin offering from the Bible alone. Read it.

Likewise, is the New Testament's picture of "church" incomplete? Those "human traditions" necessary to fill in the gaps?

Give Barna a chance, Jeff. He used to be Catholic ... and hails from Princeton!