What do you think of George Barna's book Revolution?

The following are Randy Alcorn’s margin notes written while reading Revolution. Though they were each written in response to certain portions of the book, they can be somewhat understood in this format. Randy doesn’t have time to write a standard review of the book, but this may offer insight to those who have read it.

When it comes to church involvement, many in previous generations struggled with legalism. Today many struggle with the opposite–license. Legalists need to learn Christian liberty. Those struggling with license–freedom abused–need to learn not liberty per se, but spiritual discipline.

So how does this “revolution” foster the spiritual discipline of submitting to authority and following leadership we don’t always agree with? Instead, does it substitute biblical leadership with self-leadership, which means doing whatever you want, i.e. not having to submit to someone else because “I know better”?

Christians calling their shots without looking to the leadership of a local church is like a student who says to the college “I’ll decide exactly what courses I’ll take.” Well, some flexibility is admirable, of course, but is it possible that a college has been around long enough that its leaders have been able to legitimately conclude that certain courses should be part of a student’s curriculum? Or does the student always get to call the shots? (And if he does, will his education suffer? Will he fail to be the well-rounded person he could have been?)

What would the apostle Paul think of this revolution that seeks spiritual authenticity, growth, and impact outside of the local church, separated from the context of an established community characterized by elders and deacons, pastors, baptism, and a diverse family that gathers for worship?

It’s like Barna is sometimes saying “If you’re really committed to Christ, really serious about being authentic and making a difference, you won’t be willing to put up with the church.” Disconnection from the local church is not only justified and rationalized, but taken as the spiritual high ground.

The term “revolution” suggests an attack mentality that is dismissive of the local church. If you’ve had a lot of bad experiences with churches (and haven’t we all?) then you can withdraw from churches guilt-free in the interest of truly following Jesus. Once you are not part of a local church, you will experience less disillusionment and inconvenience.

At a time when people, especially the next generation and post-moderns, need to (re)commit themselves to God’s idea of the centrality of the local church in the Christian life, it seems ironic to take a trend of justifying separation from the church and present it as a modern reformation rather than a departure from historic Christianity.

Barna is far better at description than prescription; far better at criticism than construction. His word is revolution rather than reformation. He is okay with abandoning churches rather than transforming them by the Spirit and by Scripture.

He appears to have given up on churches and to be enamored by finding true spirituality in substitutes for biblical community. I understand his disillusionment with churches that have failed to effectively represent Christ—to a degree I sometimes share it. I don’t question either his longings or his criticisms or his sincerity. What I question is his wisdom and his presumption that what he seeks can ultimately be found outside the “institution” of the local church (which I believe is biblical God-ordained institution).

Randy Alcorn, founder of EPM

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over fifty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries

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