BOOK REVIEW

Barna’s Revolution

Christian pollster George Barna has been kidnapped and replaced by gremlins. That is the most logical explanation for the premise, content, and reasoning of the latest book attributed to Barna’s authorship, Revolution (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2005).

Barna published his first book in 1990 and during the fifteen years since, after several books, articles and interviews, Barna has established a following that includes the author of this review. Those who have followed Barna’s work have valued it to the extent that changes in worship styles, church practices and methods of discipleship and evangelism can be more or less directly linked to guidance derived from Barna’s polls and trend reports.

Thus, like probably many ministers and church leaders, I greeted Barna’s newest book, Revolution, with high expectations. Unfortunately, those expectations have been thwarted.

The first problem with this book is that it is not an update of his famous polling and more famous prognostication of trends in the church and among American Christians. Indeed, Barna’s book presents nothing in the way of new data. It does contain pronouncements from Barna regarding his accumulated data and his interpretation of that data, stripped of any explanation of the methodology by which he has reached his conclusions. This book has the look and feel of one rushed to press, thoughtlessly assembled and just plain badly written.

The oddities in the book commence with the claim by Barna that rather than being merely a pollster, he is now a practitioner of the “art of estimating the future.” It reminded me of Isaac Asimov’s fictional character, Hari Seldon, the mathematician who 12,000 years in the future would explain, “What I have done…is to show that, in studying human society, it is possible to choose a starting point and to make appropriate assumptions that will suppress the chaos. That will make it possible to predict the future, not in full detail, of course, but in broad sweeps; not with certainty, but with calculable probabilities.” Barna makes roughly the same claim, though a future movie seems less likely.

Barna, it seems, has discovered by polling what the rest of us knew and took for granted. He has discovered that each church has a core of members who do most of the giving, work, leading, and spiritual living, and that such a core usually comprises 5% to 10% of the membership. As a result, churches are less influential for Christ than any of us would prefer. But Barna goes much further, concluding that the local church concept is approaching obsolescence due to its accumulated errors and that an “under the radar but seminal renaissance” is in the making among Christians who have given up on the local church.

Barna never explains how, if these Christians are “under the radar,” that he has detected them. He admits that his book is not a product of his analytical work as much as it is an encouragement to these “outsiders,” who are “struggling with their place in the Kingdom of God, to consider this spiritual awakening as a viable alternative to what they have pursued and experienced thus far.” One has to wonder how these outsiders will learn of his book and buy it in sufficient quantities to satisfy Tyndale without contact with the local church.

Barna’s “discovery” of a large “breed” of Christian “revolutionaries” who do not have the time or feel the necessity for local church involvement, or even worship service attendance, seems poorly explained or documented. Rather than concluding that these Christians are marginal or backslidden, rather even than investigating their true nature through additional polling, Barna concluded that these Christians represent a “significant recalibration of the American Church body.” To be part of Barna’s army of revolutionaries, a Christian must be “repudiating tepid systems and practices in Christian faith and introducing a wholesale shift in how faith is understood.”

Frankly, there have always been any number of Christians who for a variety of reasons have hovered about the local church like moths on a night light. To now describe them as “revolutionaries” is not only premature, but historically naïve, at least as much as can be determined from the brevity of Barna’s little book. Nevertheless, Barna predicts that the failure of the local church concept, combined with the growth of his revolutionaries, will result in a decline in local church membership from 70% of Christians to 35% by 2025. This startling claim is bereft of tables, charts, data, sample questionnaires, or anything that looks like a pollster wrote it.

Barna’s gloomy prediction for the local church is founded on his conclusion that America has a “stagnant spiritual landscape.” Barna does not, apparently, see that churches are on every corner and new construction is proliferating. The rise of the “megachurch” is swept aside by Barna without explanation as being, rather than the manifestation of the success of his revolutionaries, just another dead end created by out-of-date thinking.

Barna lists and repudiates the changes in the local church on the one hand, and then claims the local church concept will fade because of its unwillingness to change or accommodate change, leaving the disappointed reader to cry out, “Well, which is it?!” Hopefully, the search for George Barna will succeed before his next publishing deadline to prevent a further waste of reader’s time.

Evolution Not Above Debate

Rod: I have not read Judge Jones’ decision, and I am no expert on evolution or intelligent design (although I certainly know that there is an infinitely intelligent Designer). So I refer you to the comments of John G. West, associate director of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture. West agrees that the recent efforts to mandate the teaching of intelligent design were “misguided.” But West also objects to the judge’s pontification that evolution is above debate. “Efforts to shut down discussion of a scientific idea through harassment and judicial decrees hurt democratic pluralism.” West’s opinion, which appeared in the Dec. 22 issue of USA Today, can be read here.

Intelligent Design: The Dover Opinion

Tammy Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District (USDC, MD Pa. 2005), may very well sound the death knell of the still adolescent concept known as “intelligent design.” The federal court in Harrisburg issued Judge Jones’ 139 page opinion on December 20 and the opinion is available not only from the court’s website but all over the web. There are a number of typographical errors and there are a number of grammatical problems with the opinion, both of which indicate to me the work of an inexperienced judge, three years on the bench, and a similarly new court staff, rushing too quickly to get the opinion out the door, possibly before it leaked or their own work load caught up with them. They have an opportunity to clean it up for publication, in which they might indulge. Nevertheless, if the opinion is a correct summation of the six week trial record, the decision should not have been unexpected.

I am avoiding the temptation to post a summary of the decision. The troubling part of the decision for intelligent design advocates simply are the findings that there is no scientific basis for intelligent design as a theory of science, notwithstanding that it might have a theological basis. Indeed, the court went so far as to classify current intelligent design pronouncements as sham science promoted by religious activists. The court did this after an exhaustive inquiry during a six week trial on the merits, forever memorialized in 139 pages of reflective summation. The court seemed to do a workmanlike job describing the facts in the record, and if that is so, then intelligent design, as a concept is still adolescent, still dependent upon its intellectual parentage for nurture and survival, and unable to be self determining or of any value. It might be an interesting notion, it might even be true, but it is not a contender in the scientific world, so the court held, and the court is, unfortunately, right.

I respectfully submit that any review or comment about the court decision that is published or posted without a reading of the opinion will largely be uninformed. It took me an entire evening to read it, so I am certain just the time commitment will stop some from reading it, even if many are not stopped from commenting.

For me, the saddest part of the decision was not the lucid dismemberment of intelligent design and failure of intelligent design to survive judicial review even as a bone fide scientific concept, but the record of intemperate conduct by its advocates detailed in the decision. I have served as a school board member of a public school district, and I was embarrassed by the record left behind by school board members in this decision. I am not talking about the failed advocacy, but about the apparent immoral conduct that had to be the result of an “ends justifies the means” and scorched earth thinking. If the lawyers involved must share the blame for the appearance of untruthfulness to a federal court, then so be it.

Welcome to the Mayhem

My partner, Terry Hull, has introduced us in his first posting. Additional biographical data about me is publicly available from any source that provides such information regarding lawyers and my law firm has its own website. But, by way of full disclosure, I would also note that I, too, have served in the pulpit for various lengths of time at various churches and among denominational Christians as well as non-denominational Christians. Never have I accepted compensation from any church, however, but that probably means the church in question got exactly what they paid for. Between us, Mr. Hull and I have five or six degrees, at least three of which are graduate degrees. Thus, on some subjects we are fundamentalists, sometimes we are evangelicals, sometimes we are professionals, sometimes we are educated liberals, and sometimes we are simply clueless, but not, hopefully at the same time. As Terry has noted, we have been blogging between ourselves for nearly 40 years and we are now inviting others to the intellectual mayhem.

Enter, Stage Left

EDITOR’S NOTE: On Dec. 23, 2005, Rod Heggy and I began blogging under the name Terra Extraneus (“Strange World!”). During 2006, we wrote about 300 blog posts on a variety of topics, including faith, politics, law, books and movies. At the beginning of 2007, we divided our blog content between two blogs. We redefined Terra Extraneus as a law blog and established this new blog, Joshua One, to promote our faith and ministry. Joshua One went online on Feb. 6, 2007. We transferred about 150 posts from the original Terra Extraneus blog to this new faith blog, and left about 120 posts related to law and business on TerraX. I have duplicated this post and Rod Heggy’s reply (next post) on both blogs, to memorialize how this blog began.

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Rod Heggy and I have been friends since our teenage days and partners on numerous projects during our adult lives. Today, 35 years after our friendship began, we begin our latest collaboration: the Terra Extraneus** blog.

Terra Extraneus is Latin for “strange world,” as in the phrase, usually said while shaking one’s head, “It’s a strange world!” Actually, our view isn’t quite as dismal as that phrase suggests (well, maybe Rod’s is, but mine isn’t). Depending on how you look at it, this strange world we live in can be a source of dismay or of comedic relief. I imagine Rod and I will be looking at things from both of those perspectives on Terra Extraneus.

Rod and I first met in 1971 as members of the youth groups of sister churches. Soon we crossed paths in a second way as high school speech and debate competitors. Rod went on to become an attorney and today he heads a successful practice. I entered the ministry and have spent much of my adult life as a pastor. I have also worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor, and paralegal.

Rod and I are evangelical Christians, meaning that we believe Jesus is the living Son of God and our Lord and Savior. But don’t be too quick to pigeonhole our personalities or our politics based on that confession. We may surprise you.

We launch Terra Extraneus to discuss “news, morality, law and faith.” Our discussion, of course, reflects our perspectives as two men, one an attorney and the other a pastor, who are long-time friends and fellow Christians. Actually, we have already been having this discussion between ourselves for years. Today we invite you to listen in — and to add your own comments, if you wish.

being disciples, making disciples