A Response to the Revolution
(And George Barna)
I recently read George Barna's Revolution (Okay, okay, I'm not a fast adopter when it comes to shifting spiritual movements, so I never felt the need to read this text until recently), and I have to say that I found the experience vindicating, disturbing, and enlightening all at once. My response to this text is complicated because it's wrapped up in a long personal spiritual journey with and without the local church as an extension of the Church Universal. As a result, I've broken down my response into two parts: a general reactive response to Barna's book and then a specific response to the Barnaic Revolutionary Creed expressed therein.
General Reaction to Barna's Text:
My first genuine experience among believers was as a teen in a church that had at least as many teens as there were adults in the congregation. The stark difference between their lives and my own as an outsider was always foremost in my mind as I interacted with them. More than anything, it was the love they shared with outsiders and each other that ultimately convinced me to be among them as one of them, if but for a time in the late eighties and early nineties.
The idyllic vision of my youth has not held true over the years, however, as I've attended a variety of churches, always seeking the love of the family of God and measuring every group of believers by way of comparison to that earlier experience, whether I knew it at the time or not. I have to admit that love was not a primary characteristic of most of the churches I've attended or joined over the years. In a few gatherings, love seemed like an irrelevant relic, no more for today, some might say, than the works of the Holy Spirit (which is all wrong).
When I look over at a lot of the communities where I've sought out a fellowship with believers, I can say that Revolution leaves me feeling vindicated in the sense that I did, in fact, see exactly those things that I often thought I saw: hypocrisy, immaturity, lack of commitment, and little or no concern for others/outsiders, for a start. Or so Barna's statistics would suggest. I must admit that I've been the stranger and the outsider most of my life: In very few instances have I been invited to attend church with someone, even though I would dearly have loved to be asked.
Unfortunately, the few instances where someone did ask, I felt that though the believer who asked seemed genuine, the church where they attended had issues that placed it outside the realm of possibilities for my commitment of time, talents, and resources. I could never attend a church where the KJV is held up as the only valid translation of God's Word into English. I could never attend a church where people speak in tongues during services without an interpreter present in clear violation of Scripture. I could never attend a church where believers are told that as long as they prayed a prayer with sincerity in their hearts that they never had to worry about displeasing God so much that they might lose their salvation. I could never attend church where love is not the focus of everything done in God's Name, where love is not even evident: Neither love of God nor that of fellow man. I could never attend church where the congregation, like the prophets of Baal before Elijah, mistakes a desperate frenzy and maddened intensity for actual Spirit-filled ministry and worship. I could never attend church where people are forced to speak in tongues as evidence of spiritual transformation, which might actually tempt some to lie before God and men to fit in if the Spirit doesn't move them. I could never attend church where the pastor teaches that Jesus turned water into grape juice rather than wine because that would be sinful. I could never attend church where a preacher teaches that uncontrollable madness, like those things that the demon-possessed do, is a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit in worship. I could, however, go on and on as the list is really that long.
I said I could never attend those churches, but in truth I did attend a few of them, at least once or twice. What I really meant was I could never be a part of their regular *air quotes* family of fellowship. I use that term loosely because a lot of them didn't act like families, not in the cohesive-unified-loving-family-of-God sort of way. They acted more like families in the sense of a loosely associated group of people who get together on special occasions to interact awkwardly with each other. When the church acts as if it is no different from the world, it's not surprising that people see no difference. I mean, if I want to be giggled at by a group of goofy teenagers sitting in the back, have someone's Aunt Harriet look down her nose sideways at me for taking her seat, talked down to, made to feel inferior and useless (sometimes coming in the door), or ignored completely, there's Thanksgiving dinner for that, isn't there? Maybe it's unrealistic or unfair to expect better of the church than any slice of human families, but I daresay not. To look at many churches today, and I think Barna's book would support my assertion in this, one might get the impression that much salt has lost its saltiness and many lampstands have already been removed.
Again and again, over the years, I settled for attendance among those who were content to remain immature because that particular local church didn't teach certain beliefs in denial of Scriptural Truth--at least not in plain sight. More than anything, I learned from these that the lack of such teachings was not a guarantee of the presence of the highly desirable qualities for which I longed among the so-called people of God: love of God and man, depth of commitment, and maturity of wisdom and knowledge regarding the Scriptures. To say that I have struggled to find my place in His Kingdom would be putting it mildly. I believe that much wickedness proliferates because some who call themselves this or that church of God has no right to do so. Indeed, many mock and curse God as a direct result of such foolishness as these participate in often.
However, seeing the state of local churches now 12 years in the past (Barna published his book in 2005 and I'm writing this near the end of 2017), left me feeling disturbed because I always assumed that somewhere out there, someone was doing it right. I hoped and believed that even if I wasn't finding it, it was still there to be found. Perhaps it still is, but reading this book leaves one with the distinct impression that it is not, an impression I think Barna intends to foster with his approach. Furthermore, I find it disturbing in the extreme that Barna seemingly advocates abandonment of the flocks in those pens, which I am uncertain God presently intends for His followers to do. Surely, some sheep remain among the goats belonging to another master. Barna seems to care little, if at all, for them. And there is the matter of the outsider, for whom I question Barna's concern. Consider: If these revolutionaries are off traipsing about from this group to that group, without the spiritual anchor of a local church, living their lives fully for God each and every day, how is the outsider meant to find them?
I have remained an outsider from such groups for the last twelve years, interacting with these people and those, ever seeking to find such a group of Christ-followers who are all on fire for God as these Barna describes--even without knowing he'd described them. I have been involved in this homeschool group and that volunteer project. I have yet to either find such a group of Christians or be invited to worship among them. They don't advertise their activities in any way that suggests they are looking to bring in the stranger, along with the friends and family they already embrace. Seems they've run off from the church local to be the Church Universal and forgotten the reason for local churches in the first place--so that the person with nowhere to go could always find somewhere to belong.
Given that the movement is underway and some decades into its evolution (at least one before Barna's text and one since), I can also say that the bright new future Barna hoped for is not the replacement for the local church Barna touted it would be. Not only is the local church struggling, which Barna seems to prefer, the Church Universal seems to have gone completely invisible. How else is Trump holding office? How else is sexual immorality and every deviant behavior going unchallenged? How is it we have contented ourselves to be governed by the corrupt, wealthy elitists who are destroying the middle class, plundering the houses of the widow and orphan, and oppressing the poor at every turn? How is it we have allowed our people to become a derisive byword among the nations? While faith pods of the "righteous" become more insular and potentially inbred (morally and spiritually if not literally biologically), who is bringing in the outsider? While the clean, productive (and often good-looking and wealthy) revolutionary Barna promotes is sitting down to eat a fine meal with his closest brothers and sisters, where is the chair for Mephibosheth? Are these revolutionaries living out Star Trek or Christ's Way that they have no room for the homely, unhealthy, and poor?
I must admit, however, if I've anything to say about the book, it must include the fact that the journey has been enlightening. Herein I've finally found closure and explanation at once for so many things I've been observing in Christian culture for a long time. I can see at once where we have come from, and where we are going (as well as whom to thank for certain attitudes I've seen more and more in the past seven to twelve years). Finally, I can say the blinders are off, and I see that while I cannot do everything, I can do a good deal more than I have been, especially since the House of the Lord is in such a sad state of disarray. Ultimately, if good comes from Barna's text, it may well be this: You can no longer look at the things that need doing and think that someone is going to get that, someone, somewhere is on it, surely something is being done. No, brothers and sisters, if you see something that needs doing, I'm afraid you may indeed be God's solution for the problem, and as ever, it falls to those who are aware to fix that which needs fixing.
Reaction to Barna's Creed:
Barna's Creed. My reaction follows. (Italics in the original.)
I am a Revolutionary in the service of God Almighty. My life is not my own; I exist as a free person but have voluntarily become a slave to God. My role on earth is to live as a Revolutionary, committed to love, holiness, and advancing God's Kingdom. My life is not about me and my natural desires; it is all about knowing, loving, and serving God with all my heart, mind, strength, and soul. Therefore, I acknowledge the following:
- I am a sinner; broken by my disobedience but restored by Jesus Christ in order to participate in good works that please God. I am not perfect; but Jesus Christ makes me righteous in God's eyes, and the Holy Spirit leads me toward greater holiness.
- God created me for His purposes. My desire as a Revolutionary is to fulfill those ends, and those ends alone. When I get out of bed each day, I do so for one purpose: to love, obey, and serve God and His people.
- Every breath I take is a declaration of war against Satan and a commitment to opposing him.
- God does not need me to fight His fight, but He invites me to allow Him to fight through me. It is my privilege to serve Him in that manner: I anticipate and will gladly endure various hardships as I serve God; for this is the price of participation in winning the spiritual war.
- I do not need to save the world; Jesus Christ has already done that. I cannot transform the world, but I can allow God to use me to transform some part of it.
- My commitment to the Revolution of faith is sealed by my complete surrender to God's ways and His will. I will gratefully do what He asks of me simply because He loves me enough to ask. I gain my security, success, and significance through my surrender to Him.
- I am not called to attend or join a church. I am called to be the Church.
- Worship is not an event I attend or a process I observe; it is the lifestyle I lead.
- I do not give 10 percent of my resources. I surrender 100 percent.
- God has given me natural abilities and supernatural abilities, all intended to advance His Kingdom. I will deploy those abilities for that purpose.
- The proof of my status as a Revolutionary is the love I show to God and people
- There is strength in relationships; I am bound at a heart and soul level to other Revolutionaries, and I will bless believers whenever I have the chance.
- To achieve victory in the spiritual war in which we are immersed, there is nothing I must accomplish; I must simply follow Christ with everything I have.
- There is no greater calling than to know and serve God.
- The world is desperately seeking meaning and purpose. I will respond to that need with the Good News and meaningful service.
- Absolute moral and spiritual truth exists, is knowable, and is intended for my life; it is accessible through the Bible.
- I want nothing more than to hear God say to me, "Well done, My good and faithful servant."
Thank you, Lord God, for loving me, for saving me, for refining me, for blessing me, and for including me in the work of Your Kingdom. My life is Yours to use as You please. I love You.
I don't like Barna's creed as it was written. His focus seems off the mark or at least missing some key ingredients in several places. My revised version follows. Text in red represents my alterations. Hover over subscript numbers to see my rationale for each edit.
I am a Christ-follower1 in the service of God Almighty. My life is not my own; I exist as a free person but have voluntarily become a slave to God by accepting Christ's purchase of my life on Calvary2. My role on earth is to live in submission to Christ3, committed to love, holiness, and advancing God's Kingdom. My life is not about me and my natural desires; it is all about knowing, loving, and serving God with all my heart, mind, strength, and soul, and loving others as myself4. Therefore, I acknowledge the following:
I am a sinner; broken by my disobedience but restored by Jesus Christ that I might be a child of God, a friend of Christ, a member of the Body, a portion of God's Beloved, a brother or sister to many, and5 in order to participate in good works that please God. I am not perfect; but Jesus Christ makes me righteous in God's eyes, and the Holy Spirit leads me toward greater holiness.
God created me for His purposes. My desire as a Christ-follower6 is to fulfill those ends, and those ends alone. When I get out of bed each day, I do so for one purpose: to love, obey, and serve God with all that I am, think, feel, do, and have7 and part of doing so is expressing love for all, but most especially8 His people.
Every breath I take is an affirmation of my love for God, the natural consequence of which is a9 declaration of war against Satan and a commitment to opposing him.
God does not need me to serve Him or do anything in fact: to be an emissary in this world, to be a preserving influence or a countering force to corruption and decay, or 10to fight His fight, but He invites me to allow Him to work in every good act or 11fight through me. It is my privilege to serve Him in that manner: I anticipate and will gladly endure various hardships as I serve God; for this is the price of participation in a12 spiritual war that, although it already has been ultimately won by Christ, continues to wage until He returns.13
I do not need to win the war or14 save the world; Jesus Christ has already done that. I can yet indeed help to15 transform the world, by living out my faith with conviction, passion, and earnest love in accordance with God's provision and spiritual guidance.16
My commitment to Jesus as my Lord17 is sealed by my Savior in exchange for18 my complete surrender to God's Way19 and His will. I will gratefully do what He asks of me simply because He loves me enough to ask. I gain my security, success, and significance through His sacrifice on the cross and20 my surrender to Him.
I21 am called to be the Church, the fulfillment of which calling may involve commitment to a community of Christ-followers, be that in a traditional church organization or elsewhere.22
Worship is not an event I attend or a process I observe; it is the lifestyle I lead, though that should never be used as an excuse to fail to regularly set aside time specifically to worship my God23.
I do not give 10 percent of my resources. 100 percent of it is already His, of which I will apportion whatever amount He desires to whatever cause He desires as often as He desires it.24
God has given me natural abilities and supernatural abilities, all intended to advance His Kingdom. I will deploy those abilities for that purpose.
The proof of my status as25 a Christ-follower26 is the love I give27 to God and people, but my status among His people is shown by the manner and portions in which I give it.28
There is strength in relationships; I am bound at a heart and soul level to other Christ-followers29, and I will not cease to remember that we are all members of one body, nor to30 bless believers whenever I have the chance.
To achieve and enjoy the fruits of my own victories31 in the spiritual war in which we are immersed, I32 must simply follow Christ with everything I have.
There is no greater calling than to know, love,33 and serve God in love, with humility, mercy, and justice34.
The world is desperately seeking meaning and purpose. I will respond to that need with the Good News and meaningful service in submission to Christ35.
Absolute moral and spiritual truth exists, is knowable, and is intended for my life; it is accessible through the Bible.
I will never forget that Christ's driving command is to love: first God, then neighbor as self, and then enemy, doing good to all, but most especially to the Christ-follower, wherever he or she may dwell.36
I want nothing more than to hear God say to me, "Well done, My good and faithful servant."
Thank you, Lord God, for loving me, for saving me, for refining me, for blessing me, and for including me in the work of Your Kingdom. My life is Yours to use as You please. Please, Heavenly Father, forgive me this day, fill me continually with Your Holy Spirit, place in my heart the things You desire, and guide my steps upon Your Way.37 I love You.
I found Barna's Revolution informative, if not the most edifying. I am uncertain of this group he promotes, even though I feel I am a part of such a movement in many ways (this website stands as evidence). The things that trouble me about those who stand out among this group seem to be echoed in Barna's voice. They sometimes appear much more concerned with cleanliness and productivity than genuine love in Christ. They talk about true followers of Christ looking like Christ, but I've yet to see that anyone in this age looks much like Christ, let alone a genuine disciple of Same. Tell me, if you will, which of you "Revolutionaries" go about without a place to lay your head, with a close group of disciples you teach, speaking to crowds and performing miracles like walking on water, feeding many with little, healing the lame and blind, and raising the dead? Remember, just to look like a disciple of Christ, you are called to leave everything you have for Christ. How much more is required of one to actually look like Christ Himself, which you intimate through your words you yourselves actually do? Remember, Peter, an actual disciple of Christ, walked on water, albeit briefly, so how about you? The book was informative, but much too militant for my taste and focused upon appearances, more than love and things of substance. You shall indeed know them by their fruit. Let us never confuse quantity and busy-ness with quality and genuineness. Golfing with CEO's must be fun, but how does that profit the sheep abandoned in the pen or those who are neither invited to the pen nor welcomed among this new breed of believer?