I've made a couple of book review promises that I haven't kept in the last month. I still haven't finished Consuming Jesus by Paul Metzger, in spite of it having travelled with me to both Vancouver and Pittsburgh. It isn't because I don't want to read the book - nor that I do not like the book. I do and also think it's a critically important book in the discussion of the consumer church. It's on my reading list for today - as we are having a very relaxed New Year's Eve around these parts. (Imbi and I will probably be curled up on couches reading. UPDATE: We actually watched two of the Inspector Lynley series DVDs and then watched Dream Girls. I'm reading the book today - Jan 1.)
In spite of not finishing CJ, I have managed to read both Pagan Christianity and Wolfgang Simson's free eBook, The Starfish Manifesto. (UPDATE: Almost 40 people have downloaded the pdf file so far. Please share your thoughts here or via email.) They are singing similar songs and I think they are both critical to any discussion of the church today. (I probably don't share Simson's particular eschatological viewpoint, however.) Darryl Dash has begun his review of Pagan Christianity and I would agree with this assessment of Viola and Barna's four themes:
1. The origin of many of our church practices (examples: church buildings, orders of worship, sermons, pastors, tithing, clergy salaries) is non-biblical, and these practices are inconsistent with those of the early church. "Almost everything that is done in our contemporary churches has no basis in the Bible." (p. 4) Much of it was lifted from pagan culture.
2. Just because something does not appear in the Bible does not mean it is wrong. However, our non-biblical church practices often hinder the development of our faith and keep us from encountering the living God.
3. "The church in its contemporary, institutional form neither has a biblical nor a historical right to exist." (p. xx)
4. The church must return to its biblical roots. At a personal level, we must ask questions of church as we know it and pray seriously about what our response should be.
Imbi is in the process of reading the book and I will include her comments when I write my review. The book is very well footnoted (in contrast to Wolfgang's which is intentionally not footnoted at all) and has much in it with which I agree. Barna softens Viola's often strident tone (based on my reading of others of Frank's books) and the Q&A sections at the end of each chapter help this book to effectively communicate its message.
Let me end this post by saying that I think Consuming Jesus, Pagan Christianity and The Starfish Manifesto are all books that should prompt important discussions as we attempt to understand the church in the third millennium.
UPDATE: I should note that I found the link to Simson's book via The Leadership Network blog.
UPDATE 2: Joe Thorn has also begun to review Pagan Christianity.
UPDATE 3: Triple D is continuing to review Pagan Christianity. Please read J. Michael Matkin's comment on this post - I appreciate his caution.
UPDATE 4: I think Grace's post, A Relational Ethos of Leadership, is an important addition to this discussion.
UPDATE 5: The BHT's local dog, Van Til, expresses the sentiment of many regarding the pronouncements of Brother Barna. And almost says a bad word in the process. The iMonk, the hand that feeds Van Til, says that Triple D and I have told him everything he needs to know about the book.