I purchased this book for the perspective it advocated, to define where our church traditions come from and how we worship God today. However, what I found was more than just an objective view, but a condemnation of our church practices throughout history. The authors also dismissed any co-relation with the Old Testament Temple and practices to any modern worship pactices, citing that Jesus' death completed any need for those institutional practices.The authors also dismissed our modern church practices because some came from pagan roots. I am convinced that regardless of where a practice may have been initiated it can be sanctified for God's purpose. I believe that just as great hymns of the church were written for the glory of God and used contemporary bar tunes to teach the people were no less used of God then and now than the rites and traditions of our churches. No thing is holy unless it is dedicated for holiness, and no single approach to worship at His throne is better than another as long as the heart of the seeker is grounded in earnest, humble desire to see God's face. I was disappointed with the presentation of this book.
As one who has two degrees in church history, I can unflinchingly recommend this book without reservation. The research is accurate and insightful. The authors uncover little known facts about the history of Christianity's ecclesiastical practices and their use of scripture when necessary is done carefully and with consistency. Professor Howard Snyder's assessment of the book is right on target. I found the frequently asked question page to be a great addition also and the sequel - Reimagining Church - made the book more complete as many issues are expanded and lots of additional questions answered. I would give this book and the sequel 6 stars each if it were possible.
I read this book with as open of a mind as possible. When I read the back cover of this book at the bookstore, I instantly felt that this was the perfect book to buy for a quick and concise read on church history. At first I was convinced by their arguments, but now I have come to recant their main thesis. Ironically, the authors are guilty of the very thing they rant against; proof-texting. They take passages from Scripture and pound them through to try and "prove" their point. They also interpret the practices of the early church completely out of context. The early church was poor, persecuted, and had no choice but to worship in houses. I feel that Viola's and Barna's vision of a "true church" is nothing more than a glorified Bible study/ Quaker meeting. Yes I feel that every believer has spiritual gifts, but do we really want every single person sporadically sharing their interpretations of the Scriptures? We need believers trained in the Scriptures and in theology, among other things. There are many false doctrines and philosophies in the world that need confrontation. This is also the reason why I am not convinced by the authors' attacks on the modern educational system, which they believe is unbiblical (just because it wasn't around in apostolic times). Viola and Barna themselves are interpreting early church history through their own presuppositions. I found much of their documentation and citations to be interesting, but that is all. I think it is useful for Christians to know the history of how church practices developed over the centuries, but they should not accept the thesis of this book. I am really shocked by the number of "5 star" ratings that reviewers gave this book. I do not think this book deserves that amount of credit.
Pagan Christianity was indeed an eye opener; mostly because we tend to assume certain things about how we ought to "do" church. I do think that there was often grinding sarcasm and unnecessary dismals of key Church Fathers who deserve a lot more discussion than what was given in this book. Many Western Christians are not comfortable with a church without some sort of human control element (i.e. institution) and cannot possibly understand how the Organic church could be anything but a spruced up Quaker meeting. We assume that elder/bishop/pastor means ruler, but that goes against the whole thrust of Jesus' own words on the nature of authority. We don't really understand that how we do church affects who we tend to believe we should be. Pastors lament passivity but the the church is designed to be passive. Pastors lament that they are always at church but then they accept an inhuman ministry model. Maybe you dont become an organic Christian, but at least you may begin to see just how powerful systems are in guiding the nature of the Church.