Linking: The Courage to be Protestant

I came across an interesting excerpt on a blog from a recently released book by David Wells called The Courage to be Protestant: Truth-lovers, marketers, and emergents in the postmodern world. I haven’t read the book (yet), but the excerpt deals with the section of the book related to church marketers, and the backlash against them thanks to “studies” and “polls” by George Barna and others. I’ve always had beef with Barna – not 100% because of his polls necessarily (though I’m sure Neil Postman would), but because of the conclusions he draws from polls (i.e. his conclusion in Revolution that “real” Christians should leave the “fake” churches en mass). Wells (and Barna for that matter) isn’t talking about the emergent movement specifically, but there are similarities.

“George Barna was one of the primary architects who designed this new approach to ‘doing’ church. He was in on the ground floor three decades ago. As the church’s most assiduous poller, he undoubtedly expected by this time to be the bearer of good news once his marketing strategies were widely adopted, as they have been. It has not turned out that way. It has fallen to him to be the most important chronicler of his own failure. “Leaving behind this long trail of failure as if it had never happened, Barna has nevertheless struck out in a new direction with the same old panache, bravado, and undented self-assurance. The evangelical world has neither gasped nor even blinked. In 2005, he published his book, Revolution, which predicted that the church in the coming decade would lose much of its “market share” but, never mind, because now it could climb aboard a different cultural trend and succeed even more spectacularly. Now, serious spiritual revolutionaries can simply cut themselves loose from every local church. Just walk away! Permanently. And find biblical Christianity elsewhere.
“What is resulting from Barna’s approach is barely recognizable as Christian today. And that is what makes the desire of some of the leading American marketing pastors to export their experiment to the rest of the world almost incomprehensible.”

Because it’s poor blog etiquette to just repost another’s article (even if it is an excerpt from something else), please read the rest of the excerpt here.

Wells goes on to laud the scripturally-bounded concept of the importance of having good theology and doctrine, and not a Christianity based on personal experience. As Michael Horton of the White Horse Inn broadcast and Westminster Seminary California has said many times and in many ways, “Too often, churches focus on Christian experiences rather than Christ. In the process these bodies have emphasized the subjective over the objective, personal testimonies over historical facts, and self-centered spirituality over Biblical Christianity.” The result is a Christianity focused on spiritual encounters and esoteric mysticism, which is eerily similar to the Gnostic heresies the early church fought so hard against.
Biblical Christianity isn’t about jumping on the latest bandwagon and losing a sense of scriptural and theological literacy – whether it be riding Barna’s coattails to deserting mainstream church, or adopting Eastern and Roman Catholic mystical practices like meditation and prayer labyrinths.
I’m not totally railing on Barna or similar leaders – he has some fascinating and informative research, and he points to some definite problems in the evangelical church that should be examined. And there are always exceptions to the majority of course. But there has to be a line when he starts quantifying trends in terms of how God is moving in His church. Is it possible to quantify God’s power in American culture? Have we put God in that small of a box that we can so readily and easily desert His church? Is that what the Bible teaches? I’m not convinced that Barna is basing his conclusions on solid Biblical truths instead of his own poll results.


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