The Laodicean Revolution

Ominous ‘Revolution’

Know this: George Barna’s latest book on the future of Christianity depicts a nightmare. It’s a future already in full-swing all around us. It’s Laodicean Christianity with a smile. Barna calls this population of compromised Christians “Revolutionaries” and has written a book ominously warning the rest of us to quit criticizing the “Revolution” — else get left behind in the stampede dust of those quitting the church!

Know this: just as the prophets of old were unwelcome in their own hometown, so are Revolutionaries looked at askance by even their closest friends and family members…

Be forewarned: just as Jesus Christ, the ultimate lover of humanity was scorned, misunderstood, persecuted, and eventually murdered for His extreme love, goodness, compassion, humility, wisdom, and grace, so are Revolutionaries abused by a culture that is itself in crisis. The mere presence of Revolutionaries makes the typical American citizen—yes, even the typical churchgoer—uncomfortable.” – Revolution, p.16

The only substantial revolution in this book is with the Barna Group’s quality control before printing the book. It is an embarrassment to this heretofore respectable research institute known for its surveys and polls.

Shock and Awe

Barna shocks the world by uncovering a hidden “sub-nation” of Christian Revolutionaries (emphasis mine, below):

“I want to show you what our research has uncovered regarding a growing sub-nation of people, already well over 20 million strong, who are what we call Revolutionaries…they have no use for churches that play religious games, whether those games are worship services that drone on without the presence of God or ministry programs that bear no spiritual fruit. – Revolution, p.13

The book offers plenty of comic relief, such as the above nonsequetors: “the mere presence of Revolutionaries” makes everyone around them uncomfortable, he says, yet nobody knew about these 20-million irritants until his research uncovered the “growing sub-nation.” In fact, they are entirely an “under the radar but seminal renaissance of faith…” (p.15).

Such ravings about the sub-nation comprise the bulk of this book, but the greatest shock is not the “20-million strong”: it’s the complete absence of research to back up his “revolution”. At best, his research demonstrates that 20 million have dropped out of attending church. Their apparent disdain for “worship services…without the presence of God” is not only unquantified, it’s unquantifiable. Is the “presence of God” now subject to Barna’s polls?

Barna’s imagination attaches the following qualities to these 20-million church dropouts:

  • “To the Revolutionary, there is no such thing as ‘going along to get along.’ You either stand for Jesus or you stand for all that He died to repudiate…life is truly that simple, it is that black-and-white…”
  • “Revolutionaries zealously pursue an intimate relationship with God.”
  • They “make their decisions with care, knowing that each choice matters to God.”
  • They are them that are, “Fueled by the ‘seven spiritual passions.’” (Note: Don’t bother looking for this list in scripture; but books about them can be found in abundance among the knick-knacks and brick-a-brack littering the local Christian book store.)
  • They “risk image, resources, and security to be more attentive to and compliant with the God who means everything to them.”
  • “Seeking a faith experience that is more robust and awe-inspiring, a spiritual journey that prioritizes transformation at every turn, seeming worthy of the Creator…”
  • “They refuse to follow people in ministry leadership positions who cast a personal vision rather than God’s…” (The book neglects to help the rest of us identify such leaders.)
  • “They refuse to donate one more dollar to man-made monuments that mark their own acheivements and guarantee their place in history.” (Ed.Note: We are left to imagine how the monumental test works, so non-Revolutionaries must continue the monumental donations.)

What strange conclusions from a pollster! Journalism school once taught a course called statistics to help quantify poll results. Yet statistics could never confirm Barna’s Revolution research to identify “Zealous pursuit”, “intimate relationship”, “careful decisions”, “fueled by (seven) passions”, “compliant with God”, “prioritizing transformation”… the absurdities mount. It would be remarkable to see this survey and its questions. Imagine the complexity!

Sample Barna Revolution Survey:

Please check any of the following you would be willing to risk in order to become more attentive to and compliant with the God who means everything to you: a) image, b) resources, c) security, d) visa card, e) night on the town, f) meat on Fridays, g) miss a night of “American Idol” h) none of the above i) all of the above

The point is clear: Revolutionaries have it right, everyone else are losers. This endless stream of super-spiritual generalizations characterizes the book. Even worse: the rest of us are consigned to remain outside the Revolution because no one but Barna can make tangible sense of such sweeping generalities.

The Silence of the Lambs

Revolution attains heights of delusion when it asserts this sub-nation is destined to rule American culture:

You’ve probably heard about the “culture war” that rages in the United States today. Perhaps the most significant battle in that war will be waged by the Revolutionaries. They are entrenched at ground zero in the test of wills and worldviews that is shaking our nation. Like their role model, Jesus Christ, they ignite fierce resistance merely by being present and holy… These Christian zealots are radically reshaping both American society and the Christian church. – Revolution, p.17–18

Yawn.

We could label this Barna’s phenomena of the silent-but deadly zealot, but it isn’t phenomenal. “Merely being present and holy” is, in fact, merely the Same-Old-Stuff (SOS) of classic Reformed theology, warmed-over. For centuries the Calvinist pipe-dream that a silent witness reaches more for Christ than open-mouthed evangelists has been self-refuting: from the dead Puritans through the dying traditional denominations today, this silence has guaranteed anything but a “test of wills and worldviews…shaking our nation.” Quite the opposite, the Silence of Christ’s Lambs has guaranteed Christianity an obscure role among the worldviews “shaking our nation,” according to Barna’s own research.

We could always cite Paul as the best refutation of Barna’s Silent Revolution:

And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? – Romans 10:14

Whoops. Revolution missed that one.

Mysticism Mainstreamed

Revolution would provide us more opportunities for satire and humor if not for the warped theology espoused. The silent evangelist, above, is only the beginning. At the center of Barna’s Revolution is the astounding claim that a real Christian—a.k.a. Revolutionary—needs not belong to a local Body of Christ as long as the heart belongs to the “universal Body of Christ.” Revolution is a naked crusade to motivate people to leave their local Christian fellowships and live the autonomous, mystical life of “me and God”, with the emphasis on me:

This mission demands single-minded commitment and a disregard for the criticisms of those who lack the same dedication to the cause of Christ. You answer to only one Commander in Chief, and only you will give an explanation for your choices. Do whatever you have to do to prove that you fear God, you love Him, and you serve Him—yes, that you live only for Him. – p.27 (Barna’s emphasis.)

If we “answer to only one Commander in Chief,” as Barna claims, how can we “be subject to one another in the fear of Christ” or, “Obey your leaders and submit to them,” as God says? (See Ephesians 5:21 and Hebrews 13:17)

Barna pontificates with flourish, “Only you will give an explanation for your choices!” Let’s cut out the rhetoric and read the Bible:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. – Hebrews 13:17

His teachings are patently unbiblical and ascetic. By eliminating accountability to other Christians, Revolution is a spirituality guided by the isolated, internal compass of self-conviction. This is the age-old monastic mysticism revived, reworked and mainstreamed.

Holy But Lonely

What matters is not whom you associate with (i.e., a local church), but who you are. – p.29

Revolution means Christianity without the Great Commission, which explicitly states that discipleship is God’s ordained path to spiritual maturity (Matthew 28:18–19). Revolution is a theory of spiritual growth without depending on anyone else.

This life of Lonely Holiness is not Barna’s monster, however. He is, in many ways, a victim of the “revolutionaries” he is studying, and the super-spiritual legacy that built this population.

The first mistake is to twist the scriptures and separate serving God from serving others. Compare the classical bombastic rhetoric ( “Prove that you fear God!” ) against the more sane words of Christ and the rest of the Bible which say, “Prove that you love others!”

“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34–35

For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” – Galatians 5:14

And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:37–40

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. – 1 John 4:7–8

Separating the definition of holiness from the act of loving others is not a new error. It’s a widespread belief among those who practice Lonely Holiness. A large population of Christians have been dropping in and out of various churches for decades, nominally involved in Body Life, casually severing relationships without commitment or depth. In the personal vacuum which loneliness creates—we are, after all, emotional and relational beings—the emotions are fed through the elusive worship experience. Yes, the experience occurs at times, but not always, and even less-often as familiarity breeds contempt for the SOS. The time comes to to fill the void and find another church with better worship ambiance and sacred ground.

Sacred Secularism

This is precisely what Barna exalts at the core of his Revolution: seeking the “Presence of God.” Revolutionaries reject “worship services…without the presence of God,” as we read, but now the church dropouts seek a faith-experience from the “media, arts and other cultural institutions.” Now 20% of Americans express or experience their faith through media/arts/culture, and Barna predicts it will be 35% within 20 years. Meanwhile, those using the “Local Church” will drop from 70% today to 30% in 20 years. Barna’s conclusion is astounding. Sweeping aside the obvious fact that American Christianity is sick and getting sicker, he considers this trend healthy! As for the dismal future of the Local Church, he says:

You may read this and feel a sense of loss or dread—or you may celebrate the development of new ways people can grow to full maturity through their faith. The relatively compromised and complacent state of faith in the nation today suggests than any new means through which people–especially younger people–can make their faith come alive and become more center-stage in their lives, without conflicting with scriptural imperatives, will represent a welcome breath of fresh air in the stagnant spiritual landscape of our country. – p.49–50

Can “the media, arts and other cultural institutions” possibly replace the love relationships in a local Body of Christ? It’s patently absurd: church drop-outs “can make their faith come alive” by visiting art museums?

Anticipating this criticism, Barna offers a snapshot of how “Revolutionaries” can replace the Local Church with “cultural institutions.” David and Michael are both rich, middle-aged, “born-again Christians who had eliminated church life from their busy schedules.” These busy, high-powered executives launched “The Church on the Green” — that is, they go golfing on Sunday mornings—where they experience a Revolution of “faith come alive”. It’s a nightmarish exaltation of carnal Christianity:

He took a full swing and launched the puckered ball a good 250 yeards down the middle of the fairway…

“Beat that, Mr. Long Ball!” [Various silly comments follow, then the spiritual conversation begins…]

“Look at those mountains over there,” David entreated his friend as they marched toward their next spot on the fairway. “They are absolutely stunning, don’t you think?” He stopped for a moment and wistfully stared at the evergreen-covered landmass rising high above the course. “Awesome,” he exclaimed loudly… “Every time I see them, I get my batteries get recharged. God’s handiwork gets to me every time! Aren’t they something?” – p.1–4

So goes the “Church on the Green” worship service led by “Mr. Long Ball.” This is Barna’s “sub-nation” destined to shake American culture for God through their “wistful” glances at landscapes…

Clueless

Barna may be a reknown statistician, but he’s clueless about spiritual warfare. Compare the fluffy “Church on the Green” against Paul’s descriptions of spiritual struggle:

But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; – 2 Timothy 4:5–7

in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true; as unknown yet well-known, as dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death, – 2 Corinthians 6:7–9

Paul would certainly scoff at the David/Michael team’s “weapons of righteousness” and their ability to “endure hardship.” Anyone with significant experience knows the spiritual war is waged at great expense and hardship. Consider the words of Jesus:

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. “For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; and A MAN’S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD.” – Matthew 10:34–36

Consider this: is it not possible that the drop from 70% to 30% in local church attendance simply means the fakers quit faking, and go play golf instead?

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