Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices by Frank Viola and George Barna was recommended to me by a friend from church. Many of the young adults I know have been on a quest to sort out what's real and what fake, what's mandated by God versus man, and what God truly intended His Church to look like. So when my friend mentioned the book, many of us were excited to read it. It didn't live up to my expectations, but I think it's still worth the read for many.
Frank Viola and George Barna cover many traditions, such as the order of service, dressing up, the building itself, and the division of the body into clergy versus laity. In each chapter of the book (perhaps purposefully numbered at 12), the authors walk us through the history of a given tradition, starting with the original New Testament Church, following the twists and turns to the modern tradition. Essentially, the book is a history of how certain pagan traditions became intermingled—often to the point of being sacrosanct—with our current church.
The authors are clearly biased toward a particular narrative, only presenting the traditions they disagree with. It is also evident that the authors write from a Protestant point of view, as many Catholic traditions such as praying to Mary, bowing to statues, creating saints, etc. are not given much attention. There is no mention of the pagan origins of Easter or Christmas, and only two to three sentences about Sunday not being the Sabbath. This is one of the reason I only give the book 3 stars. Clearly the authors did a lot of research, in fact there are countless footnotes and citations within each chapter. So why did they only present certain pagan traditions?
The History Aspect
For me, there wasn't anything particularly shocking in the book. Many of the traditions that aren't Biblical are pretty easy to spot if you read The Word often or do even a little research on your own. However, I did like the historical context provided for each topic. Having that background makes it easier to discus with those who are deeply immersed in a particular tradition.
The book is written in an academic format in which each chapter contains a summary of the chapter and the final chapter is actually a summary of the whole book. If the concepts were more complex, or perhaps if I had picked this book up before I'd done any researching on my own, I might have appreciated this. However, since the topics were fairly simple, it just came off as redundant to me. These summaries did not provide new information or clarify anything in the chapter, so after about the fourth or fifth chapter I started skimming the summaries.
The Follow Up
Many reviews I read criticized the authors for not providing solutions, but I will give them credit that they have a follow-up book that is supposed to do just that. I, however, was not impressed with this book enough to read the second one.
Overall I think this is a good book for people who have solid faith but have never questioned what they've been taught in church. Many intertwine faith in God and faith in the church, so if your relationship with God is not strong and you lose confidence in the church, your faith crumbles. For this reason, I say proceed with caution. For some, this could be the eye opener that strengthens their faith, because they've been questioning the church anyway. However, for those who are unable to separate the traditions of the church from the Word of God, this may be more confusing than helpful. If you are new in your walk with Christ, or have not spent much time in the Word, but are curious, I would recommend reading the book with someone who is more seasoned and has a deeper understanding of the Word.
References and Footnotes
- Frank Viola and George Barna. Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices. December 31, 2007