By George Barna
This is a very encouraging book
about Christian discipleship, but I predict that it will also be very
controversial. According to George
Barna, there are over 20 million committed disciples of Jesus Christ (which he
calls Revolutionaries) in the
20 million is a staggering number. It represents one out of every ten American adults. Unfortunately, this very encouraging development may well get lost in the somewhat controversial statements he makes about the church. For example, he writes:
“Whether you become a Revolutionary immersed in, minimally involved in or completely disassociated from a local church is irrelevant to me (and, within boundaries, to God). What matters is not whom you associate with (i.e. a local church) but who you are.”
Statements like that will probably generate intense debates and even considerable anger, which is unfortunate. Rather than rejoice over the exciting news that there are so many serious disciples of Jesus Christ and think about how to build on this foundation, many will be tempted to either see this as a call to defend the local church or as an excuse to bash it. Intemperate statements like this won’t help:
“Jesus and Jesus alone is the hope of the world. The local church is one mechanism that can be instrumental in bringing us closer to Him and helping us to be more like Him. But, as the research data clearly show, churches are not doing the job. If the local church is the hope of the world, then the world has no hope….However you should realize that the Bible neither describes nor promotes the local church as we know it today…The Revolution is not about eliminating, dismissing or disparaging the local church. It is about building relationships, commitments, processes, and tools that enable us to be the God-lovers we were intended to be from the beginning of creation…You see, it’s not about church. It’s about the Church – that is, the people who actively participate in the intentional advancement of God’s Kingdom in partnership with the Holy Spirit and other believers.”
What does Barna mean by a “Revolutionary? He identifies seven passions of a Revolutionary:
1. Intimate Worship on a 24/7 basis. Not just in a “worship service” but all day, every day.
2. Faith-Based Conversations: Sharing His love with those who have not yet understood or embraced it.
3. Intentional Spiritual Growth: “They placed their faith at the center of their lives and derived their sense of meaning, purpose and direction from their connection to God and His commands.”
4. Servanthood: Acts of selfless service.
5. Resource Investment: Giving generously to the needs of other believers and the advancement of the Gospel.
6. Spiritual Friendships: Deep relationships with other believers.
7. Family Faith: “In a very real sense, the home was the early Church.”
That sounds very much like the Biblical definition of a disciple as contained in four statements of Jesus:
”To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32)
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35)
“This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:8)
“Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple…In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.’” (Luke 14:25-27, 33)
Although some might contend that this is a somewhat reductionist definition of a disciple, it does reflect the direct statements that Jesus made about the characteristics of a disciple. In any event, one is struck by the similarities between Barna’s seven passions of a Revolutionary and Jesus’ statements about the characteristics of a disciple. Barna also lists seven marks of a Revolutionary which correspond as well to Jesus’ statements:
1. Spiritual Practices: Revolutionaries exercise spiritual disciplines to stay connected with God. “…they have formed a deep bond with God and relate to people intimately because of that bond.”
2. Personal Faith: To be available to God for His purposes.
3. Perspective on Life: To be firm and focused on producing fruit.
4. Attitude: “The attitude of a true Revolutionary is assured, appropriately righteous and upbeat.”
5. Character: Integrity (honesty, reliability and trustworthiness), humility and empathy.
6. Relationships: An excessive love for God and people.
7. Behavior: The Revolutionary lifestyle might be summarized as clean and productive.
Barna believes that “the
spiritual Revolution that is gathering momentum and influence in
1. The Changing of the Guard – from the Baby Boomers and the Builders to the Baby Busters and the Mosaics
2. The Rise of a New View of Life – Postmodernism claims there are no moral absolutes – that is, truth is whatever you believe it to be.
3. Dismissing the Irrelevant – “In a culture where the individual is king and there are no moral absolutes, exercising choice without limitations is a cherished right.”
4. The Impact of Technology
5. Genuine Relationships – “Busters and Mosaics place a much higher premium on genuine personal relationships than do their predecessors.” Authenticity is much more important that excellence in performance.
6. Participation in Reality – There is more enthusiasm for creating personal dialogue with non-Christian friends than for bringing them to a big evangelistic event.
7. Finding True Meaning – The eternal struggle to find meaning in life is in full force today. (e.g. The Purpose Driven Life)
The data upon which this book is based stem from telephone interviews with over 3,000 adults in January, May and July of 2005, so it has been very well researched. It was hard for me to believe that there are over 20 million American adults who correspond to his description of Revolutionaries, but there is no denying that the research was thorough.
Barna predicts that there will be a backlash from traditional churchmen. He suggests that there are three possible reactions to these developments: “to ignore the Revolution and continue business as usual, to invest energy in fighting the Revolution as an unbiblical advance or to look for ways of retaining their identity while cooperating with the Revolution as a mark of unity and genuine ministry.” He concludes that his current research suggests that the latter approach will be the least common.
In fact, much of the debate revolves around the definition of the local church. He quotes one pastor who was virulently opposed to his ideas: “Remaking the Church into the form you desire, rather than the form God ordained, is simply not legitimate.” But what is the form God ordained? One is tempted to suspect that this pastor’s idea of “the form God ordained” is pretty close to the Christendom form of church, which has been the dominant form for many centuries. Many Revolutionaries, however, are “doing church” in ways that sound a lot like the form of the pre-Christendom church in the first three centuries, such as house churches and in families. Barna writes:
“Such interaction (as described in Hebrews 10:24-25) could be in a worship service or at Starbucks; it might be satisfied through a Sunday school class or a dinner in a fellow believer’s home…In fact, there is no verse in Scripture that links the concept of worshipping God and a “church meeting”.
The greatest strength and the greatest weakness of the Revolution are probably the two sides of the same coin: individual responsibility. Concerning its strength, he writes: “…the onus is now on the believer to put up or shut up. The failure to develop a robust spiritual life becomes the responsibility of the person God intended: you.”
If the individual is ultimately responsible for his own spiritual development, however, that means that he or she is also free to ultimately “do what is right in his/her own eyes”, as the Israelites did in the Book of Judges. Barna recognizes this possibility and writes:
“Having a reference group as an anchor is important. Revolutionaries are often iconoclastic and frequently initiate their journey toward a new life with the intention of being fiercely independent rebels who will show the world how to do things the right way…In the end, the Revolution may be more about reshaping the Revolutionary than it is about altering the course of society.”
It is clear that Barna wants to paint a balanced picture of the Revolution, but I fear that many of his statements will provoke a reaction that will obscure the value of the book. In fact, being a Revolutionary should not be about criticizing or bashing other expressions of the Body of Christ, but about supporting and adding value to the existing Church. He concludes:
“As part of the Church, Revolutionaries have no interest in denigrating any segment of the Kingdom; their goal is to be agents of transformation who support and add value to the good that exists in the Church.”
Whatever one thinks of this book,
it does not leave one indifferent.
George Barna has done a great job of identifying a little known
phenomenon in the life of the
John Ed Robertson
Barna, George; Revolution; Tyndale House;