Reading for Revolution – George Barna and the Emerging Church

Picture 1 Today I had the chance to lead Ryan’s class for the second time this week. On Tuesday we covered aspects from the book Emerging Churches, while today we covered questions and key insights concerning one of Barna’s more recent hit titles, “Revolution.” Here is some of what we discussed in class today (with slides attached at the bottom).

After reading the book I was a bit stumped as to how to present the material and lead a discussion on it that would be constructive, fair and cover the relevant material. Part of my big hang-up with Barna’s presentation is the way in which he presents his material, he’s a modern outsider trying to be a postmodern insider. I don’t fault him for this, I just think he doesn’t really get it. So because of his own starting point his standpoint shifts the way he understands what’s happening in the church and culture in ways that seem to me to be too reductionistic and individualistic.

The book, and consequently Barna’s research, sets out to show that there is not only a major shift in the culture taking place, but that these changes are affecting the way people understand and “do” church.

Major Cultural Shifts

Barna believes that some of these changes are because of the:
1 – Changing of the Guard – Baby Busters 1965-83 and the Mosaics 1984-2002 are becoming the new leaders of the world.
2 – The Rise of a New View of Life – postmodernism in the West has challenged our modernist ways of understanding of truth, relationships, science, and God. Unfortunately, Barna believes that Postmoderns think of truth as whatever you believe it to be, and completely misunderstands and misrepresents the force behind postmodern epistemology. In this new way of life relationships are most important.
3 – Dismissing the Irrelevant “The pet peeve of the younger generations is irrelevance: they quickly abandon anything that is not wholly germans to their personal passions.”
4 – Impact of technology – In our world all aspects of life are influenced by technology.
5 – Genuine Relationships – spend more time keeping up with friendships – a people’s people.
6 – Participation in Reality – Because of a number of other “revolutions” there are more people participating in the various spheres that make up our society. Barna names Women in the marketplace, technology, and a renewed emphasis in education on the practical that have lead to more people being active and creative
7 – Finding True Meaning – Sacrifice and Surrender are becoming a focus for authentic expressions of life.

While these insights are generally pretty good, what he does with the information is obstructed by his modern assumptions. In order to work around his perspective, and try and tease out what Barna offers that’s helpful and what he offers that isn’t – we talked first about how to read texts.

Reading the Text

Here are some of the questions we talked about keeping in mind while we interpret anything.
Author’s Context
What are the cultural, scientific, religious, philosophical assumptions they make?
Who are their conversation partners?
How do they fit into this conversation?
How do they define their terms?

The Author’s Cultural Context
Cultural trends that may influence Author
Political, scientific, economic and philosophical issues that are important in their period?
What’s the Academic Context of this work?

The Reader’s Context
What do you bring to the text? Biases, knowledge, experience, etc?
What does the author assume about you?

Look for the Kingdom of God in reading
Where does the author see signs of life, hope, and/or the KOG? What’s their overall perspective on what they’re writing?
Where do you as the reader see these signs of life, hope, God and the Kingdom?

Class Discussions on “Revolution”

From this rubric we began talking about Barna’s Revolution. What is the context he’s writing from? What’s his cultural context (and how might it differ from our own?)? What are our biases? And What are the signs of the Kingdom that Barna sees, and what are the ones we see (that maybe he missed)? The class offered great insights into all these questions. We talked about Barna’s relationship with huge, affluent churches, and how that context may explain part of why he wrote the book (how are the local churches doing in our world today is something he discusses at length), but he also comes from a fairly conservative background, and that definately plays out in how he defines terms, and interprets the trends that are taking place.

Is Barna’s Revolution all that revolutionary? We named a variety of characteristics of Barna’s revolutionary, where he gets these ideas, and our impressions of whether we think his representation is accurate. Then we drew on the board what we think a revolutionary might look like. The insights here were really exciting, students named a variety of characteristics some of them completely missed by Barna, but a few overlapped. For the class, these revolutionaries are: creative (not just in terms of the arts, but in the way they think and ask questions), place emphasis on servanthood rather than “warrior”, leaders that listens and readily accepts feedback, leaders that arise organically and don’t seek power but group dynamic, people who become participants rather than consumers, people who look for communal ways of interacting with less emphasis on individuality and personal identity, relational, people who don’t care about protecting some sacred (false) image of the “church” but are more interested in real transformation, people who follow Jesus as their primary way of living in the world, people who turn swords into plowshares. And the list continued. I know after we talked about these characteristics I was pretty exciting and felt like what the class presented was way more “revolutionary” than what Barna offered.

Uses for Barna

Barna’s book does have a place to serve the church. It’s a great entryway into the conversation of how our culture is changing, and the effects those changes have on the church (and how we can respond). While I don’t think Barna is actually talking about the emerging church or people who are all that radical in their perspectives, the book does help lead us down the path to some good questions. In that way it’s a great bridge for introducing some of these concepts to people who may be adverse to some of these ideas. Barna speaks to a more conservative group of Christians very well.

Finally, I think the most important insight Barna makes in the book is a simple but necessary one, “We are not called to go to the church but to be the church.”

Click here for slides from the class.

More In-depth Reviews:

Revolution or Revolt (JR Rozko)
Revolution by George Barna (Ryan Bolger)
From little c to Big C church…
George Barna’s “Revolution” – A Review (Andrew Jones)
Review – Revolution by George Barna (Gary Waller)
George Barna – Revolution (Tyler Watson)

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Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

7 thoughts on “Reading for Revolution – George Barna and the Emerging Church”

  1. Wess–You’re right…he’s a modern trying to be postmodern, and it shows. But I’ve found this to be a very helpful onramp for other moderns trying to figure the whole ‘pomo thing’ out. While he may draw some simplistic conclusions, he speaks the language that moderns can understand. I found myself frustrated and inspired at times…but I agree, it can play a helpful role.

  2. @Drew and Tyler, yes I agree – I think because he’s trying to embrace it from his modern standpoint it can be useful for others trying to figure the whole thing out. I was actually surprised he was as positive about it as he seems to be in the book. Tyler thanks for the other links!

    @Zane and Brad – thanks for heads up, it was a typo. I’ve fixed it – especially since I think it’s worth the price of the book! 😉

  3. @Tyler – I went ahead and added your suggested links to my list of reviews in the post. Thanks again for the feedback.

    Also – Does anyone think he’s actually talking about the emerging church here at all? Also, assuming he’s not talking about the EC, who is he talking about?

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