George Barna. Revolution. Tyndale, 2005. (144 pages)
This book is about “an unprecedented reengineering of America’s faith dimension that is likely to be the most significant transition int he religious landscape that you will ever experience.” (viii) Barna wrote this to “inform,” “help,” and “encourage.” “Whether you want to or not, you will have to take a stand in regard to the Revolution. It is on track to become the most significant recalibration of the American Christian body in more than a century. (ix)
“The key to understanding Revolutionaries is not what church they attend, or even if they attend. Instead, it’s their complete dedication to being thoroughly Christian by viewing every moment of life through a spiritual lens and making every decision in light of biblical principles. These are individuals who are determined to glorify God every day through every thought, word, and deed in their lives.” (8)
“Because human beings become what they believe, and practicing what they believe is the swiftest and surest means of generating lasting change, this revolution of faith is the most significant transition you or I will experience during our lifetime.” (11)
“It is in the midst of this cultural context–a society defined by seemingly infinite opportunities and options and supported by a worldview best summarized by a single word: whatever–that this counter cultural, faith-based response has emerged.” (12)
In essence, our culture’s inability to provide fulfillment has caused millions of individuals–who are serious about understanding their existence and living right–to live in a manner that never fails to raise eyebrows in a society that is notably shockproof and dispassionate. …
What makes Revolutionaries so startling is that they are confidently returning to a first-century lifestyle based on faith, goodness, love, generosity, kindness, simplicity, and other values deemed “quaint” by today’s frenetic and morally untethered standards. This is not the defeatist retreat of an underachieving, low-capacity mass of people. It is an intelligent and intentional embrace of a way of life that is the only viable antidote to the untenable moral standards, dysfunctional relationships, material excess, abusive power, and unfortunate misapplication of talent and knowledge that pass for life in America these days.” (12)
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. Revolutionaries eschew ministries that compromise or soft sell our sinful nature to expand organizational turf. They refuse to follow people in ministry leadership positions who cast a personal vision rather than God’s, who seek popularity rather than the proclamation of truth in their public statements, or who are more concerned about their own legacy than that of Jesus Christ. They refuse to donate one more dollar to man-made monuments that mark their own achievements and guarantee their place in history. They are unimpressed by accredited degrees and endowed chairs in Christian colleges and seminaries that produce young people incapable of defending the Bible or unwilling to devote their lives to serving others. And Revolutionaries are embarrassed by language that promises Christian love and holiness but turns out to be all sizzle and no substance. (13-14)
“Revolutionaries invariably turn to God’s Word–the Bible–for their guidance. … and it is not uncommon for Revolutionaries to meet with rejection–verbal, intellectual, relational, or experiential–simply because of their determination to honor the God they love.” (16)
THE SEVEN PASSIONS OF REVOLUTIONARIES
Intimate Worship, Faith-Based Conversations, Intentional Spiritual Growth, Servanthood, Resource Investment, Spiritual Friendships, Family Faith.
“Every breath you take is an act of war.” (26) “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. That is the commitment of a Revolutionary.” (27)
Regarding How the local church is doing, I believe the entire chapter could be summed up in his statement, “the Bible neither describes nor promotes the local church as we know it today…it is abiblical.” (37) The Revolutionary response “is about recognizing that we are not called to go to church. We are called to be the Church.” (39)
Chapter 5 highlights the trends of our changing culture.
Trend #1: The Changing of the Guard (Baby Boomers and Builders losing their grip on power in society). Trend #2: The Rise of a New View of Life (postmodern society). Trend #3: Dismissing the Irrelevant (quickly abandon anything that is not wholly germane to their personal passions). Trend #4: The Impact of Technology. Trend #5: Genuine Relationships (personal authenticity rather than excellence in performance). Trend #6: Participation in Reality (a hands-on approach to being Christian in a non-Christian world). Trend #7: Finding True Meaning (accelerated openness to sacrifice and surrender).
Chapter 6 gives us a quick word on spiritual transformation as “any significant and lasting transition in your life wherein you switch from one substantial perspective or practice to something wholly different that genuinely alters you at a very basic level.” (52) Baran highlights “spiritual mini-movements…homeschooling, ‘simple church’ fellowships, biblical worldview groups, marketplace ministries, creative arts guilds, etc.” (54) as examples of change.
“First, the mini-movements are generally working with people who are predisposed to focusing on their faith in God. … Second, the mini-movement emerges as a prime candidate for engendering such growth because it becomes an individual’s primary source of relationships. … Third, the intimacy experienced within the mini-movement facilitates a sense of exhilaration over the transformation. … Fifth, each of the mini-movements establishes its place in a person’s life through a very narrow focus–prayer, worship, worldview, musical expression, or whatever.” (57-58)
Chapter 7: A New Way of Doing Church
“‘People can have a Model T in any color they want–as long as it’s black.’ That’s pretty similar to the view of many Americans regarding how people should pursue spiritual growth–-through any means they want, as long as it is connected to the efforts of a local church.” (61)
Why is the local church model losing ground? “Perhaps the major reasons are people’s insistence on choices and their desire to have customized experiences. … In the religious marketplace, the churches that have suffered most are those who stuck with the one-size-fits-all approach, typically proving that one-size-fits nobody.” (62-63) “Now it’s virtually impossible to craft a ‘typical’ spiritual pattern.” (64)
“There are four macro-models of church experience resident in the nation today. The dominant force is the congregational form. House churches–some call them ‘simple church’ fellowships–are another. … The family faith experience is third, and the fourth is cyberchurch. … It is worth noting that the two fastest-growing macro-models of church are the house church and the cyberchurch formations. … These might be considered the distributed models of faith” (64-65)
Revolutionaries will respond to the presence and principles of God whenever and wherever possible, without regard to historical or societal inhibitions. The standard that concerns Revolutionaries is simple: does the mechanism provide a way of advancing my faith, without compromising Scripture or any of the passions of a true believer? (67)
Chapter 8: Jesus The Revolutionary
Here Barna posits two insights. “The first relates to the objective of replacing an established system of government…he did want to reform government–self-government. … you cannot rely upon public policies and the enforcement of laws to shape your character and lifestyle. It is not your title, fame, fortune, or network that gives you lasting influence; that comes from who you are, in light of your character, your values, and your core beliefs. … You are responsible for who you are.” (70) Second, “the disciple is called to influence the world rather than to be influenced by it.”
Too often we write off His [Jesus’] influence, protesting that He was, after all, God, and therefore His ways are beyond our grasp. But that’s just an excuse we hide behind to avoid the challenge of Revolutionary living. His life is our model. A true Revolutionary accepts the challenge to be fully Christlike, as impossible as it may seem at the start of the quest. (72)
He wasn’t a revolutionary because He proposed a different philosophy. He was a Revolutionary because He lived differently… (77)
“This revolution is not something you join; it’s a way of life.” (80)
“Revolutionaries have a wholly biblical outlook on life, based on the belief that the Bible is God’s perfect and reliable revelation designed to instruct and guide all people. … Know this: you become what you believe.” (88-89
Community. “…they are are not the only ones dissatisfied with the status quo, it is difficult to sustain their rebellion when they are alone in the process, and they are having less influence on their own than they expected.” (89)
“Modern life is an exercise in dealing with distractions.” (90) “In the end, the Revolutionary may be more about reshaping the Revolutionary than it is about altering the course of society.” (91)
“The Revolutionary lifestyle might be summarized as clean and productive.” (98)
“The new Revolution differs in that its primary impetus is not salvation among the unrepentant but the personal renewal and recommitment of believers.” (103) “Complaints about the pastor, church staff, programs, or other obstacles disappear from the conversation: the onus is now on the believer to put up or shut up.” (104)
Local Church. “Existing churches have a historic decision to make: 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.” (106-7)
“Revolutions are famous for being messy: things rarely go as planned and are notoriously inefficient. I see no reason to expect this budding revolution of faith to be any different.” (110)
In Chapter 13: What the Critics will say, Barna suggests a “nonhysterical response.” (112)
No informed Christian leader could make a straight-faced argument that involvement in a local church necessarily produces a more robust spiritual life than that seen among Revolutionaries. As seen in earlier chapters regarding the state of the Church in America these days, Christians who are involved in local churches are actually less likely than Revolutionaries to lead a biblical lifestyle. (115)
“Our research shows that local churches have virtually no influence in our culture.” (118)
FIVE REACTIONS TO THE REVOLUTION
The first are those who are completely ignorant of the Revolution’s emergence. A second group is those who are antagonistic towards the Revolution. A third group is the coexister segment. A forth is the late adopters. The final, of course, is the Revolutionaries.
Barna ends with some exhortations and closing thoughts, and then THE AFFIRMATIONS OF A REVOLUTIONARY:
I am a Revolutionary in the service of God Almighty. My life is not my own; I exist as a free person but have voluntarily become a slave to God. My role on earth is to live as a Revolutionary, committed to love, holiness, and advancing God’s Kingdom. My life is not about me and my natural desires; it is all about knowing, loving, and serving God with all my heart, mind, strength, and soul. Therefore, I acknowledge the following:
- I am a sinner; broken by my disobedience but restored by Jesus Christ in order to participate in good works that please God. I am not perfect; but Jesus Christ makes me righteous in God’s eyes; and the Holy Spirit leads me toward greater holiness.
- God created me for His purposes. My desire as a Revolutionary is to fulfill those ends, and those ends alone. When I get out of bed each day, I do so for one purpose: to love, obey, and serve God and His people.
- Every breath I take is a declaration of war against Satan and a commitment to opposing him.
- God does not need me to fight His fight, but He invites me to allow Him to fight through me. It is my privilege to serve Him in that manner. I anticipate and will gladly endure various hardships as I serve God; for this is the price of participation in winning the spiritual war.
- I do not need to save the world; Jesus Christ has already done that. i cannot transform the world, but I can allow God to use me to transform some part of it.
- My commitment to the Revolution of faith is sealed by my complete surrender to God’s ways and His will. I will gratefully do what He asks of me simply because He loves me enough to ask. I gain my security, success, and significance through my surrender to Him.
- I am not called to attend or join a church. I am called to be the Church.
- Worship is not an event I attend or a process I observe; it is the lifestyle I lead.
- I do not give away 10 percent of my resources. I surrender 100 percent.
- God has given me natural abilities and supernatural abilities, all intended to advance His Kingdom. I will deploy those abilities for that purpose.
- The proof of my status as a Revolutionary is the love I show to God and people.
- There is strength in relationships; I am bound at a heart and soul level to other Revolutionaries, and I will bless believers whenever I have the chance.
- To achieve victory in the spiritual war in which we are immersed, there is nothing I must accomplish; I must simply follow Christ with everything I have.
- There is no greater calling than to know and serve God.
- The world is desperately seeking meaning and purpose. I will respond to that need with Good News and meaningful service.
- Absolute moral and spiritual truth exists, is knowable, and is intended for my life; it is accessible through the Bible.
- I want nothing more than to hear God say to me, “Well done, My good and faithful servant.”
Thank You, Lord God, for loving me, for saving me, for refining me, for blessing me, and for including me in the work of Your kingdom. My life is Yours to use as You please. I love you.
APPENDIX: How The Church Can Respond Appropriately
First, learn from the Revolutionaries. Second, seek ways in which your church can add value to the Revolution. Third, reflect on what it means to belong to a church–your church. Finally, figure out how to create more Revolutionaries among those who are not aligned with the Christian faith community.
How a local church responds to the Revolution is primarily a leadership issue.
— VIA —
Overall, the book, as with other Barna writings, is inspiring, and well written. It confirms much of what I’ve personally seen and experienced, and I appreciate the sentiments Barna shares regarding the partnership and synergy that “the Revolution” can have with the “local church.”
I have some questions and reservations, however, upon some of the presuppositions that he makes regarding some definitions and categories. When stating that “the Bible neither describes nor promotes the local church as we know it today…it is abiblical,” (37) Barna posits this pejoratively. There are many things that the Bible neither describes nor promotes, and yet we are adherent and accepting of its forms. The most obvious and blatant example is media. Yet, media (internet, film, radio, tv, etc.) is suggested as a positive direction for the Revolutionaries. I suggest that sentiments like these need taming and a more careful approach. Making broad brushing judgment sweeps such as this, in my opinion, is neither helpful or thoughtful.
Barna also posits that “Our research shows that local churches have virtually no influence in our culture.” (118) This simply cannot be true. For one, historically, the ethics and sentiments that exist today no doubt have their roots and fruits in “Church life,” whether that is from preaching/teaching, pastors, family life, etc. Second, how does one measure “cultural influence?” This, in my opinion, is where the statistician’s tools are inadmissable, for much of what the “Church’s” responsibility cannot be measured by mere belief systems, or behaviors. There are metaphysical realities that are perhaps more at work than we realize, realities that cannot be quantified. Lastly, I question, even if the statement were totally true, why, again, is this a pejorative statement? Is the Church’s responsibility to change culture? Much more could be said on that, but suffice to say for now, that perhaps the Church’s responsibility and aims are to create the salt and light to the culture instead of being engines or drivers of culture.
American church life has most definitely declined, but it cannot be accurate to say “no influence. ”
My critiques above are minimal, however, as the overall work is worth reading, at the very least, to get perspective, and understanding.