Please Stick to Surveys, Mr. Barna

Kevin Miller offers a critique of George Barna’s new book.

The second question: How vital can a Christian revolution be that views the local church as optional?

Revolution is passionate for the church, so long as it’s the capital-C church, the universal group of believers in Jesus, the church I can’t see and don’t have to relate to. When the Reformers distinguished between the local and universal church, they did so to point out that not every church member had justifying faith. But they insisted that every believer be immersed in a local congregation, where the gospel is rightly proclaimed and the sacraments rightly administered. The notion of freelance Christians would have made them spit out their beer.

If Barna gets his way, not only will there no longer be local congregations, there will no longer be Christians. Individualist notions of Christianity and where the “spirit (sic) is guiding me” kill faith; they do not enliven it.

…this new movement “entails drawing people away from reliance upon a local church into a deeper connection with and reliance upon God.” Already “millions of believers have stopped going to church,” so Barna expects that in 20 years “only about one-third of the population will rely upon a local congregation as the primary or exclusive means for experiencing and expressing their faith.”

The Montanist and enthusiast heresies have been around a long time, and they will continue to perpetuate themselves. It must continually be said, as Luther found it necessary to say: the Spirit does not come apart from the Word. The Devil comes apart from the Word; my own proud notions come apart from the Word; but the Spirit does not.

Barna might respond that these “revolutionaries” are indeed reading the Bible. They probably are. That doesn’t change the point, because reading the Bible outside the Church–and the only place where the Church is manifested is in local congregations of Word and Sacrament–is more dangerous than not reading the Bible at all. Hauerwas’ concern is appropriate here.

Whatever; it’s the next Christian fad and it will be gone by next year.