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Barna & Viola: A Candid Look Back at Pagan Christianity

It’s been four years since George Barna and I released Pagan ChristianityJoe Miller recently caught up with George and me, giving us our first exclusive interview in four years. Joe’s questions were excellent.

Here’s the interview. 

Joe Miller: Before we get to your current life, can you tell us, what has been the most enduring and positive legacy of your book, Pagan Christianity

George Barna: The book has helped many people to open their minds to the fact that the organized, localized, congregational form of ministry commonly known in the West as “the church” is a human construct that was neither dictated by God nor described or found in the Bible. In that sense, I think the greatest legacy of the book, based primarily on Frank’s extensive research, is giving people an awareness of the truth about the history of the modern local church body and the tremendous possibilities for more meaningful ministry experiences and expressions.

Frank Viola: One of the most enduring qualities (and effects) of the book is that it has given millions of Christians permission – biblical and historical permission – to question cherished church practices and traditions in the light of God’s written Word. It has effectively driven many believers – including pastors – to reexamine the way they practice church in view of New Testament principles and church history.

Since I have a very high view of Scripture, I count that as a positive thing. It’s also given many Christians a new appreciation for those believers in the past (like the Anabaptists) who dared to challenge the religious establishment of their day on the basis of Scripture. In this regard, the Reformation has never ended, including the Radical Reformation of the Anabaptists.

As John Stott famously said, “The hallmark of an authentic evangelicalism is not the uncritical repetition of old traditions, but the willingness to submit every tradition, however ancient, to fresh biblical scrutiny and, if necessary, reform.” I believe the local church is highly important to God and His purpose. Our book merely demonstrates that the local church has (in many cases) been redefined and reinvented outside of scriptural lines. Thus, restoration is needed.

Joe Miller: I wonder if there are things you wrote four years ago that do not reflect your thinking today. Is there one thing you can point to in your current writing or ministry that reflects the biggest change from the man you were four years ago? 

Frank Viola: With respect to the content and research, I am more convinced today than I was four years ago that what we wrote was accurate. Part of that conviction is based on the fact that thousands of reviews and critiques tried to refute the book, yet none of them were successful in discounting it. Instead, many critics had to resort to personal attacks and/or misrepresentations. We dedicated an entire page that answers questions, objections, and critiques to the book.

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J. R. Miller is currently an adjunct professor in Southern California teaching a variety of courses in Practical Theology and Leadership. In addition, he coaches multiple church planters. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background earning his B.A.E from the Pennsylvania State University, M.Div from Oral Roberts University, and D.Min from Biola University. Joe has 15 years of pastoral experience and has authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and most recently a devotional for building teams entitled, "More Than Cake." Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.