Pagans and Heretics

14Aug06

Pagan ChristianityWell, let’s see how much trouble I can get in here. So Steve, from house church gives me this book – Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola – last week. I’ve heard of Mr. Viola before but had not read anything by him. The title is provocative enough so I was interested in reading it. I’ve only been able to skim and read sections, but I think I have a good sense of his point. Here’s the gist (from their website):

“That most of what we Christians do in our churches has no root in the New Testament! It rather has its origin in pagan culture long after the death of the apostles.”

So basically here’s what I gather: What we do as Christians – how we practice our faith – is all wrong and, even more, pagan. Mr. Viola will illuminate how we are wrong on every account and will prescribe the truly Biblical alternative. Further, the Bible does, in fact, lay out a clearly discernable path of how we are to practice our faith, but we have missed it completely and it must be rediscovered. Oh, and did I mention that everything we do in our faith practice is wrong? All of it.

At least that is what I gather from what I read.

The problem is I disagree. Sort of. I guess I agree and disagree. Let’s start with my disagreeableness (is that a word?).

I dislike the polemic Viola sets up. He creates a black and white, right and wrong dichotomy where I don’t think one exists. Whatsmore, he sets himself as judge and jury of what is right and wrong. I think there are many more shades of gray here than he seems comfortable with.

He is essentially accuse the Church of syncretism – uncritically adopting a cultural practice that inadvertantly reshapes the adopters (in this case Christians). And he, of course, sees this syncretism as a very very bad thing. Here’s where it gets sticky for me. I, in general, agree that syncretism is bad and that the Church is quite guilty of it – even in many ways that Viola suggests. But I’m not sure we can avoid some degree of syncretism. There is no such thing as a Christian culture. We live in culture and we are Christian. We can shape our culture by our life of faith, but it will not make that culture Christian.

There’s more here than I feel like I’m able to get at right now. I guess it will just have to suffice to say that I think people like Frank Viola are good and necessary for the Church – leaven for the bread. But they are not a way forward. They poke and stab at the Christian bubble (clealry out of love for Christ and his Church, I might add). At the same time I find their assesment and diagnosis lacking, partial, and maybe a bit jaded and fearful – even angry.

On the other side of things I am reading “A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity” by Spencer Burke and Barry Taylor. This, I think, may be more of a way forward. But I’m only just in chapter one…. more to come….

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