Looks like George Barna’s taking some more flak over his recent book, Revolution…. this time from Charisma editor J. Lee Grady. As a former charismatic, I want to say “Man, you think you know who your friends are….” With a grateful hat tip to Roger at HouseChurchBlog, I notice that in a recent “Fire In My Bones” column titled “George Barnaâ€™s Dangerous Proposal” Grady attempts to rake Barna over the coals.
I confess I haven’t read the book yet, but it’s been on my acquisition target list, and I’m growing more determined than ever to get my paws on a copy. Lee, I’m not buying. Ol’ George has had a pretty thankless job for himself over the last couple of decades. Sure, you mention that his 1990 The Frog in the Kettle: What Christians Need To Know About Life In The Year 2000 was helpful, but Lee, you do realize he’s written more than 35 books…. glad to hear you found at least one of them helpful, considering that Charisma House actually publishes two of them in Spanish. Still, might it be fair to say that his 1990 Frog book wasn’t really acclaimed until at least 5 years after it was published? Bear in mind that George is a guy who began in 1984 to track and publish trends for the benefit of the church, to offer his forecast of these trends so that the church could address them, prepare itself, and be ready for the changes in the wind.
The problem with being a futurist is that until the future happens, you don’t seem to have any credibility… until then, you’re just another crackpot. No wonder how after working at this task for 20 years, Barna sat down and wrote,
My concern has always been whether or not our assistance really made any difference in peopleâ€™s lives. The most discouraging study we ever conducted was one in which we attempted to identify churches in the U.S. that consistently and intelligently evaluate life transformation among the people to whom they minister. We found that very few churches — emphasis on very — measure anything beyond attendance, donations, square footage, number of programs and size of staff. None of that necessarily reflects life transformation. Further, our on-going research continued to show that churches do not act strategically because of a paucity of leadership. My objective had always been to get good information into the hands of leaders so they would convert those insights into great strategic decisions about how to minister more obediently and effectively. Not having the leaders in place to utilize such information was an obstacle I had not foreseen.
To make a long story brief, I hit a point of crisis at the end of 2003. I did not want to stop ministering to the Church; I simply wanted to do something that mattered. Giving information to people whose sole interest seemed to be searching for facts that confirmed what they had already chosen to do, or seeking statistical evidence to support their teaching, was not something that seemed like good stewardship.
Lee, you should be thankful for this Book. If it took you 15 years to decide that his frog book was valuable, I suspect that sometime in late 2020 you’ll be saying Revolution was extraordinarily prescient. As I said last year, I can understand where George is coming from. To a growing number of us, the material in this book doesn’t look is getting a different reaction already, one which does not ascribe any foreknowledge to it at all. We’re saying, “Yeah, that’s what’s going on all around us… it’s great that someone with an audience in mainstream Christianity is documenting this, perhaps the church will listen and change.” You see, Lee, if the dinosaurs had listened to their trends analysists and so-called “futurists,” they might still be around…. and it’s important to note that I’ve put “futurists” in quotes here, because all they need to do to know the future is look at the past and present, and pay attention. Knowing the future — yes, even for prophecy-gift-believing charismatics — still has a lot to do with paying attention to what’s going on right now.
The future is all around you, Lee. Ignoring it won’t help, but if you chose to do so, that’s your prerogative. I know full well that you aren’t the only one to criticize Barna… but I guess controversy sells print. I mean, you lead off your article with the statement, “The well-known Christian researcher has gone too far this time: Heâ€™s advocating the demise of the local church.” Others have charged this as well, but people, people, come on, he’s analyzing trends that are already taking place! He isn’t so much issuing a prescription as telling you which one a growing number of others are taking. You really don’t get this, do you? In your rant-icle, you wrote,
But Barna has crossed a line with his new book, Revolution (Barna Books, a division of Tyndale House, $17.99). The tempered sociologist has now become something of a mad scientist. By cooking the numbers, reinterpreting the data and injecting his own biases into this odd experiment, he has created a Frankenstein that is now on the loose.
We should all be concerned about this monster.
Barnaâ€™s theory is that large numbers of American Christians are disillusioned with the church and have quit the Sunday morning routine. He applauds this trend, and has labeled these church dropouts â€œrevolutionariesâ€? who—in his opinion—have more spiritual creativity and passion than stick-in-the-mud traditionalists.
No, you don’t “get it.” But even if you don’t want to get it, can’t you at least be charitable? Calling the man a mad scientist is a little over the top, wouldn’t you say? You also need to realize you’ve got your facts wrong; to stick with your metaphor, Barna didn’t create this Frankenstein. This Frankenstein is a part of the emerging church, an identifiable group of people turning away from the institutional church and living what some have called “a churchless faith.” (It’s important to note that this does not characterize all of the church that is emerging, just one identifiable stream within it.) Barna didn’t create this thing, didn’t go digging around old church graveyards for salvage materials from corpses of parishioners past, didn’t stitch them together on an operating table, didn’t inject them with a thunderbolt from heaven to re-enliven these dead parts of many bodies, and didn’t scream, “It’s alive! It’s alive!” Okay, maybe he is the one screaming “It’s alive!” — but he’s not talking about some monster, he’s talking about the vibrant re-enlivened faith of formerly disaffected pew-sitters who were doomed to rot in the pews. Come to think of it Lee, you’ve actually got a pretty darn good metaphor there… it is in fact the one which Ezekiel saw when he looked carefully around a certain valley.
But you’ve still got your facts wrong, and you’re still being — let’s just say unkind — in your disagreement with Barna’s book. You don’t have to agree, but you should be gracious about it… it’s not just that you attack him personally by calling him a mad scientist. It’s much worse, Lee, you’ve publicly called the man a liar, accusing him of deliberately reporting inaccurate statistics to meet his own ends. Dare I suggest that this time you’ve gone too far, you’ve crossed a line? Barna’s the researcher, you’re the editorial publisher. When one of you tells me how they interpret a certain set of statistics gathered in a certain way, which one of you do you think I’m going to believe? Yes, you’re probably in contact with a lot of pastors and church leaders… but I’m with George about how in touch that crowd might be with their congregants… they aren’t. See, George has a strong data set to back him up. And despite the negative reception, he keeps publishing the findings of his research, just like a modern prophet whose message is unwelcome in the ears of those who need it most. A good charismatic publisher ought to understand this metaphor, Lee, and it ought to give you pause. To you, the people that George talks about, the ones into whose lives and motivations he’s offering you some valuable insight, to you, these are just numbers that you accuse Barna of concocting. To me, they’re people, they’re names. Do you want names, Lee? Names we’ve got — we can get you the names. We’re not making this up, and I respectfully submit that you should recant this accusation, and issue an apology.
So what have you got to offer in defense of your critique, Lee? We’ve got the Grady understanding of a couple of Biblical texts and a few concepts tossed out, all of which assume some kind of common understanding. You assume too much, Lee. I don’t agree with the interpretations you imply, and since you don’t offer anything concrete, I can’t actually interact with them except to say that if you’re citing some Biblical imperative to support your critique of Barna and the people upon whom he’s reporting in this outing, then the burden of proof us upon you. George is just the messenger, even if he has offered his own opinion of the message. You conclude by offering “all respect” to Barna, noting that “his facts and observations” have been helpful, but I don’t see the respect in your article, and I don’t understand why this time, you simply don’t believe him. Without recognizing the “facts and observations” which he reports upon in his latest book, you say, “this flawed proposal needs to be recalled before it causes some serious damage.” Not helpful. I think all of our mothers confronted peer pressure with the very same bridge analogy. If Barna reported people were jumping off of bridges, and commented that he personally enjoyed bungee-jumping, would you write a column claiming that Barna recommended people jump off of bridges? I think your thesis is just as off-base this time.
Lee, it simply isn’t going to do any good to stick your head in the sand on this one. Did you learn nothing from The Frog in the Kettle? You said it was a good book, but you do understand the metaphor, don’t you? Is it getting warm in here, or is it just me? Don’t worry, it’s just you, Lee, and some of your like-minded cronies. At least, that’s how I see it if you refuse to even hear the statistics that Barna is reporting upon. By the way, if you need me, I’ll be thinking and breathing outside the kettle.