Coming Out of the “Pagan Christianity” Closet


Update: Brother Maynard at Subversive Influence has completed a good three-part interview with Frank; check it out here, here and here.

Also: P.C. has been breaking into Amazon best-seller territory.

So: My buddy Frank Viola‘s book Pagan Christianity? has been causing quite the stir. Many responses have been positive, but some clearly have taken issue with matters both of tone or content. I’ve sort of just realized that I’ve largely been sitting on the sidelines of the debate raging through the blogosphere, even though many of the participants are my friends and I care deeply about what’s being discussed. Why?

Because I suck at time management. It’s tough being a new daddy, husband, have 2.5 businesses, and take graduate-level courses. I’m seeing a life coach friend. I’m getting better–slowly but surely. So here’s my belated entry into the fray.

I feel deeply ambivalent about the talk going ’round, like the kid with a lot of friends whose friends are really really different from each other. One day the kid has a birthday party, and the friends are all under the same roof for the first time…and they ain’t getting along so well. My journey of knowing Jesus led me into house church waters in 1998, and into the pre-emergent discussion in 2001 (back when it was just PoMo Christianity, baby! Who remembers Stranger Things?). I have since felt like the bastard child of both, a hopeful amphibian breathing the air and water of two similar yet distinct movements/phenomena. Of course emerging saints are waaaay more media saavy (new media, old media, all of it) and so have made far more headway into the popular religious imagination and discourse. But now that me pal Frank has graduated from guerilla publishing to real, live publishers, our subterranean wares are being offered in the marketplace of ideas for the first time and eeesh! We’re like that odd gypsy family offering homemade trinkets to snobby European connoisseurs. What to do?

Sigh…I have dear blogger friends on all “sides” of this…I hate that it’s become so divisive. Over the past decade in housechurchland, Frank’s books on a different kind of ecclesial life were always (believe it or not) among the kinder, gentler offerings available. Like the Radical Reformation of old (which gave us Levellers, Diggers, Anabaptists, Quakers, etc…), much early North American house church literature was produced by embattled Christians who felt very disempowered by mainstream ecclesiastical authorities. These extended “tracts” (and that’s often what they were) seethed angst, all the while making many valid points about contemporary church practices and whether or not they resonate with Jesus’ original intent.

I don’t think that the revised “Pagan Christianity” is one such tract. You could, perhaps, argue that the earlier edition was. But Frank has grown since then, and changed. He embraces a more generous orthodoxy. Frank appreciates past and contemporary Roman Catholic mystics; he is a genuine conversation partner with this wild and crazy ride we call “emergent/ing.” Sure he might be passionate and use rather absolutist language at times, but you can’t fit him in a fundamentalist box…not really.

While not everything in Pagan Christianity is as I would have written it (and let’s face it–it’s easy to be armchair critics…have you ever written a full-length book? I’m finishing up my first one, and even co-authored it’s a bear!), I think that Frank is doing an important work that even Jack would appreciate–he’s deconstructing one of the most powerful institutions the world has ever known, and asking if there’s an alternative path.

Bob H, Michael S., Robby–I have nothing but respect for you, I hope you know that. You’re living out your life and calling in faithfulness and as best you know how–as am I, in a clergy-less, open and participatory house church. I would only ask that everyone–friend and foe of this book alike–will pause for a moment and consider: In my Foresight Program, I am learning a ‘systems thinking’ approach to seeing the world. One thing about systems—they’re everywhere, and we each simultaneously are in one, are one, and have sub-systems within our very bodies. When looking at dysfunctional reality from a Systems perspective, we’re encouraged to do something which at first seems counter-intuitive: focus on the system itself, rather than blaming the character of those within the system, or chalking up the systems’ failure to some vague, nebulous forces outside it. Similarly, we should own up to the possibility that our present church system might be the (or at least a) problem in our present breakdown of faith. It’s not that we have bad pastors, or bad ‘laypeople.’ And it’s not that the new atheism or Islam or Buddhism is picking off our best and our brightest. It could be that the system itself is sick, and needs thorough metanoia and rebirth.

When a Peter Rollins or a Doug Pagitt comes along and heavily critiques some aspect of traditionalist Christian dogma or theology—a thought system–most of us applaud. (I know I do.) We consider it spiritually courageous and intellectually brave and want to rethink epistemology, atonement, or what have you, accordingly. So why do we then react so viscerally when someone aims similar deconstructive queries to church-as-institution—a praxis system?

It could be that many of you reject the puritan impulse, the glassy-eyed nostalgia which longs for some ecclesial golden age. Understandable. I do too. And in my early days of house churching (not to mention my early days of being Pentecostal nearly 20 years ago, and my flirtations with Messianic Judaism…), this was precisely a main motivation–to get back to the way it ‘really oughta be.’ But my reasons for practicing church as I do have evolved, I think–and I’d venture to say Frank’s have too. Before you assume he’s advocating a rigid, absolutist, proof-texted New Testament dictatorship as an alternative to culturally compromised Christianity, read again. If he does, it’s absent from Pagan itself. As to what Frank practices and positively articulates, I’m looking forward to seeing his growing/changing thoughts in the summer release Reimagining Church. I hope that we can leave primitivist romanticism behind, while retaining a real and healthy respect for the peculiar genius (even organizational genius) of Jesus and his earliest apprentices.

From what I’ve gathered, a great many Christians not involved in our ’emerging conversation’ have found Pagan Christianity to be quite helpful as a historical sketch looking at the origins of various (mostly Protestant) church practices. They’ve been able to see where steeples or dressing up for church has come from, and have then been able to evaluate whether these practices are helpful and edifying for their spiritual journey, or not. Interestingly, emerging church readers seem to be more sensitive to the discussion than the yeoman “guy in the pew” not in our enlightened masses. And so–without disrespect to any who have genuinely struggled with (or even felt hurt by) the book, I’d propose that maybe we can re-examine our unwritten ‘script’ of who we allow in our ‘conversation’–do they really have to talk and write a certain way, to quack and waddle just like we do? I hope not. The North American house church movement is emerging from its fundamentalist roots, and they desperately want some open-minded conversation partners. But they might get loud and passionate, use terms like “Praise The Lord” and “Amen” without irony, and talk like they walked of the pages of the New American Standard Bible. (Maybe one day they’ll forgive us emergers for sounding like art students dropping acid.) But like emerging church folk, they have been reexamining their faith for 5, 10, or even 40 years. The house church movement needs you, emerging church brethren and sistren. Please keep the possibility of dialogue open.

27 Responses to Coming Out of the “Pagan Christianity” Closet

  1. Bob February 8, 2008 at 5:23 pm #

    Thanks Mike…
    You know, I probably need to re-state this more often. I actually agree with many of the conclusions of Pagan Christianity. Many, not all… I think a couple are downright irresponsible and dangerous, but…

    I’m sympathetic to much of where the book lands.
    How it gets there?
    Awful. I mean, really awful.

    I’m glad for the discussion around the book and I can almost guarantee you that the authors don’t mind the attention- positive, negative, whatever. I don’t have a problem examining the system and doing things differently. I just think that the path Viola has taken to some of his conclusions is misguided and some of the conclusions themselves patently unbiblical (to use his word).

    He would disagree, and that’s okay.
    It’ll all come out in the wash 🙂

  2. John L February 8, 2008 at 7:10 pm #

    The reaction to Viola reminds me of an old joke about the stranger in an Irish pub. After a while, the locals started laying into him “are ya Catholic or Protestant?” You can Google the rest..

    Viola lays into the church pretty hard. I agree his tone could be softer. This is about family, and we’re dealing with 2000 years of “family issues.” Clearly, the church is fragmented and unhealthy in myriad ways. But, for now, it’s the only ecclesia we’ve got. Be kind to one another.

    I predicted in my own PC review last August that historians may credit the Barna-Viola edition as accelerating today’s emerging streams of ecclesial reformation – a “95 theses” for the Google age. Given the incredible early reaction, I’m even more convinced of that. This conversation is long overdue, and just getting started.

  3. Wes.. February 8, 2008 at 7:53 pm #

    …as usual, stimulating blog

    …glad we are of the same thought-tribe, even though a few years apart in age

    …and extra glad YOU are writing a book!!!

    …about time!

  4. Frank Valdez February 8, 2008 at 8:51 pm #

    Just the sort of thoughful post I’d expect from you, Mike. For what it’s worth, I think that a loving, candid conversation about the church is long overdue in ’emerging’ circles. I hope to see the day when Frank Viola and someone like, say, Jamie Smith can have such a conversation in public. They are two thoughtful lovers of Christ and his people and a conversation like that couldn’t help being a benefit to everyone.

  5. robbymac February 9, 2008 at 6:44 pm #

    Hmm. How did I get into the “short list of big meanies”? I’ve been a proponent of alternate ways of doing church for years, and in many ways agree with a lot of Frank’s points along the way, but take exception (A) at his judgmental and caustic style (he makes Slice of Laodicea look charitable), (B) his insistence that anyone who doesn’t agree with him is compromised and pagan, and (C) his refusal to see that there is more diversity in the Kingdom than his narrow view allows for.

    I’ll say it again here, as Bob & Michael have as well: we don’t disagree with Frank’s assessments in many ways. But this isn’t a book from a caring brother in the faith, it’s a slam on people who I might disagree with, but would still have the common decency and respect to treat like family.

    THAT is the real tragedy of Frank Viola’s writing and speaking: not that he doesn’t have credible things to say, but that his attitude and narrow conclusions are so harsh that people miss the good stuff along the way.

    And if pointing that out puts me on a short list of big meanies, so be it.

  6. Christopher February 9, 2008 at 10:06 pm #

    Robbymac says: this isn’t a book from a caring brother in the faith –
    The journey with and into the Lord is really amazing. I meet so many wonderful people who all have had different experiences in their encounters with the Lord. Some consider themselves Christians, many do not, but they all seem to have one thing in common, an impacting experience with the I AM. One thing you can’t argue with is someones experience – you might argue about what it means but an experience is tangible and real. One thing that I have experienced is that when people try and convey their experience it often gets twisted and misunderstood. Especially if the experience is being filtered through the scriptures and being written down in a book. Somewhere in the Bible a brother gave this advice “we know no man according to the flesh” – I take it as awesome advice. The flesh of FrankV and the flesh of Robbymac both have problems (mine too) but the spirit inside of FrankV and the spirit inside of Robbymac are wonderful, holy and a comfort for all who can receive from them. So are you a meanie? No, thats not who you are. Are you being fair to another brother? I trust that the spirit inside of you can answer that.
    For what it is worth – Two weeks ago I left a copy of Pagan Christianity is a local coffee shop where a lot of college kids hang out. Last week the owner of the coffee shop asked me if I had left the book. I guess a young man had pick it up and was devouring it and three other people in the coffee shop are were waiting to read it, also they were all wondering who had left it. If that is all it does ok – the thing is that young man and others now want to get together with people who want to explore deeper things without all the trappings that Pagan Christianity talks about. A group of us are getting together tomorrow. God’s ways – go figure!

  7. zoecarnate February 9, 2008 at 10:34 pm #

    Thanks for the interaction, everyone. I shall try and respond to you personally here. Bob, John, Wes, Frank, Robby–I know you each in more than a casual way. One of you has supported my website majorly; one of you has shared your home with Jasmin and I. Some of you I send books to, and I have been in some house church meetings with one of you.

    Wes, thank you for the kind words. Watch this space in coming months for words on the book and its path to publication.

    Like you said, Frank Valdez, it’d be great to get some house church folks together with “Radical Orthodoxy” enthusiasts like Jamie Smith–and I’d add new monastic folks as well. We need to have some dialogue about fresh expressions of church, ancient expressions of church, and potentially New Testament expressions of church, as how we do things really does say a lot about who we are. And I totally agree with you, John L–whenever we’re critiquing the church, it is indeed a family dispute. If we should be kind to enemies, than we should certainly be kind to family.

    And so, Robby and Bob, your point is taken that you agree with many of Frank’s critiques but wish his tone were different. All the same, as I re-read the new Pagan, I don’t read ‘caustic’ in most cases–I read ‘humor.’ Robby, do you really think that PC makes Slice of Laodicea look charitable? Really? Since I gave up ‘Slice six months or so ago for my blood pressure, I went back to see if maybe that had become a lot more civil or something. But right there on the first page, I find the post Rick Warren Finds the Missing Link!. Here are a few excerpts:

    “Global Strategist” and apostasy enthusiast Rick Warren was at Georgetown University yesterday and declared that “faith-based organizations” are the missing link to solving the world’s problems. ..Rick Warren gets tested for HIV to promote AIDS awareness. Warren ignores the fact that the “gay” bathhouses that run rampant in his home state are a primary source of HIV infection as well as the spread of over 30 other venereal diseases. Charity begins at home, Rick. How about a Saddleback picket outside one of those places?”

    While “Purpose-Driven” is not my cuppa, I don’t see why Rick deserves these verbal pyrotechnics. And I don’t see any personal attacks and insinuations like this in the revised PC. Robby, have you read beyond the first chapter in the new edition, or are you basing your feeling off the (admittedly more polemical) first edition?

    Also you say that Frank insists “that anyone who doesn’t agree with him is compromised and pagan.” Can you show me where he says that? I hear him putting forth a particular view, but I don’t find him pronouncing invectives on those who disagree. I think he’s opening the floor to a perspective that many haven’t previously considered.

    Finally, you cite a “refusal to see that there is more diversity in the Kingdom than his narrow view allows for.” Again, how do you get all of this from some books? One of the reasons I don’t think of Frank as a fundamentalist (though I do think of him as an iconoclast, moreso than I am) is because he leaves the reconstruction rather wide open after doing a fairly thorough deconstruction. I don’t think he gives detailed prescriptives. Trust me, there are those in the housechurch world who do—and Frank speaks out against what he calls “Biblical blueprintism.” Bu I guess part of what baffles me about your statement is that you assume to know Frank socially and therefore know what he insists, and to whom. Frank is actually friends with pastors, priests, and even a bishop (I think)–he plays well with others, even if he passionately disagrees.

    I guess, Robby, that I’m unused to seeing this level of defensiveness and viritol coming from you–not the ‘ecclesiastical anarchist’ I’ve come to know and love.  For one, I didn’t label you a meanie–I said I respect your life, and I asked you to consider that some find contemporary church structures to be such a detriment to positive faith formation that they speak out about them forcefully–or “prophetically,” as Alan Hirsch has said. You might not feel as strongly about them, and that’s okay.

    I’ll give you a ‘for instance’: You work with YWAM, right? And though I’m sure you have your gripes, overall you’ve found YWAM to be a helpful means to sharing the abundant life of Jesus with folks. OK, great. Now, I also have friends who were YWAM missionaries, and they feel scarred for life as a result of their YWAM experience. “Spiritual rape” and “burnout” are terms they use. They speak in no uncertain terms about the toxicity of their experience. Now, which of you are right and which of you are wrong? That’s not even a question I consider. We all have different life experiences, and different ways of slicing the pie. While you might urge more caution and nuance in how my friends speak about YWAM, theirs is not really your story to tell. And similarly, if we were all sitting around a living room and they were trying to insist that you couldn’t possibly be doing God’s will b/c you’re involved with a parachurch organization, well, I’d stand up for the integrity of your story.

    So we all have different ways of saying what’s important to us–we have vastly different styles. What I find perplexing is that you want the conversation about ecclesiastical matters to be held to a certain standard of “common decency and respect,” and yet your sequential art-styled “review” of the book is…well, rather satirical. One might even say “caustic.” How does this advance your cause of more gracious, balanced, nuanced dialogue about these things? You say that Frank is judgmental, but then you make the blanket statement that Frank “isn’t…a caring brother in the faith.” How can you possibly say that? It all depends on what side of ‘care’ you stand on, I suppose. Some would say that Frank’s zeal for the priesthood and freedom of each follower of Jesus is ‘caring’ Would you say the support network he’s helping form for ex-pastors is caring, or is it yet another “search and destroy mission”?

    Let me zoom the lens out for a moment and observe: It makes sense to me that missionary types—like Andrew Jones and Alan Hirsch—seem to dig the book, where some in more local ministry settings do not. Missiologists are often ‘rethinking the wineskin,’ as it were, in their quest to incarnate the church in particular locales, in ever-more culturally appropriate and spiritually faithful ways. I see PC as one such addition to this conversation. If you feel that its tone makes it an addition that you cannot support, than I’d suggest—and this is sincere, not facetious—that you write the book that you think will be received because there are so many Christians ‘on the ground’ who are dying on the vine, desperate for a relational expression of the church. You give me a proposal and an outline for a better mousetrap, and I’ll be the first to champion it to the publishers I work with—honest-to-goodness.

  8. zoecarnate February 9, 2008 at 10:40 pm #

    Oh, hey Chris–I didn’t see your reply. You must have left it while I was posting mine!

    I think you raise an excellent point: when feelings get intense because of disagreements, its easier to see “the other” as malevolent and imagine a ‘spiritual attack’ occurring. I find this line of thinking dangerously dualistic, and not allowing anyone the grace we need. It can also make us feel like the victimized party, and thus place us in a place where we feel like we’re above reproach and dialogue. Sometimes we need to rise to a higher (or descend to a deeper) point of reference, where we realize our finitude, and that the way of Jesus is often both/and.

  9. jason February 9, 2008 at 11:14 pm #

    I have to admit that I’m out of the Pagan controversy. I have my copy as well as the original from back in the day. While I have yet to read the Barna edition, if Frank’s tone is at all like the previous incarnation I don’t blame people for being pissed. However, I stand on at least two sides to this issue. Mike you know me well enough to know my pedigree is diverse (no where as diverse as some I admit). I’ve stood in a very “generous” place and in a more “brethren” idea of what the church is and is not. Much of this argument is as old as time and as recent as Lee vs. Sparks. Locality versus Spiritual position. Advancement or Apostasy. So here is where I stand as of know on the “Pagan” issue.

    1. Frank and George are very capable of taking raw data and putting into a very accessible context. Viola is not a fool by a long shot an is much less brutish then some other radicals I’ve known. Name me one other book that “Joe Blow” pop press can get, read, digest, and do something about that deals with the structure of the church. Frank is not dealing with abstract doctrines or how be nicer to other people. This is a book dealing with heavy duty issues that can get into the hands of everyone.

    2. The weakness is that while Frank drives home his points with a hammer his tone is turning people off. A friend of mine read it (a very bright friend) and noted that while he agreed with Frank’s points and facts it did not seem to be coming from a loving place. Now many agree. Furthermore, although I agree with much of Frank’s conclusions I do see that we often bend reality to fit into our own lenses. Make no mistake Frank Viola has an agenda and a point to prove. So does Rob Bell or TD Jakes or Mike Morrell. We all do. The work of a true teacher, writer, scholar, human is to remain as objective as possible. To always allow your view to change in accordance with fact. In faith terms we are to always allow the Lord to renew our minds. Otherwise we see a world that always agrees with our conclusions and preconceptions.

    Now for my practical experience. I’ve been apart of Christian community for 7 years now. At times these groups have been attached to a para church or an organization. Other times they’ve been organic and freelance. Right now I’m experiencing the richest times of “church” in my life thus far. Itis far from perfect but it is glorious. What makes it so awesome? It’s that we skipped much of this debate and just gave Jesus our hearts and the Spirit a place to do His work. It’s not what we ascribe or what we “do” it’s the place we give God.

    Some might accuse me of the “sin of silence” (look it up Mike). But is this not what God is looking for? God is looking for a Temple, a People, a Body, a Field, a Family, A Bride. Somewhere where he is in control and dearly loved. These Pagan issues are as dangerous as they prohibit or restrain either of those. Is God free and our his kids free to love love and obey him in the Church and in the world? This has practical obligations (mutual edification, Christ like character, sacrificial love, compassion, deep spiritual connectedness and intimacy with God and others, etc). But the starting ground is how much room to each of us apart and together give God in us?

    I think Frank would mostly agree with this and if he doesn’t who cares. Disagreements are not th end of the world.

  10. jason February 9, 2008 at 11:27 pm #


    I’d have to defend Frank personally. The growth I’ve seen in his teaching and ability to be more open with other views in the last 5 years is remarkable.

    Furthermore books supposing revolution or reformation are probably not going to jive with what you already believe….that’s the point. We all to tend to get offended when we are corrected or percieve we are being corrected.

    What if the bias Frank may have is magnified by a bias in the reader which suggests that Frank is a sore, arrogant, sarcastic, agenda-setter. Readers must remain objective to offensive opinions because truth is truth no matter how abrasive. So if Frank is guilty of dropping the ball so is the reader who doesn’t do their work too.

  11. robbymac February 10, 2008 at 2:05 am #

    You’re right, Mike, this isn’t the way I normally process things. I am sorry for venting my spleen in such a way on your blog. Your blog deserves better and so do you.

    Please accept my apologies.

  12. zoecarnate February 10, 2008 at 2:25 am #

    It’s cool, bro–apologies abundantly accepted! And I’m serious about your writing a book capturing your heart and vision for what a new kind of church can look like, respecting a New Testament vision as well as what’s come after–I can’t wait ’till Post-Charismatic comes out!

  13. Christopher February 10, 2008 at 1:45 pm #

    Good stuff! You say to a brother: “write a book capturing your heart and vision for what a new kind of church can look like.”

    D. Bonhoeffer in his book Life Together says one of the things that can destroy a church is a persons wish dream i.e. vision of what the church should or could be like. Its one thing to write about your experience its another to write about what you think it should be like – when do we ever get that right.

  14. Jason February 12, 2008 at 8:53 pm #

    I just got my first email by a “church leader” warning me of the dangers of this book.

  15. Jim Braman February 13, 2008 at 5:19 am #

    Hey… I’ve been trying to reach you Mike! I know you are busy, but could someone tell me where the Raleigh house church meets? The website is down (

    My number is 201-2992 I live in Apex/Cary area.


  16. Robert February 13, 2008 at 7:41 pm #

    Barna seems to have gone of the deep end in recent years by allowing his statistics (which aren’t very well done if you actually examine how he polls, and the statistical methods he uses to analyze the results) to be affected by his own personal vendettas. Actually, it would seem that he quite literally thrives on controversy, because that means more business for his very lucrative consulting firm.

  17. George Dunn February 17, 2008 at 6:03 am #

    The imagery I see is Jesus pointing to the temple mount and saying, “De construct this and i will rebuild it in three days.” Yeah, right dude!
    So many of us only see within the natural realm…the world of brick and mortar and organizations and people and pews and programs. I one for one say Halelluia, tear it down and let’s see what He can build. Perhaps even an edifice of living stones! I wonder just what that would look like?!

  18. Joe Miller February 17, 2008 at 7:07 am #

    Hi Bob, an excellent alternative to Viola’s book is “The Ancient Church As Family” by Dr. Joe Hellerman. His work is well researched and addresses many of the “pagan” influences on our faith. Dr. Hellerman’s contribution is a blend of good history AND respectful discourse.

  19. Joe Miller February 20, 2008 at 6:10 pm #

    Hi Mike,

    I had the pleasure of talking with Frank on the phone a few days ago and you are right about him. I think he is a genuine man with a heart for Jesus.

    I have read your post again, and appreciate the balance you are trying to strike in this process.

  20. graham February 20, 2008 at 10:07 pm #

    Hi Mike,

    I have to say that I did find PC a little too fundamentalist for my liking. I’m about to post a review of it on my blog and one of the things I’ll be noting is that Frank could do with repeating his rejection of “Biblical blueprintism” more often and more explicitly.

    Coming out of the North American HC movement, I’m not sure that Frank’s humour helps him, because it too easily confirms people’s fears of dogmatic and rigid ecclesiastical primitivism. I think it would have been more helpful if the book had made more of the anabaptist values and post-Christendom context – giving it a more theological and missional feel, instead of a purely restitutionist one.

    And I say all of that as a fan of the book!

  21. David D. Flowers February 24, 2008 at 10:16 pm #

    I strongly encourage people to read this book before making up their mind about its authors or its message. The book’s purpose is made very clear by the authors: It is to “make room” for the centrality, supremacy, and headship of Christ in the church. This is the starting point for us all.

    Viola and Barna have written this book that we might discard all models and forms to return to Christ. There is too much talk going on about the church from well-intentioned believers. Christ should be our one and only pursuit. Out of Christ comes the church!

    When the book is read with this in mind… the reader will have an edge on understanding what the authors are seeking to accomplish with PC. Throw out the trash and let the Lord speak to your heart whatever he will. Seek Christ… not the church.

    David D. Flowers

  22. Carl McColman February 25, 2008 at 3:09 am #

    Well, as a Catholic Christian who is engaged on a number of levels with interfaith dialoque with both prominent and ordinary Neopagans, I found Pagan Christianity to be hostile to pretty much everything I stand for. As I said in my review of the book, “Why do these guys hate Catholics and pagans so much?”

    Mike, you say “All the same, as I re-read the new Pagan, I don’t read ‘caustic’ in most cases–I read ‘humor.’” I just don’t see it. I think because Frank’s your friend, you probably are not really dialed in to how hurtful his tone really could be. Forgive me for what is basically a “me too” post, but I have to join in with what many of the folks commenting here have already said: while I actually agree with a fair amount of what Pagan Christianity says, I think its tone is actually quite destructive. I’m looking forward to Reimagining Church and hope that it will help me to develop a more favorable view of Frank and his ministry. As the Quakers say, “Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”

    And finally, changing the subject a bit: Mike, your YWAM analogy strikes me as directly relevant to the conversation about the Community of Jesus that is occurring elsewhere on your blog.

  23. zoecarnate February 25, 2008 at 3:26 am #

    Hi Carl, I was wondering when you might show up here. 🙂 I want to be unequivocally stand behind what you’re saying, I really do. ‘Cause tone is important–some would say the chief theological virtue before ‘being right’ in anything else! As one fellow house-churching friend said to me recently, just because we marginalized-churchers (a long line including Waldenes, Lollards, Anabaptists, Quakers and more) have been beat up by the ecclessiastical powers-that-be across the centuries, doesn’t give us the moral right to pick up a mallet and return blows.

    But what are wounding blows to some are prophetic critiques to others. I think it would be disingenuous for me to pretend to be reading through your lens, from a progressive Catholic or Pagan perspective. I can’t help but read it from where I’m coming from–a house-churcher for ten years, who has read far, far more hostile tracts and invectives against more institutionalized forms of Christianity. I am quite positive that Frank wasn’t primarily or even peripherally thinking of satisfied ‘high church’ liturgical folks or neopagans whilst penning “Pagan” in either draft; he is engaging in a conversation that is, for better or worse, narrower than that–he is addressing evangelicals and fundamentalists and Pentecostal/charismatics and some of the ‘lower-church’ emerging crowd. I don’t know if he could change his book to be all things to all people.

    This is one of the main reasons I didn’t respond to your critique in the same breath as the others, who fit in the categories above. You are a category-breaker in this regard, which is a good thing. I have very little to say to your review, except this–I can respect where you’re coming from a ton more than others who are ecclesiologically closer to my camp. You have every reason to reject the author’s premise, whereas ostensibly ‘sola Scripture’ or “we do church as is grounded in the Bible” folks do not. You, brother Carl, are consistent!

    But I think you know that like you I personally hope for a middle ground between decentralized church and one rooted in historic expressions of liturgy. And I think I said, in this very review, that I would have personally toned things rather differently were I the author of “Pagan,” for a host of stylistic and even spiritual reasons. I’m as conciliatory and soft-spoken in my general polemical approach as a flower child decked out in a moon beam and a grass skirt, but in my reading I enjoy fiery authors as well as careful ones.

  24. Carl McColman February 25, 2008 at 4:15 am #

    That’s good, because sometimes I get pretty fiery (especially in my book reviews)!


  25. Bill Lollar February 27, 2008 at 5:59 pm #

    Hi. Found your review at the Pagan Christianity website. Just thought you and your readers might enjoy reading a new interview with George Barna and Frank Viola. I just posted it today: The Thin Edge hosts joint interview with Barna & Viola.

  26. ed cyzewski April 7, 2008 at 4:02 am #

    Since I have missed out on this conversation I had one thing to add about writing a book. Having just finished my own book, I can attest that it’s really, really, really easy to sound harsh, judgemental, and combative when you aim to be passionate and challenging. My development editor often had to rope me in, regularly asking for rewrites where I failed to clearly communicate my ideas, but instead ranted.

    All that to say… I can imagine that Frank found it easy to take a sharper edge, even if he didn’t necessarily intend to. I can’t say for sure if this is the case, we’ll have to pay attention to his interviews and his public speaking engagements to get a fuller picture. However, I’d be inclined to give someone the benefit of a doubt after completing my own book.


  1. Heresy Hunters: I Get By With a Little Help from My Friends « zoecarnate - April 8, 2008

    […] course Frank Viola has had his share of critique concerning Pagan Christianity–not all from shrill heresy hunters, but certainly enough of it. […]

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