Celebrity Christian speaker George Barna is the featured speaker at a local event sponsored by several local churches and para-church organizations. I’ve been asked by several folks about my opinion on attending and I must say that I CANNOT endorse the ministry of George Barna. He is very sound in his focus on strong and authentic Christian living, but his methods are sketchy and some of his teachings are very grievous to the Christian church!
I call upon all men of discernment to check the facts for yourself and to exercise discretion!
George Barna was born into a devout Catholic family in New Jersey. He graduated from Boston College and majored in Sociology. After college, Barna went into politics in the Democratic party in Boston. His political work sparked an interest in marketing, polling, and market research, so he returned to graduate school to earn degrees in Urban Planning and Political Science.
During his time on the East Coast, Barna became dissatisfied with the Roman Catholic church, but was unable to find an agreeable Protestant church to join in fellowship. After leaving political work, he moved to the West Coast to perform consulting work, plying the skills he learned as a pollster and market researcher. In California, like on the East Coast, Barna could not find a church that suited his tastes and did not attend church.
Later, Barna found himself in Chicago working in the same field and was connected with the famous Willow Creek Community church and Bill Hybels. Barna joined Hybels in crafting the new movement known as the seeker sensitive church movement. The movement sought to throw out everything associated with traditional church worship and to use market surveys and polls to craft a seeker-sensitive and market driven approach to church growth. The results of this movement have given rise to the doctrinal softening and all forms of weirdness and heresy in the “at-large” Evangelical church today.
Back in California, Barna started applying his market research skills to write books on the habits and trends amongst American Christians. Barna has used this popularity to write soft doctrinal and practical (and alarmist!) books about the Christian life – all based on his knowledge of the desires and trends of young people (most of whom are unregenerate pagans!).
Barna calls himself the most quoted man in Christendom, but some question whether Barna’s numbers should be trusted at all. In an open letter to George Barna, Pastor Frank Turk (of Pyromaniacs fame), exposes barna as manipulating statistics to support his own agenda. You can read his open letter HERE.
As every armchair politician knows, the results of polls can be manipulated based on how questions are framed and based on the definitions of words. Additionally, we all know what Mark Twain famously said about statistics. Consider the work of Bradley Wright, a sociologist at UConn wrote (THIS BOOK), which (in part) explores “several Barna studies and explains the shoddy and sloppy work and interpretation done” (quote from review of Wright’s book).
One of Barna’s primary contentions in his books (to be discussed further below) is that the modern church does not work, has no Biblical basis, and should be abandoned! He supports this dangerous and faulty thesis using the results of polling work. Polling work that is skewed to assist Barna to have the results he needs to justify the subject matter of his books. For more on Barna’s views on the local church read on below…
My concern would not be so deep if it was simply based on Barna’s pragmatism. Barna is simply an ENEMY of the local church. According to his book Revolution, Barna believes that one can be a “God-exalting Christian without any formal involvement in or connection with the [local] church” (Sam Storms). According to Sam Storms, Barna believes that for some believers, “a genuine, thriving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ is only possible only by forsaking membership in, support of, and allegiance to a local congregation of believers.
Some quotes from Barna –
- ““whether you become a Revolutionary immersed in, minimally involved in, or completely disassociated [sic] from a local church is irrelevant to me (and, within boundaries, to God)” (Barna Quoted by Sam Storms
- Believers “distancing themselves from formal congregations does not reflect a willingness to ignore God as much as a passion to deepen their connection to Him” (Barna Quoted by Sam Storms)
- “Christians who are involved in local churches are actually less likely than Revolutionaries to lead a biblical lifestyle” (Barna Quoted by Sam Storms)
- “‘the [local] church’ is a human construct that was neither dictated by God nor described or found in the Bible.”(Interview)
In place of the local church, Barna advocates for informal “boutique churches” that reflect the customized experiences and personal preferences of worshipers (Sam Storms). Pastor Frank Turk (linked above) calls Barna’s methods and theology “half-baked” HERE and claims that Barna is simply “not credible”.
According to fellow blogger Five Solas Guy, “The only keys [Barna’s Book The Rabit and the Elephant] has to offer, sadly, are the keys to heresy and unbiblical practices and stumbling blocks and false converts.” (book review).
A simple google search will reveal many such quotes from conservative Bible believing, Christ exalting pastors and theologians!! For example, the Gospel Coalition (which has members: Voddie Baucham, Alistair Begg, Don Carson, Bryan Chapell, Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, Kent Hughes, Albert Mohler, John Piper, etc. ) posted the following book review of Barna’s book: Pagan Christianity:
The church should not contain any hierarchy at all.
The senior pastor is actually an obstacle to the fully-functioning body of Christ.
The idea of a sermon in a church gathering is pagan (after all, that brings about a clergy/laity distinction).
Church buildings take away from the biblical teaching that the Church is a people.
Any routine in worship is wrong. All liturgy, whether Protestant, Catholic or free church is misguided and stifling to the Holy Spirit.
Dressing up for church is a leftover from paganism and hypocritical for Christians.
No one should lead in singing. To have a worship leader picking songs is an affront to freedom in Christ.
Tithing is completely unbiblical and now serves to prop up the unbiblical institutionalized church and the salaries of unbiblical clergy.
Baptism and the Lord’s Supper have been coopted by pagan mysticism.
Christian education doesn’t work because everything is mind-focused. Discipleship should be an apprentice-ship, not just filling the head with information.
The Bible needs to be read in context, not as a jigsaw puzzle.
We need to be like Jesus – revolutionaries who are ready to turn aside all tradition.
There are actually some crumbs of truth in some of Barna’s points, but the overall tenor and goal in his writing, but the most dangerous lie is always the one wrapped around a kernel of truth! Barna, in many of his writings, is starting to sound less seeker sensitive and more like heretical cult leaders (think Jim Jones, Harold Camping, Joseph Smith, etc) who have said similar things and have led thousands out of the doors of sound Bible believing local churches!
What I have said above should be enough to alert any Bible believing Christian to be cautious about Barna. Is he a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or just badly errant and in need of church discipline – an enterprise not possible with the un-churched Barna. An additional concern is Barna’s own questionable discernment. He wrote the book Pagan Christianity with Frank Viola, who is noted for his mysticism, approved of the heretical book The Shack, is emergent, and has many other doctrinal deficiencies including opposing local churches in favor of “open participation” meetings without elders or leadership. In this Interview, Barna lists the following men as those that inspire him most: Matthew Barnett and Andy Stanley. Matthew Barnett is a charismatic TBN regular and pastor of the Los Angeles Dream Center. Andy Stanley, of course, is a doctrinally shallow mega-church pastor who has recently come under fire for his weaked stances regarding infallibility and homosexuality.
Several of Barnas other co-authors and conference co-speakers are troublesome as well, but I spare you. Do your own research into the matter.
Why has George Barna become such a famous name in Christendom? I think it is because of a tendency toward hero-worship in Evangelicalism at large combined with a general lack of Bible knowledge and discernment. Additionally, Barna’s research gives pastors the ammunition to say the things they want to say in the pulpit, but with an air of authority. Also, Barna gives young Millennials the permission (rather praise) to skip church on Sunday (what with all the preaching, discipline, fellowship, and giving) and instead spend the time golfing or hanging out at a coffee shop. Tell me that philosophy doesn’t sell books! (and if you think I’m kidding, read reviews of his book Revolution)
Could Barna have many helpful things to say in his presentation here in a few weeks? Of course! But I simply cannot support the methods of a shallow, market-driven pragmatist, who has undermined the role and structure of Christ’s body. The enemy of the body of Christ is the enemy of Christ. Barna is playing with fire and I, for one, do not want to stand close.
Having said all this, I also collected a number of other book reviews and Barna links with the heretical emergent church, but I’ve decided to end this here. Originally this section of the post contained links to dozens of internet articles and calls to repentance, but instead, I’ll leave it to you to do your own research.
I leave you to remember the words of the Apostle Paul to Timothy (possibly the pastor of the local church in Ephesus):
I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. (2 Tim 4:1-4)