Brief Book Reviews: Pagan Christianity and A Christian Survival Guide
Lately I’ve been reading a few books that have been turning a lot of customary Christian thought completely on its head. I must say, I am really enjoying breaking open the can of worms that is Christian tradition and digging into the ways in which so much of what we believe is human thought, and not necessarily rooted in scriptures.
One such book is Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna. This book delves into all the basics of institutional Christianity. There is a chapter devoted to the church building, the liturgy, the sermon and pastor, tithing, the sacraments, Sunday School, and other practices that Christians generally take for granted as an unshakable part of Christian tradition.
The authors then trace each of these practices to their origins, and come to the mind-blowing conclusion over and over again that we do not derive the way we practice our faith from scripture at all. Rather, paganism had an incredibly pervasive influence on how Christianity developed in the centuries after Jesus’ death, when an organized religion began to emerge due primarily to the influence of Emperor Constantine.
The book was fascinating, and left me with a lot to question about how we “do church” today and what that means for my personal life and my continuing search for a community of believers with whom I can live out my faith in Jesus.
The second book I picked up, which I’m currently still reading, is Ed Cyzewski’s A Christian Survival Guide. Its tone is quite a bit different from Viola and Barna’s book, which is a little heavy academically and full of historical facts about the development of institutional Christianity.
Rather, Ed’s book is about a lot of the issues that Christians often find hard to reconcile with their own faith. He writes about prayer, and why it can be so discouraging because it often feels like God is silent in our prayers. He also writes about the problem of suffering, and doubt, and violence in the Bible, and questions about biblical inerrancy. I haven’t gotten to these chapters yet, but he also discusses Christian practices such as tithing, church-going, and evangelism.
What I am really appreciating about Ed’s book is that he writes with a gentle sort of conviction that has challenged me to think more deeply about what it means to be serious about my faith in a way that is not threatening. He doesn’t subscribe to a particular theological camp in his discussion of all the different issues he writes about, and he is careful to remind the reader that what he is offering are a few options in the quest to make sense of this world we live in, but that we are free to make up our own minds.
It’s a wonderful book, and I imagine took a lot of guts to publish it. Because the ideas Ed discusses don’t really fall squarely in either the conservative or progressive camps, but rather offer an alternative to the pitfalls of both, it can sometimes be an uncomfortable read no matter where you fall on the theological spectrum.
So basically, both books have been incredibly enlightening reads. I’m really glad that I read them back-to-back, because they balance each other out really well. Pagan Christianity pulls apart all the ways we have abandoned the practical, organic Christian community practiced by the early church in favor of rigid traditions heavily influenced by paganism. And A Christian Survival Guide provides useful, thoughtful tools for navigating problem areas in Christian theology and forging a new way that shifts beyond oversimplified, problematic doctrines and yet still remains molded to the fundamentals that the Christian faith holds dear.