Pagan Starfish Consuming Jesus

kinnon —  December 31, 2007 — 6 Comments

I’ve made a couple of book review promises that I haven’t kept in the last month. I still haven’t finished Consuming Jesus by Paul Metzger, in spite of it having travelled with me to both Vancouver and Pittsburgh. It isn’t because I don’t want to read the book – nor that I do not like the book. I do and also think it’s a critically important book in the discussion of the consumer church. It’s on my reading list for today – as we are having a very relaxed New Year’s Eve around these parts. (Imbi and I will probably be curled up on couches reading. UPDATE: We actually watched two of the Inspector Lynley series DVDs and then watched Dream Girls. I’m reading the book today – Jan 1.)

In spite of not finishing CJ, I have managed to read both Pagan Christianity and Wolfgang Simson’s free eBook, The Starfish Manifesto. (UPDATE: Almost 40 people have downloaded the pdf file so far. Please share your thoughts here or via email.) They are singing similar songs and I think they are both critical to any discussion of the church today. (I probably don’t share Simson’s particular eschatological viewpoint, however.) Darryl Dash has begun his review of Pagan Christianity and I would agree with this assessment of Viola and Barna’s four themes:

1. The origin of many of our church practices (examples: church buildings, orders of worship, sermons, pastors, tithing, clergy salaries) is non-biblical, and these practices are inconsistent with those of the early church. "Almost everything that is done in our contemporary churches has no basis in the Bible." (p. 4) Much of it was lifted from pagan culture.
  2. Just because something does not appear in the Bible does not mean it is wrong. However, our non-biblical church practices often hinder the development of our faith and keep us from encountering the living God.
  3. "The church in its contemporary, institutional form neither has a biblical nor a historical right to exist." (p. xx)
  4. The church must return to its biblical roots. At a personal level, we must ask questions of church as we know it and pray seriously about what our response should be.

Imbi is in the process of reading the book and I will include her comments when I write my review. The book is very well footnoted (in contrast to Wolfgang’s which is intentionally not footnoted at all) and has much in it with which I agree. Barna softens Viola’s often strident tone (based on my reading of others of Frank’s books) and the Q&A sections at the end of each chapter help this book to effectively communicate its message.

Let me end this post by saying that I think Consuming Jesus, Pagan Christianity and The Starfish Manifesto are all books that should prompt important discussions as we attempt to understand the church in the third millennium.

UPDATE: I should note that I found the link to Simson’s book via The Leadership Network blog.

UPDATE 2: Joe Thorn has also begun to review Pagan Christianity.

UPDATE 3: Triple D is continuing to review Pagan Christianity. Please read J. Michael Matkin’s comment on this post – I appreciate his caution.

UPDATE 4: I think Grace’s post, A Relational Ethos of Leadership, is an important addition to this discussion.

UPDATE 5: The BHT’s local dog, Van Til, expresses the sentiment of many regarding the pronouncements of Brother Barna. And almost says a bad word in the process. The iMonk, the hand that feeds Van Til, says that Triple D and I have told him everything he needs to know about the book.



A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

6 responses to Pagan Starfish Consuming Jesus

  1. I haven’t read this new edition and it’s been years since I read the original, so I really can’t comment on the changes (although I do detect the softening touch of Barna in the sample chapter that they have on the website).

    I would normally avoid saying anything about the book at all until looking at it, but I keep hearing the same phrases cropping up in the three or four reviews that I’ve seen so far: “extensively footnoted” or some variation thereof. I want to remind everyone that D.L. Moody’s dictum – “Converts should be weighed as well as counted.” – applies even more to sources. It’s too easy to cherry-pick through history and develop illegitimate conclusions in support of our own vision of how things ought to be. The rest of us have to be discerning in how we examine this book, all the more so because many of us are already positively disposed to its conclusions (I speak as one of the tribe, here).

    To say that “The church in its contemporary, institutional form neither has a biblical nor a historical right to exist” is about as incindiery a remark as you can make given that there are hundreds of millions of Christians around the world who continue to find in the institutional church a pathway to discipleship. Like every reformist movement in church history, post-whatever Christians need to be careful about reading our own frustrations and experiences off onto everyone else. I’m not saying, Bill, that you or any of the other reviewers are doing that. I just want to sound a note of caution.

  2. Mike,
    Thanks. I really appreciate that – and it helps me to frame some of my own thoughts. Your note of caution is well sounded!

  3. How does one get hold of a review copy, as I have no intention of buying it, given the amount of other books I’m currently having to buy but wouldn’t mind to read it and see what the fuss is about. I’m guessing there are not a lot of surprises.

  4. I’m looking forward to reading this book, although it looks like it will already be widely reviewed by the heavy-hitters by the time I get to it.

    Thanks for the link (and for fixing my stutter in the other post).

  5. Hi Bill. I downloaded the book, but have only read the first part so too easy to say very much about it.

    But as I was trying to search for more information about the starfish project that the book introduction tells about I couldn’t find anything – and the webpage was down. Do you know anything more about it?

  6. Elling,
    That is too weird. Not sure what the scoop is with The Starfish Project. Can’t seem to find any references to why the site is not up when I google Wolfgang. Hmm.


What do you think?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.