Ken Miller has written a review of Barna's latest book in Christianity Today. Sam Storms has also written a review (part one and part two), and so has Michael Haykin, a former prof of mine and someone worth listening to:
Here is Evangelicalism throwing the past and its caution to the winds and eloping with the fervently anti-institutional spirit of the age—a nymph with oh so many paramours. Nothing really revolutionary here. Just utter silliness and the giddiness of childish infatuation.
And this quip from Chris Treat:
His exegesis is so thin that the most telling result of Barna’s book may be how much evangelical leaders take his exegesis seriously. If Barna’s weak exegesis can convince evangelical leaders that the Bible is silent about the local church, then evangelicalism has surely reached the pinnacle of Biblical ignorance.
These reviews, of course, are harsher than my own.
A couple of responses:
First, these reviews are partially right that anti-instituionalism may be at the heart of the issue, and they're also right that it's possible to overreact against traditional models of the church. Maggi Dawn is right in suggesting it's not always wise to abandon the institution.
That's why the solution to me is an reinvigorated ecclesiology (ecclesiology meaning the theology of church), to borrow a term from David Fitch, rather than abandoning ecclesiology together.
But I think that these reviews may be making an assumption about what church looks like. It is something more than a casual meeting in Starbucks, but it may also be less (more?) than meeting in a building with paid staff with programs - not that there's anything wrong with that. It's just not the only way.
Neil Cole is right in asking the question: "What is church?" The danger, according to Cole, is that we answer this question from experience rather than Scripture.
It's not that people think the Bible is silent on the issue of the local church. It's just that many don't see the institutional church as the embodiment of that teaching. You can be committed to every teaching in the Bible on local churches and still reject the current institutional model of church - a model which never existed in biblical days in any case.
It's my contention that the institutional church is one model, and a valid one, but that there are other models that are in play as well. If Barna is saying anything, I think he's saying that one model no longer fits all. That's only a concern if you think there is only one Scriptural model, and that model requires a building, paid clergy, and Sunday services with a platform and an audience.
Are we saying, for instance, that home churches or what Cole calls organic churches are unscriptural?
My prediction: reinvigorating ecclesiology has to become a front-burner issue, and it's going to become even more important to answer the question, "What is the church?" in the coming years - and to expect that this question might lead us to surprising places.