My initial thoughts about a book I recently read, Pagan Christianity? By Frank Viola and George Barna:
On the whole, I found the book well researched, about the origin of practices adopted by Christian churches from the “pagan” (non-New Testament) culture. During the reading, I found myself saying, “Okay, I knew that,” “Er, I sort of suspected that,” or “Yeeks!”
During most of the reading, I found the book challenging, And it raises questions about how much we rely on unquestioned traditions instead of pure New Testament teachings.
Then I got to the first of Viola’s “solutions”: Christians need to read the New Testament, and especially Paul’s letters, “panoramically,” instead of “proof-texting”. This is where Viola lost me.
In one major chapter, he showed how pagan academia infiltrated the churches, turning the Christian faith for millions from a living relationship with Jesus to a mere scholarly pursuit of knowledge.
So his solution to ending this and other “manmade” traditions, in pursuing an “organic” living church: get a “panoramic” reading of the NT, studying the NT books in chronological order and with understanding their background—by relying on that same “scholarship” that he claims has been wrecking Christianity!
Viola also gives a “black or white” view of studying scriptures, juxtaposing the panoramic approach against a variety of other methods he broad-brushes as “proof-texting.” You may be surprised that studying about one topic—carefully making sure that the verses or sections being studied are in their proper context—is proof-texting still, as bad as opening up a page of the Bible and blindly pointing to a verse.
Please don’t get me wrong—we DO need to understand that the NT books in many Bibles are listed according to length, and understand the historical background of the times the NT was written.
What’s disturbing about Viola's view is this question it raises: is God THAT limited in speaking to His people (through the logos He inspired), that He could only REALLY speak to us through panoramic scripture reading? If that is the case, I can only tell Brother Viola, in the words of J.B. Phillips, “You God is too small.”