Pagan Christianity? (book)

PaganIts a great read and my copy has already been STOLEN by my neighbor who is probably just as fascinated in its contents as I was. Its called Pagan Christianity? by house church guru Frank Viola (not the baseball player) and researcher/author George Barna who have teamed up to give us the most thorough treatment yet of the pagan origins of many of our most cherished Sunday church traditions. Actually, Jim Rutz nailed a few of these in his book Open Church but Viola and Barna have gone far beyond Rutz, or anyone I know, in exposing more elements of Protestant church traditions to the scrutiny of historical research.

Like dressing up for church. Pulpits and 3 point sermons. Clerical dog collars. Church steeples and seminary training.

Pagan Christianity? lets George Barna unpack his argument why the new Revolutionaries mentioned in his previous book are not rebelling against God by setting up organic house communities. And it gives Frank Viola the chance to put forward his best thinking yet in a series that has already assisted thousands of people in dealing biblically and historically with accusations of “lack of covering” or “neglecting church” or more recently, of adopting “pagan” practices in starting emerging churches. Ha! Watch as Franky and Georgy turn the tables!


Yes . . . DUH! . . and the backlash has already started. Frank has responded to some of the objections here. I had one difficulty with the book that I emailed Frank about:

TSK: My main difficulty with it [Pagan Christianity?] is that it does not deal with the pagan/christian culture clash that accompanies all advances of the Kingdom into new areas. Much of what we adopt and have inherited has pagan roots but our response is not always to pull away but rather to redeem.

FRANK VIOLA: Right. I don’t disagree; I could have said more about that I suppose. I didn’t address a lot of the Constantinian influences on the political outlook of the church, for instance, (a la, church wedding the state) and all the problems we inherited from that simply because other people (McLaren, the radical orthodox folks, Stuart Murray, etc.) have addressed it adequately. I do try to make the point that just because a practice is pagan in origin doesn’t make it wrong. We use the example of pile carpets and chairs as well as our calendar. It’s the practices that hinder the headship of Christ, suppress the functioning of his body, and violate the church’s DNA that we take dead aim at and expose.

As for redeeming *certain* practices, I’m all for it. In fact, if you go to you’ll see why I don’t go after Christmas and Easter in the book, but instead, argue that those pagan holidays, as it were, have been redeemed by Christians.

Thanks, Frank, for your response. Anyway, the book is a great read. And you can start with this free Bonus chapter (PDF). Of course you will have to figure out for yourself how to handle this information. And dont forget to hear Frank this week on the Nic and Josh Podcast. Also, my mate Alan Hirsch gives a positive review and Steve Eastman interviews Frank about some of the book’s content, including the pagan origin of the sermon, known by the Greek sophists as the”homily”. Ohhhhh . . . . got you hooked . . . haven’t I?

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Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • nic paton says:

    The main issue I have with Franks book (First edition without George?) is his assumption about what “Pagan” means. Not only does he assume that it is a bad thing, but he does not define it at all.
    I went to the book as a Christian Pagan looking forward to a good deconstraction of our unthinking church traditions, only to realise that not only were these bad, but that the Pagan was as well.
    However, I thought his expose of the various practices of the church was excellant. It is such a pity that the work he put in to gathering this information for us was flawed by his lack of adequate defination, his flawed assumptions and resulting flawed conclusions.
    For my understandings of the Pagan, see for example

  • andrew jones says:

    thanks nic. i didn’t read the first version but this new version does talk about the word – ie, country people, people outside the boundary of civilization. but i see your point.
    i was just reading in another book about how church music was influenced by the “pagan” folk songs of the day and gave birth to our anthems, and obviously our songs of praise. the pope condemned it of course.
    thanks for your link.

  • David says:

    It seems maybe the lack of adequate definition has kind of become a thorn in his side. But honestly I think it is beside the point. I believe Frank only argues that Pagan = bad when it gets in the way of the mission. Just as, I believe, a Biblical practice (or interpretation of a practice) could be bad if it got in the way of mission.

  • Jon Zens says:

    Andrew — Thank you for your perceptive comments on Pagan Christianity. Also, I read a piece I believe you did on Junia some time ago, and that was a real blessing to my heart at the time.
    In response to Nic, I think they do define “Pagan” on p.7 of PC:
    The term pagan was used by the early Christian apologists to group non-Christians into a convenient package. At its root, a “pagan” is a country dweller, an inhabitant of the pagus or rural district. Because Christianity primarily spread in the cities, the country bumpkins, or pagans, were regarded as those who believed in the old gods. See Joan E. Taylor, Christians and the Holy Places: The Myth of Jewish-Christian Origins (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 301.
    The first and second editions of PC never argue that if a practice is pagan in origin that automatically makes it bad or evil. Both books actually refute that sort of thinking.

  • Bob Hyatt says:

    I’ve been working through this book on my blog…
    And so far- (I’m on cht 3) it is an absolute mess of right on criticisms undergirded by and topped with overstatements, mis-implications and outright non sequiturs.
    To put it bluntly- it’s insulting in it’s main theses: “We are also making an outrageous proposal: that the church in its contemporary, institutional form has neither a biblical nor a historical right to exist.”
    “John Newton rightly said, ‘Let not him who worships under a steeple condemn him who worships under a chimney.” With that in mind, what biblical, spiritual, or historical authority does any Christian have to gather under a steeple in the first place?”
    “Nothing so hinders the fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose as does the present-day pastoral role.”
    And on and on…
    I’m in sympathy with many of the core suggestions here. But what they base them on? And where they take them?
    Just remember, Andrew- the next time you preach down at the Baptist church or others: “what biblical, spiritual, or historical authority does any Christian have to gather under a steeple in the first place?”

  • Darryl says:

    It’s a good book in so many ways, but they overreach. You’ve identified the main issue: can the pagan be redeemed? And how?
    I like exploring these questions probably a little more than I like the discussion ender statement that the institutional church has no right to exist.

  • nic paton says:

    Thanks all for these views. I don’t have the book to hand, so you might be right that Frank did in fact define the pagan. I do remember searching quite hard for it at the time, though.
    I also did a bit of a trawl of Strongs, and from what I can see, the term pagan equates more closely to “Heathen”(=Goyim/Gentile) than any other biblical concept.
    Therefore everything non-Jewish is pagan. But the meaning of the word took on a more sinister implication in later times.
    And as I see it, there is much in the “Pagan” that is far superior to much of our modern christianity.
    This includes wholism, simplicity, cosmic connectedness, authentic spirituality, deep care for the earth, a non-monetary approach to exchange, a community based sense of the sacred, etc.
    I present an abstract set of virtues here, and obviously I am not saying all paganism has these, but these are hallmarks of the premodern sacred.
    We are in a deep deep mess in the west in many ways including our religion, much worse than most will acknowledge. One way forward, it seems to me, is back.
    That is why I feel that much of what we term pagan is actually part of our salvation.

  • dave says:

    Hi Andrew, I know this is really late- but if you notice my question and can respond, great! I’ve always assumed we got our christian ideas of clergy and meeting places from the Jewish model of rabbis and synagogues. Why does Viola (or others of the same mind) use the Jewish Temple and Priests as examples/reasons for suggesting the illegitimacy of designated buildings and clergy? I’m not seeing the functional/historical connection. Any links or references you can point me to? I couldn’t find anything on Viola’s site or in the book… And since i went off on my blog about it, i thought i’d better go ahead and get my facts straight now. 🙂 I’d appreciate any redirection or chastisement you can provide my brain with. Thanks!

  • Mike Morrell says:

    Interesting that this book continues to generate so much light and heat. Here’s my entry into the fray.

  • Joe Miller says:

    A good book on this topic is “The Ancient Church As Family“. It is worth the read.

  • Bill Lollar says:

    Hi, TSK. Found your review at the Pagan Christianity website. Just thought you and your readers might enjoy reading a new interview with George Barna and Frank Viola. I just posted it today: The “Thin Edge hosts joint interview with Barna & Viola.”

  • Jill says:

    Check out the new spoof video for the book. Very funny.

  • Jill says:

    The sequel to “Pagan Christianity?” is out now. It’s called “Reimagining Church”. It picks up where “Pagan Christianity” left off and continues the conversation. (“Pagan Christianity” was never meant to be a stand alone book; it’s part one of the conversation.) “Reimagining Church” is endorsed by Leonard Sweet, Shane Claiborne, Alan Hirsch, and many others. You can read a sample chapter at It’s also available on Frank is also blogging now at

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