Friday, April 8, 2011

Pagan Christianity? by Frank Viola and George Barna

Pagan Christianity?
Exploring The Roots of our Church Practices

By Frank Viola and George Barna

Page 201: Four Stages of Theological Education

“Throughout church history there have been four stages of theological education. They are: episcopal, monastic, scholastic, and seminarian (pastoral).”


Page 204: “Contemporary theology cut its teeth on the abstraction of Greek philosophy. University academics adopted an Aristotelian model of thinking that centered on rational knowledge and logic. The dominating drive in scholastic theology was the assimilation and communication of knowledge. (For this reason, the Western mind has always been fond of creedal formulations, doctrinal statements, and other bloodless abstractions.)

“One of the most influential professors in the shaping of contemporary theology was Peter Abelard (1079-1142). Abelard is partly responsible for giving us ‘modern’ theology. His teaching set the table and prepared the menu for scholastic philosophers like Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274).

“Distinguished by Abelard, the school of Paris emerged as the model for all universities to follow. Abelard applied Aristotelian logic to revealed truth, though even he understood the tension between the two. . . He also gave the word theology the meaning it has today. (Before him, this word was only used to describe pagan beliefs.)

“Taking his cue from Aristotle, Abelard mastered the pagan philosophical art of dialectic—the logical disputation of truth. He applied this art to the Scriptures. Christian theological education never recovered from Abelard’s influence. Athens is still in its bloodstream. Aristotle, Abelard, and Aquinas all believed that reason was the gateway to divine truth. So from its beginnings, Western university education involved the fusion of pagan and Christian elements.”


Page 205: “Seminary theology grew out of the scholastic theology that was taught in the universities. As we have seen, this theology was based on Aristotle’s philosophical system. Seminary theology was dedicated to the training of professional ministers. Its goal was to produce seminary-trained religious specialists. It taught the theology—not of the early bishop, monk, or professor—but of the professionally ‘qualified’ minister. This is the theology that prevails in the contemporary seminary.”

Page 206: “Concerning the seminary, we might say that Peter Abelard laid the egg and Thomas Aquinas hatched it. Aquinas had the greatest influence on contemporary theological training. In 1879, his work was endorsed by a papal bull as an authentic expression of doctrine to be studied by all students of theology. Aquinas’s main thesis was that God is known through human reason. He ‘preferred the intellect to the heart as the organ for arriving at truth.’ Thus the more highly trained people’s reason and intellect, the better they will know God. Aquinas borrowed this idea from Aristotle. And that is the underlying assumption of many—if not most—contemporary seminaries.

“The teaching of the New Testament is that God is Spirit, and as such, He is known by revelation (spiritual insight) to one’s human spirit. Reason and intellect can cause us to know about God. And they help us to communicate what we know. But they fall short in giving us spiritual revelation. The intellect is not the gateway for knowing the Lord deeply. Neither are the emotions. In the words of A.W. Tozer: ‘Divine truth is of the nature of spirit and for that reason can be received only by spiritual revelation. . . . God’s thoughts belong to the world of spirit, man’s to the world of intellect, and while spirit can embrace intellect, the human intellect can never comprehend spirit. . . . Man by reason cannot know God; he can only know about God. . . . Man’s reason is a fine instrument and useful within its field. It was not given as an organ by which to know God.’”

Page 207: “Today, Protestants and Catholics alike draw upon Aquinas’s work, using his outline for their theological studies. Aquinas’s crowning work, Summa Theologica (The Sum of All Theology), is the model used in virtually all theological classes today—whether Protestant or Catholic.”

Page 208: “Without a doubt, Aquinas is the father of contemporary theology. His influence spread to the Protestant seminaries through the Protestant scholastics. The tragedy is that Aquinas relied so completely on Aristotle’s method of logic chopping when he expounded on holy writ. . . . Regardless of how much we wish to deny it, contemporary theology is a blending of Christian thought and pagan philosophy.”


As a seventeen-year-old atheist, my bible was Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics. Being an atheist and embracing Aristotle just made sense.

Revelation from God is superior to reason; Christ is superior to Aristotle and Aquinas.

“On this rock [of revelation knowledge—not reason] I will build my church and the gates of hell [the strategies of hell] shall not prevail against it.”


  1. When I was 18, I knew this Catholic priest. He loaned me his copy of Summa Theologica. I read the first three pages and thought it was very dry and very dead--you know, the exact opposite of life and life in abundance.

    Thomas Aquinas had a very powerful intellect, but was he a Christian? My guess is that Aquinas was not a Christian. If you bear dead spiritual fruit, you are not a Christian.

    We access our Heavenly Father through the spirit, not the intellect--and, of course, the spirit has to be revived through faith in Christ (washed in His precious blood). The intellect--no matter how brilliant--is but a poor servant to the spirit.

    Whether you believe that the will of man is totally depraved (because of the Fall) or not, we still need the spirit to be revived through faith in Jesus Christ. "We worship Him in Spirit and in truth."

    I don't like the word "theology" (the study of God). The Lord reveals His will to us. I have read a lot of inspired books, but I would not call them theology books; I would call them spirituality-revelation-experiential books.

  2. "Another kind of religious leader must arise among us. He must be of the old prophet type, a man who has seen visions of God and has heard a voice from the Throne. When he comes (and I pray God there will not be one but many) he will stand in flat contradiction to everything our smirking, smooth civilization holds dear. He will contradict, denounce and protest in the name of God and will earn the hatred and opposition of a large segment of Christendom."

    --A.W. Tozer
    from Chapter 12,
    "Pagan Christianity"

    "Those who live Godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution."

  3. Tim, One of your greatest posts. I will read and read this one again. Wonderful nuggets of truth. This is powerful because in Ephesians 6: 14 we stand having our loins girt about with truth against the enemy. (the loins are very vulnerable and must be belted up and protected ( As I told you and as you've read from my blogs, I have been on a spiritual battle (certainly knowing we don't wrestle against flesh and blood, but) against principalities and powers, rulers of darkness and spiritual wickedness in high places (Ephesiahs 6:12) personified as 'religion'.. It really stings me personally because of watching my son change slowly in his theological seminary. In two years he changed before my very eyes to become a legalistic, theologian..... I pray for him in earnest. Thank you Tim for shedding more light on this subject. God bless Brother.

  4. deserves to be repeated..................

    "Another kind of religious leader must arise among us. He must be of the old prophet type, a man who has seen visions of God and has heard a voice from the Throne. When he comes (and I pray God there will not be one but many) he will stand in flat contradiction to everything our smirking, smooth civilization holds dear. He will contradict, denounce and protest in the name of God and will earn the hatred and opposition of a large segment of Christendom."

    --A.W. Tozer
    from Chapter 12,
    "Pagan Christianity"

    "Those who live Godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution."

  5. Randy: It is absolutely providential that I have read parts of "Pagan Christianity?" in the past two days.

    A few days ago I hitchhiked out of Riverton, Wyoming to Farson and then up to Pinedale. I walked a few miles out of Pinedale and this guy in a pickup pulled over to give me a ride. I got in and I recognized him. His name is Dave and he picked me up a year and a half ago. He is a real devoted Christian and he took me home to meet his wife and son.

    That evening he showed me "Pagan Christianity?" and I started reading it. It is very good. I thank God that Dave picked me up again. I stayed there for three nights and then his wife and son gave me a ride to Jackson today.

    I hope more and more people read "Pagan Christianity?"; we need to get back to the simplicity that is in Christ Jesus--not theological-philosophical churchy church gobledeegook (Thomas Aquinasspeak).

  6. More excerpts from "Pagan Christianity?":

    Page 119: "Will Durant makes a similar point, noting that Christianity 'grew by the absorption of pagan faith and ritual; it became a triumphant church by inheriting the organizing patterns and genius of Rome. . . . As Judea had given Christianity ethics, and Greece had given it theology, so now Rome gave it organization; all these, with a dozen absorbed and rival faiths, entered into the Christian synthesis.'"

    There should be no Christian synthesis. Christ is thesis; Satan is antithesis; there is no synthesis.

    If we are truly surrendered to Christ, we are dissolved into Christ-thesis. There is no Satan (antithesis) and there is no mixture (synthesis). If there is synthesis (Christ plus Satan or Christ plus the world system), then we are conformed to the world, we have lost our salt and we are good for nothing.

    Page 122: "In the words of Will Durant: 'While Christianity converted the world; the world converted Christianity, and displayed he natural paganism of mankind.'"

  7. More excerpts from "Pagan Christianity?":

    Pages 215-216: "The Greek philosophers Plato and Socrates taught that knowledge is virtue. Good depends on the extent of one's knowledge. Hence, the teaching of knowledge is the teaching of virtue.

    "Herein lies the root and stem of contemporary Christian education. It is built on the Platonic idea that knowledge is the equivalent or moral character. Therein lies the great flaw.

    "Plato and Aristotle (both disciples of Socrates) are the fathers of comtemporary Christian education. To use a biblical metaphor, present-day Christian education, whether it be seminarian or Bibe college, is serving food from the wrong tree: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil rather than the tree of life.

    "Contemporary theological learning is essentially cerebral. It can be called 'liquid pedagogy.' We pry open people's heads, pour in a cup or two of information, and close them up again. They have the information, so we mistakenly conclude the job is complete.

    "Contemporary theological teaching is data-transfer education. It moves from notebook to notebook. In the process, our theology rarely gets below the neck. If a student accurately parrots the ideas of his professor, he is awarded a degree. And that means a lot in a day when many Christians obsess over (and sometimes deify) theological degrees in their analysis of who is qualified to minister.

    "Theological knowledge, however, does not prepare a person for ministry. This does not mean that the knowledge of the world, church history, theology, philosophy, and the Scriptures is without value. Such knowledge can be very useful. But it is not central. Theological competence and a high-voltage intellect alone do not qualify a person to serve in God's house."

  8. More excerpts from "Pagan Christianty?":

    Page 244: "Jesus Christ is not only the Savior, the Messiah, the Prophet, the Priest, and the King. He is also the Revolutionary. Yet few Christians know Him as such."

    Pages 245-246: "As you read through the Gospels, behold your Lord, the Revolutionary. Watch Him throw the Pharisees into a panic by intentionally flaunting their conventions. Numerous times Jesus healed on the Sabbath day, flatly breaking their cherished tradition. If the Lord wanted to placate His enemies, He could have waited until Sunday or Monday to heal some of these people. Instead, He deliberately healed on the Sabbath, knowing full well it would make his opponents livid.

    "This pattern runs pretty deep. In one instance, Jesus healed a blind man by mixing clay with spittle and putting it in the man's eyes. Such an act was in direct defiance of the Jewish ordinance that prohibited healing on the Sabbath by mixing mud with spittle!* Yet your Lord intentionally shattered this tradition publicly and with absolute resolve. Watch Him eat food with unwashed hands under the judgmental gaze of the Pharisees, again intentionally defying their fossiblized tradition.

    "In Jesus, we have a man who refused to bow to the pressures of religious conformity. A man who preached a revolution. A man who would not tolerate hyprocisy. A man who was not afraid to provoke those who suppressed the liberating gospel He brought to set men free. A man who did not mind evoking anger in his enemies, causing them to gird their thighs for battle."

    *"In the Mishnah it is stated: 'To heal a blind man on the Sabbath it is prohibited to inject wine in his eyes. It is also prohibited to make mud with spittle and smear it on his eyes.' (Shabbat 108: 20)"