Dining with the Devil by Os Guinness


This is easily in the top three book I've read this year. The premise of the book is that the megachurch movement has blindly embraced modernism for its methodology and as a justification for its existence.

First he makes the point I did in my most recent post with this:
"On the one hand, does the term church refer to 'the people of God,' including all the people in a local area, or to a particular local church and its facility and programs? The two are not necessarily the same."
Then:
"On the other hand, is the term growth to be understood quantitively, in terms of size and numbers, or qualitatively, in terms of depth, character, and spirit?"
Or better:
"In the case of the church-growth movement, this idolizing trend can develop in one of two ways: either the insights and tools of modernity are themselves relied upon idolatrously, or the churches themselves becomes idolatrous because their very success as institutions makes them into an end in themselves."
Then he quotes Philip Rieff saying:
"What characterizes modernity, I think, is just this idea that men need not submit to any power—higher or lower—other than their own."
And what characterizes the church growth movement is the belief that we can figure out through methodology how to grow a church—void of the Holy Spirit. Of course they wouldn't say the point is to grow the church void of the Holy Spirit, but in practice that is what the emphasis on analysis and methodology are doing. Not all megachurches are this way, but the movement as a whole trends this way.

He then mentions this ridiculously convicting line about a Japanese businessman who says to a visiting Austrailian:
"Whenever I meet a buddhist leader, I meet a holy man. Whenever I meet a Christian leader, I meet a manager. . . . The two most easily recognizable hallmarks of secularization in America are the exaltation of numbers and technique."
I don't know about you, but as a Christian leader I have far too often fancied myself a good manager rather than a holy man. When you step down in leadership what do people say about you? You managed meetings well? You dressed respectably? Or you had a profound and contagious relationship  with your savior?

When methodology is the focus then statistics about people coming in the door are the measure of how well the methodology is working.
"One obvious problem with this mentality is that quantity does not measure quality. Numbers—or what the Southern Baptists call 'nickels and noses'—have little to do with truth, excellence, or character."
Not all of this book is negative. While it is primarily a critique, Guinness is really arguing that there are some wonderful things about modernity. Modernity has some things which certainly can be used by the Body of Christ, but we need to be careful about the way we include them. Otherwise we chance becoming dependent on numbers and results instead of, you know, God.

In response to this book, while I agree and think the megachurch movement is a result of a blind embrace of modernity (as Guinness argues), I would posit that the house-church movement is a blind embrace of post-modernity. Both are not inherently bad, but both can be foolish when blindly embraced.

The concluding sentence in my opinion is just as useful when considering post-modernity as it is when considering modernity:
"By all means dine freely at the table of [post-]modernity, but in God's name keep your spoons long."
Brilliant. Guinness' book can be had on Amazon for about $13 new, $0.45 used, and $10 on kindle. I cannot suggest it enough. Dining With the Devil: The Megachurch Movement Flirts With Modernity.