Category Archives: Simple Church

Interview With Frank Viola, Author of “Pagan Christianity” and “From Eternity to Here”

West Coast Witness was recently invited to participate in a blog circuit to promote Frank Viola’s new book, From Eternity to Here.

I’ve been a fan of Viola’s work since reading Pagan Christianity – a book he co-authored with George Barna that has garnered them both a few truckloads of hate mail (hate mail should be expected when your ideas challenge the status quo).

I also read Frank’s blog from time to time (his post about today’s blog circuit is here), and have the honor of being on his blogroll.

I’d like to be able to say I’m on Frank’s blogroll because he noticed the high quality content posted on WestCoastWitness.com and simply couldn’t bring himself to go another day without linking to me, but I’d be lying if I did. He actually posted a note on Facebook saying, “If you own a Christian blog and want to be on my blogroll, add me to yours and send me a note – I’ll trade you links!”

Yeah, that’s all there was to it (shh, don’t tell anybody – I want people to think I’m famous).

Anyway, when I agreed to participate in the blog circuit surrounding From Eternity to Here, Frank’s assistant overnighted me a copy of the book and I read it before sending Frank my questions.

Here’s the interview:

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Wes: In few words, can you describe God’s eternal purpose as outlined in From Eternity to Here, and explain how you believe the modern-day church misses the big picture?

Frank Viola: The eternal purpose cannot be explained in a few words without diluting it and doing violence to its overwhelming glory and power. It’s sort of like asking someone to put the Atlanta Ocean in a coffee cup. It took a 300 page book to unfold it; and that’s just an introduction really. I will just say that it has to do with the hidden obvious themes mentioned in Genesis 1 and 2 and then again in Revelation 21 and 22. One can spend a lifetime exploring those 4 chapters, all of which are without sin. If that sentence doesn’t make sense to your readers, I would encourage them to read the book. I believe it will make a lot of sense then.

Wes: From Eternity to Here is divided into three sections. In the preface you state that you employ a “Christocentric interpretation” of Scripture in the first two. Can you explain what a “Christocentric interpretation” of Scripture is, and give us an example or two of how you employ it?

Frank Viola: Yes, it’s the interpretation that Jesus Himself used when He taught out of the Old Covenant Scriptures. “All Scripture testifies of Me, ” He said. Scripture reveals Christ, both Old and New Testaments. Jesus Christ is the subject of the Law, the Prophets, and the Wisdom literature. He is hidden in the Old and revealed in the New. I discuss this at length in my article, BEYOND BIBLE STUDY.

Wes: You allude to your first encounter with a demon-possessed man on page 236, but decided to “spare us from the dramatic details” in the book. Care to share those dramatic details here? I’m curious what you experienced (and doubt I’m alone).

Frank Viola: It’s quite an involved story (with some hair-raising moments) thus there isn’t enough space to rehearse it here. For those interested, I tell it in detail in a CD series entitled THE CHURCH AFTER GOD’ S OWN HEART.

Wes: You mention Westerner’s rabid individualism several times in your book. How is Western individualism a hindrance to carrying out the purpose of God as you see it?

Frank Viola: Because the eternal purpose can only be fulfilled corporately, by a local body of believers who live a shared-life in Christ. This requires death to our individualism. Note that individualism and individuality are two very different things. It’s the former that God wishes to crucify in us.

Wes: A line on page 180 says, “… the desire to make a name for oneself is carnal and antagonistic to the Spirit of God.” You’re obviously getting a lot of attention nowadays – especially after Pagan Christianity hit the shelves. How do you keep from giving into the temptation to be self-serving with your growing influence?

Frank Viola: Hate mail helps a lot! I don’t consider myself famous by any means; “infamous” perhaps in some circles, unfortunately. My goal is to point all people who read my books and hear me speak to Jesus Christ. Therefore, you will find the centrality, the preeminence, and the supremacy of Christ as an overarching theme in all of my work, including “Pagan Christianity.”

Wes: On the bottom of page 185, top of 186 you write, “Prophets are needed most when God’s original mind has been lost sight of. Their primary ministry is to bring that mind back into view when it’s been forgotten.” Do you consider From Eternity to Here to be prophetic in nature?

 Frank Viola: I would prefer to leave that to my readers to decide. However, if we view prophecy also as “the testimony of Jesus” (as John put it in Revelation), then I would say the book is centered on presenting a glorious revelation of the Lord Jesus in His fullness and as the Center of God’s eternal plan. Jesus is far more than the carpenter who died for our sins. He’s God’s beginning and God’s end, the heartthrob of the ages, and the One who will eventually fill all things with Himself.

Wes: Thanks for answering my questions, Frank. I read the entire book and enjoyed it. Keep up the good work.

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And I really did enjoy the read.

There are a couple of assumptions Frank makes in From Eternity to Here that I’m not sure I completely agree with. For instance, he believes that God created the earth and mankind to be an outlet for Jesus’ passionate love.

He makes an assumption that God the Father was able to pour His passion out onto His Son, but that Jesus wasn’t necessarily able to reciprocate it fully. That’s why humans were made – to be vessels on which Jesus could pour His great love.

I find the belief that Jesus wasn’t able to reciprocate His Father’s love to its full extent to be a bit odd, without much of a biblical base, and don’t believe it’s the answer behind God’s reason for creation.

While Jesus certainly did love mankind more than we’ll probably ever be able to understand in this lifetime, I’m not sure His needing an outlet for His love is THE reason we were created.

I personally believe Creation has more to do with the fall of Satan in heaven and the angels – something Frank doesn’t deal with a whole lot in this book. Even so, that’s just a theory I have. There’s not a passage I can point a person to in order to prove it.

All that being said, I recommend reading this book. There’s much good in it.

It really is beautifully written, and Frank really does a good job of painting a picture of God that highlights just how much He really loves us – something that Scripture makes very clear.

I also like what Frank has to say about the purpose of the church and community – that Christians aren’t saved just to save others, but to be built together with others being sanctified, collectively making up the bride of Christ – the Church. 

Often faith is viewed through the lense of individualism, and that’s contrary to the message of the Bible! Walking with God is meant to be corporate and communal, as is carrying out Jesus’ ministry of reconciliation in the world.

I really appreciate Frank’s bringing attention to this. Good stuff.

Pick this book up – it’ll make you think, and you may come away seeing God and the church differently than you ever have before.

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Notes From the Pepperdine Lectures – Phil and Meredith McCullom

Notes from Phil & Meredith McCullom’s class at Pepperdine – “New Churches in New Places for New People pt. 4” – Friday, 9:00PM

  • We don’t plant churches – we teach people to obey – church plants occur naturally when people obey.
  • When we obey, God gives us more opportunities to be obedient.
  • Making disciples isn’t an event so much as it is a way of life. If a person isn’t making disciples where they are right now, why should they go “plant” a church somewhere else and expect things to be different?
  • The Holy Spirit & Jesus plant or build churches – our job is simply to be gospel planters or Word of God planters – God will build His church, not us.
  • Make sure you’re planting the real seed – not something else. Your goal has to be for people to rely on the Lord – not for them to rely on you!

Phil & Meredith are simple church planters working in East Hollywood, CA. Airiel and I are hoping to have them up for a visit sometime.

I thought their comments on the church planting panel were biblical and very practical.

If you’d like to keep up with the McCullom’s work, bookmark their website: http://WayOfLifeVillage.org

Happy Wednesday!

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Simple Church, Complex Reasoning Pt. II

Feeling artistic today? Well, I am. Let me paint a picture for you.

Tom goes to church every Sunday morning – he’s faithfully attended for 4 years. Tom is married to his wife, Ruth, and they have two children; Sam, 16, and Shelly, 13.

To the people surrounding Tom and Ruth on Sunday mornings, they look like the typical American family. They have smiles on their faces, they say ‘hello’ when people pass them, they’re attentive during the sermons, and they sing every song. Their kids are well behaved. Sam is on the football team at his local high school, and Shelley is reported to make great grades.

Every Sunday you can count on seeing them in the assembly – Wednesday evenings too. So what’s the problem? They’re there, aren’t they?

Yes, they’re there. But there’s a problem. “There” is all they’ve been, and “there” is all they are.

There’s a massive, profound, nuclear question in life that millions of Americans have been given the wrong answer to: what does it mean to follow Jesus?

 

Clocked In Christianity

Like so many others, Tom and Ruth are living examples of what the wrong answer looks like. The measuring stick for their spiritual health has been their attendance to a couple of meetings per week where they sit with their hands folded and listen to someone speak to them.

No one at that church knows the stress Tom’s job puts him under. No one knows how lonely Ruth has been since the kids were little. No one knows that Sam has been drinking on the weekends and is addicted to pornography, no one knows that Shelly has been sexually active with her boyfriend and is afraid she might be pregnant. No one knows that Tom and Ruth are in dire financial straits, are both very unhappy and unfulfilled, or that their marriage is on the verge of collapse. No one knows.

But how can they know? No one at their church has bothered to spend more than an hour or two a week with them for 4 years, and during that time they weren’t interacting past a polite “hello” and “how are you doing” which are simply normal, surface courtesies people show while they’re clocked in.

No one knows Tom and Ruth’s situation because no one knows them. They’re not part of an authentic, loving, Christ-centered community that’s grounded in everyday living – they’re part of an artificial, manufactured, clocked in community that comes together at set times for set lengths, and has walls erected to separate it from the real world. 

But that doesn’t change this: when the members clock out, real life clocks in, and Satan is having a field day.

 

Today’s Status Quo Standard of Success

Tom and Ruth don’t follow Jesus, and their kids don’t either. The church they’re a part of tries it’s best to meet the standards of status quo, and for the most part it does. That’s the problem.

For church leaders, status quo dictates that success or failure be defined by the number of spectators in attendance. The higher the number, the more successful the church. Billions (with a “b”) of dollars have been spent building new facilities so that churches’ numbers can swell thereby making them “successful.”

For members, status quo says the decision to join a church should be based on whether or not the preaching is good and if the worship style is to their liking or not. Little if any thought is given to how they could exercise their gifts to build the body, or if the world will be a better place by their joining the fellowship and getting involved.

Too often, people like Tom and Ruth are just faces in a crowd, and too often, people like Tom and Ruth are perfectly happy keeping it that way. They haven’t the faintest idea what being part of an authentic Christ-centered community is like, and unless they experience it they’ll never get past the darkness that’s engulfed them.

 

Community is Key

A few months ago I conducted a national study of Church of Christ campus ministries as part of my work for CMU. The process involved making hundreds of phone calls and asking thousands of questions, and I’m pleased to say that the majority of CoC campus ministry leaders were surveyed.

I’ve shared the results of that study with a few people, and also a bit of what I learned  at the last CMU workshop. One of the things the study revealed is the importance community plays in effective spiritual formation.

Christ-centered community is the chief tool in the effective discipling of college students, and guess what: college students are people just like everyone else. The same principle applies – in addition to a vibrant devotional life, community is vital for health spiritual development in most people.

Would you like to see someone develop into a truly Christ-centered individual? Then plug them in to a Christ-centered community.

I believe Christ-centered community is what’s missing from many congregations today, and don’t believe Tom and Ruth would be in the position they’re in if they’d been part of one. I also don’t think it’s too late for them – they simply need to be reached.

Christ-centered community can help people answer that profound question – what does it really mean to follow Jesus?

Clocking in pales in comparison to bearing your cross.

Here’s a question: how should leaders view their role in Christ-centered community development?

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