Review: Reimagining Church

“For those who are not threatened by the idea that church must change, Reimagining Church is an absolutely timely and much-needed perspective, delivering a solid biblical vision for the body of Christ. Using the entire scope of New Testament church life, Frank Viola lays out the core values and the essential principles that must form the foundation of life together as the body of Christ. The book delivers an exceptionally hopeful, visionary picture of all that church can and should be.”

An Important Book

In Reimagining Church, Frank provides scriptural background for a deeper expression of church life that reflects the nature and relationship of the Trinity.  He masterfully paints a picture of being the church in a way that is organically relational, participatory, and mutually edifying rather than programmatic, institutional, and hierarchical.

Ultimately, whether or not you agree with every conclusion of the author, you will be inspired by the principles and values of our identity as the church that are described in the pages of this book.  To be honest, I think this book is ideal for this time in the life of the church.

A Sneak Peak

To whet your appetite…

Chapter 1 – The Church As An Organism – An emphasis on the church as a reflection of the triune nature of God and the shape of the church as an expression of its organic DNA.

Chapter 2 – The Church Meeting – Expresses the elements of gathering – Spirit-led, open participation, one-anothering, mutual edification, every-member ministry – and how Christ is more fully reflected in gatherings as every member participates.

Chapter 3 –  The Lord’s Supper – Beautiful description and explanation of the Lord’s supper – a shared meal – as a means of forming community.

Chapter 4 – The Gathering Place – The meeting place shapes the nature of church life and informs our identity.  The lack of a multimillion-dollar building is certainly an alternative witness in today’s landscape of consumer Christianity.

Chapter 5 – The Family of God – Great chapter reflecting on what has hindered the church from functioning as a family and what aspects would be present if we were living in the reality of being a family.

Chapter 6 – Church Unity – A thorough explanation of sectarianism – excluding as brethren those whom God has accepted. The indwelling life of Christ is the basis for unity of the Spirit with one another.

Chapter 7 – God’s Eternal Purpose – This chapter is rich and deep, describing the many facets of the church in God’s eternal purpose. Frank paints a vivid picture of the spiritual reality of our identity as the Bride of Christ.

Chapter 8 – Leadership – Challenges hierarchical and positional structures of leadership and the passivity that develops under a clergy system.

Chapter 9 – Oversight – Describes eldering as an organic function of trusted members within the body whose leadership is made evident by example and service rather than position. Responsibility for pastoral care and ministry is shared by all members.

Chapter 10 – Decision-Making – An explanation of communal decision-making as a scriptural and organic method of leading the church and how this process strengthens community and relationships.

Chapter 11 – Spiritual Covering – Right on the money.  Covering = power and control.  Fear is the tactic used to enforce this control.  If you have experienced this false teaching, this chapter is a must-read.

Chapter 12 – Authority and Submission – An indepth look at the idea of mutual subjection governed by mutual love, addressing false ideas of hierarchical authority within the church and the trinity.  Words and deeds reflecting the indwelling Spirit of Christ carry inherent (organic) spiritual authority.  Great chapter.

Chapter 13 – Denominational Covering – Did Paul rebuke the Corinthians for denominating themselves? Denominationalism is an accepted component of church culture today.  Hierarchical systems of denominational structure are substituted for relational mutual subjection.

Chapter 14 – Apostolic Tradition – Calls for being faithful to the theological and spiritual components of organic DNA of the early church.

Chapter 15 – Where Do We Go From Here? – For those who are truly interested in incorporating organic practices in their gathering, the adjustments involved will be much deeper than surface, cosmetic changes.

What’s not to like?

These are the topics that I hear about daily on blogs. They are the issues that need to be discussed in the church today.  There might be some disagreement about how the values are expressed. For example, an ethos of mutual sharing and familial love could be developed in locations besides a home.

The question remains whether the features of organic life are possible in every model of church.  That depends on whether those involved are willing to ask the hard questions about what will be necessary to truly allow the aspects of organic life into their existing model.

Reimagining Church is a great guideline for asking important questions about existing practices.  Frank does an exceptional job of providing scriptural background, sound theology, and a clear vision for incorporating these values into the expression of church.

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21 thoughts on “Review: Reimagining Church

  1. Grace, maybe because its me…but I don’t see three things in this: kingdom, mission and discipleship. Help me understand if these three are part of what Frank is re-imagining.

  2. Jonathan,
    Good questions. I will attempt to answer without putting words in Frank’s mouth. Kingdom, mission, and discipleship were underlying themes, but the emphasis of the book is on gathering practices and the nature of our relationships with one another.

    Kingdom and mission are most evident in chapter 7, God’s eternal purpose. This will be the topic of Frank’s next book. Redemption and restoration are part of the bigger picture of God’s ultimate passion for a corporate people.

    Discipleship isn’t the overt message of this book, but it is a natural outflow of life together. The need for community is stressed, as is active participation, and the natural role of eldering and submitting ourselves to the spirit of christ in one another.

    Does that help?

  3. Grace, I am aware that there are books like this, and the topics all sound good, but does the author have real life functional examples to share?

    There is a quandary in doing that because of not wanting to “toot your horn.”

  4. David,
    Frank has been involved in forms of organic church for over 20 years. He shared some examples in Pagan Christianity and a little bit in this book. You would probably find more specific information on his website.

    What he describes would look like a small gathering or house church. He is always careful to say though that not every house church is organic. Some are as “institutional” as traditional churches.

    I would say that this book is more about principles, and a lot is left to the reader to determine how those things can be fleshed out in their own life. As someone who is still looking, I appreciate the topics as things to be aware of and to look for in a church.

  5. Many thanks for this review Grace. I have not yet had opportunity to read this book, but have read most of the books that frank Viola has previously written.
    In response to Jonathan’s point, I do find that frank weakens the thrust of his arguments by not giving a higher priority to the subject of mission/evangelism. One of the main reasons why we should be doing church as Frank argues is that this is what makes a truly cross-cultural community of light which will be a tremendous natural ongoing witness to those around. The community ethos of the church Frank describes provides the depth of relationships which will be attractive to unbelievers and cause them to question what is different about this group of people.
    I can only recommend that people should read ‘Total Church’ by Steve Timmis and Tim Chester immediately after reading Frank’s book. This deals with the priority of mission and how it is outworked in church communities.
    I honestly believe that applying the combined message of these two books would revolutionise our individual and church lives beyond what we can even imagine.

  6. Great review, Grace. Thanks so much for it.

    Jonathan, yes, the book does deal with the mission of God and the mission of the church, as well as the Kingdom and discipleship. There’s an entire chapter dedicated to the Kingdom and the Mission of God called “reimagining the eternal purpose.” This chapter offers a very fresh Christ-centered vision of God’s mission that’s missing in many missional books today. Few people talk about “the eternal purpose” now days. It also discusses how the Kingdom relates to the church and to the eternal purpose of God.

    Discipleship is addressed in two ways. One, as Grace said, in its relationship to Christian community rather that something that happens exclusively to the individual. Spiritual formation and transformation are terms that are used more often in the book than “discipleship” as the latter word has been greatly abused in the past and was central to a very controlling movement that still lives today. The second aspect of discipleship that the book deals with is it’s common abuses that are often overlooked or justified by the proof texting the bible.

    David, as Grace says, the book emphasizes the biblical, theological, and practical principles that undergird the organic nature of the church. But after each chapter, Frank gives practical examples of how those principles have worked out in the churches he’s been a part of. I found those to be very helpful myself as they demonstrate that what he’s writing isn’t theory but realities that can be lived out in our time.

    Having read all of Frank’s books, I personally think this is his finest work and will be viewed in years to come as a major contribution to the discussion on church and mission. Lots of new thinking on old subjects.

  7. Thanks grace. I am not sure if I will find it helpful if the focus is on principles, but that is me.

    I think you were talking about reviewing Tangible Kingdom in the near future. Is that going to happen soon?

  8. Grace,

    Good summary/review.

    Alison and I are slowly making our way through the book…we’ve finished chapt. 5. We haven’t encountered much new, but that’s not surprising for folks that have read just about everything Viola has published. However, in this book, FV brings together many strands of thought and insight which he’s expressed in his wider “tome-ography”.

    Tom

  9. Hi goblin,
    If you enjoyed Frank’s other writing, I am sure that you will like this one. As Jeannette said, it is probably his best so far. The kind of church that Frank describes would be an alternative witness to the world of what kingdom relationships centered on Christ actually look like.

    mark,
    I hope that you enjoy it.

    Thanks jeanette! And thank you for your explanations/clarifications.

    david,
    I reviewed The Tangible Kingdom here. It is one of my favorites.

    tom,
    I agree. It is nice having such a well-written teaching that clearly explains my position on many of these topics.

  10. While I have not finished the book yet I am on the way….about half way through.

    On a couple of issues raised here I would comment:

    David, I understand your desire for real examples and Viola does provide some. However, I think the point is that there are some very basic concepts that flow from scripture and much else has to be worked out in each gathering of followers of Jesus. A part of the problem we face today with institutions is that it has become formulaic.

    Jonathan Brink: In my view when we are the church as Father intended then discipleship happens at its best, people see what God’s coming Kingdom is, and by our very lives we are missional. In my view we are still too much about focusing on these things as independent of what it means to be a follower of Jesus in assembly (ekklesia) with other followers. When the church is the church this all happens naturally. When we try to focus on the component parts as ends in themselves then we end up where we are today in most expressions of church in North America….

  11. Traveller,

    Good responses.

    In chapter 7 FV writes directly to “mission” and God’s purpose. Here’s an excerpt which is just long enough to be a teaser and short enough to not violate copyright (I hope. Frank or Jeanette, correct me if I’m wrong in this; Grace, remove it if you think I’ve stepped over the line.);

    As I write this book, there’s a great deal of talk about the Missio Dei (God’s Mission) in Christian circles. I think this can be a healthy emphasis. But exactly what is God’s mission? I suggest that it’s nothing other than God’s eternal purpose.

    As long as I’ve been a Christian, I have made this simple observation: Our modern gospel is entirely centered on human needs. The plotline of that gospel is one of a benevolent God whose main purpose is blessing and healing a fallen world. Thus our gospel is centered on saving man’s spirit/soul (evangelism) and/or saving his body (healing the sick, delivering the captives, helping the poor, standing with the oppressed, caring for the earth, etc.). In short, the gospel that’s commonly preached today is “human centered.” It’s focused on the needs of humanity, be they spiritual or physical.

    But there is a purpose in God that is for God. That purpose was formed in Christ before the fall ever occurred. The meeting of human needs is a by-product, a spontaneous outflow, of that purpose. It’s not the prime product.

    Tellingly, God didn’t create humans in need of salvation. Go back to the creation project in Genesis 1 and 2, and you will discover that God’s purpose preceded the fall. That should lead us to ask a very incisive question: What was God going to do with human beings if they had never fallen?

    Frank Viola, Reimaginging Chruch

    I suspect that “discipleship” will be discussed in various ways through chapters 11-12.

    Tom

  12. Does Viola get into history at all in this book? It was painful to read his numerous conclusions based on inaccurate and misrepresented accounts of history in Pagan Christianity.

    MB

  13. As a student of church history for the past twenty-five years (M.A.), I would have to disagree with your assertion that “Pagan Christianity” is historically inaccurate. The book did an excellent job at documenting its sources and those sources were credible. The historical analysis was right on target as well. I can’t speak about the new book as I haven’t read it yet, but my impression is that it’s more of a theological discussion rather than a historical one. Perhaps someone who has read it can confirm. I plan to buy it this week. Anything that Len Sweet endorses is excellent.

  14. What was God going to do with human beings if they had never fallen?

    Ge.1:26 God said “let us” make man in our image but “let them” have dominion. – the mandata to subdue and have dominion over the earth became a law when God spoke those words. the reason why God didnt interfere in what happened in the garden is Gen 1:26. he cannot interfere as a Spirit thatsy why satan used a serpent and thats why gen 3:15, the promise of God .

  15. Thanks for the book summary. I just finished reading it myself. I was a little disappointed that the book didn’t give more practical direction. I’m in a spot where I don’t need help deconstructing old paradigms – which is mainly what he focused on.

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