Q and A with Frank Viola

In promotion of his book From Eternity to Here, Frank put together a blog tour.

In previous posts I expressed my appreciation for the ideas presented in this book. However, there are multiple pages in my book with question marks on them, and this seemed like a good opportunity to ask Frank those questions.

Because he is answering questions for over 50 blogs, I will limit this post to just a few questions.

1. Frank, your thoughts about God’s desire for a habitation and dwelling place with man were thorough and well-stated. However, I struggled with the terminology of God as homeless. Would you further explain this quote?

After the death of the apostles, God lost His house once again. The living, breathing house of God became suffocated by a truckload of human traditions. The vision was lost. And God was again homeless.

Frank: I would agree with historians like John W. Kennedy and others who point out that the eternal purpose, the centrality of Jesus Christ, and the organic expression of church life began to be lost sight of when the church began to be coopted by Greco-Roman culture. This coopting came to its height with Constantine’s arrival and era. Many writers today are discussing this shift in fact … people like Alan Hirsch, Michael Frost, Greg Boyd, G.W. Nigel, George Barna and myself (in “Pagan Christianity”). In fact, I was having a phone conversation with Hirsch recently, and he used the term “dethroning Constantine” in our time, as a mindset and a system. The work of God in this hour, we believe, is that of recovery and restoration concerning the fleshing-out of God’s eternal purpose in Christ in all dimensions.

2. I would like to hear your thoughts on the ideal of the body of Christ experiencing authentic church life versus the reality of the diverse, many-membered church, both past and present, in its imperfection as Christ’s body in the earth. What are your thoughts about the many churches who are unaware of God’s eternal purpose as members of the corporate body and participants in the new species?

Frank: “Church” has become such a muddied word in our day. It means drastically different things to different people. So for the purposes of clarity, I’ll not use it here.

God has always worked and will always work through and in His people wherever they are found and in whatever religious organizations they choose to be a part of. Israel is the summary witness of this. Even when the children of Israel were worshipping in Babylon, God blessed them and used them.

However, God has always had a testimony that represented His full thought when it comes to His eternal purpose. For me, the issue is very simple. If I’m a lover of Jesus, I have got to be interested in God’s eternal purpose in Christ, for that’s His heartthrob and the very thing that provoked Him to create. Therefore, I am responsible to know what His central thought is and to adjust my life to it. I think this is the calling of all Christians. In essence, fulfilling God’s ultimate intention is what following Jesus is all about. It’s nothing less than that. The Kingdom of God and being part of a Kingdom community is certainly a large part of it.

3. Would you please explain where and how you see the fundamental flaw expressed in the following quote occurring in the missional movement?

Failure to understand that God’s ultimate purpose begins in Genesis 1 before the fall, not in Genesis 3 after the fall has been the fundamental flaw of much of the modern day missional movement.

Frank: Note the words “much of.” There are exceptions of course. I speak as one who is part of the missional movement. My entire ministry is built on bringing into view the grand mission of God, which is His eternal purpose.

One of the things I appreciate about my friends and colleagues in the movement is that we graciously receive adjustment, challenges, and fresh thinking from one another. No one is defensive about it as we all realize that none of us sees the entire picture fully or clearly. So we learn from one another and engage in robust conversation sometimes.

Some within the movement (which is growing more and more diverse by the way) view God’s mission to be the salvation of the lost and/or the healing of the world. Other stress it to be the making of individual disciples and trying to imitate Jesus as individuals. As I point out in “From Eternity,” God created humans not in need of salvation and the world not in need of healing. Thus there was something else on His heart … a purpose conceived before time … that is by Him, through Him, and to Him. And it is corporate, not individualistic. Furthermore, the purpose of God cannot be fulfilled by trying or working. It is fulfilled by eating from a certain tree which contains a certain life form. God’s purpose goes beyond human redemption.

Jesus Himself said, “As the Father has sent me, and I LIVE BY the Father. So he that eats me shall LIVE BY me.” The purpose of God finds visible expression when a group of people learn to live by the Lord’s indwelling life together and display together it in their localities. That’s what true discipleship is all about. To separate disciple-making from the community of believers is like separating child-rearing, nuture, and development from the family. This touches the matter of “native habitats” that speak of in the book. To be a disciple of Jesus means to live by Christ, just as He lived by the Father. And that happens corporately for the most part. It’s not just an individual pursuit. Christ is, after all, our indwelling Lord.

I’m glad that we are beginning to hear more about God’s glorious purpose in missional circles right now, and I hope that continues. Interestingly, I was able to expand on this very question at a missional church event at George Fox Seminary recently. It created a lot of great dialogue afterwards that was profitable and brought oneness of mind among many who were present. I’m thankful for that.

Today, the following blogs are discussing Frank Viola’s new bestselling book From Eternity to Here. The book just hit the May CBA Bestseller List. Some are posting Q & A with Frank; others are posting full reviews of the book. To read more reviews and order a copy at a 33% discount, go to Amazon.com.

For more resources, such as downloadable audios, the free Discussion Guide, the Facebook Group page, etc. go to the official website.

Enjoy the reviews and the Q and A.

Out of Ur
Shapevine (June newsletter)
Brian Eberly
Greg Boyd
Vision Advance
David Flowers
kingdom grace
Captain’s Blog
Christine Sine
Darin Hufford – The Free Believers Network
Church Planting Novice
Staying Focused
Take Your Vitamin Z
Jeff Goins
Bunny Trails
Matt Cleaver
Jason T. Berggren
Simple Church
Emerging from Montana
Parable Life
Oikos Australia
West Coast Witness
Keith Giles
Consuming Worship
Tasha Via
Andrew Courtright
Leaving Salem, Blog of Ronnie McBrayer
Jason Coker
From Knowledge to Wisdom
Home Brewed Christianity
Dandelion Seeds
David Brodsky’s Blog- “Flip the tape Deck”
Chaordic Journey
Renee Martin
Bob Kuhn
Living with Freaks
Real Worship
Fervent Worship
Julie Ferwerda
What’s With Christina?!
On Now to the Third Level
Irreligious Canuck
This day on the journey
Live and Move: Thoughts on Authentic Christianity
Spiritual Journey With God
The Jesus Feed
Book Disciple
My Journey – With Others
On Now to the Third Level
Christine Moers
Breaking Point
Hand to the Plough
Jon Reid
D.L. Webster
Searching for the Whole-Hearted Life


13 thoughts on “Q and A with Frank Viola

  1. interesting, interesting… gonna have to reread.
    there was a lot in the book that seemed … hmmm, where is the word? … not entirely baseless, but imagine you could fly, but had no way to propel yourself. like you could soar as fast or far as your imagination took you, but yet you had no propellant and instead hovered just inches off the ground not even able to get a toehold to kick off from… does that make any sense?! that is the feeling i got reading a lot of the comments in the book.

    this is making no sense… (and I’m using a large amount of “…”s)
    I like what he says, i like where he’s going, even where he comes from is believable, its the middle ground i have a hard time with. for the most part, however, it was very insightful and inspiring.

  2. James, are you saying that it feels like Frank’s just making it up as he goes along? Isn’t that what all theology and God-talk is? :)

  3. @zoecarnate,
    no no no, not at all. sorry to be fuzzy. i don’t think he is making it up. if he is, i must be experiencing some sort of psychosomatic affects. however a good bit of what he describes seems very elusive and a part of – a rather small part of – his scholarship seems to make jumps, assumptions or conclusions that could be labeled as, in the words of C.S. Lewis, “historicism.”

    do i think he is wrong? not at all.i just wish i could follow along some of his processes a little better. it may be that since i am still new to this whole thing, i find it a bit… abstract.

    though i don’t of course think the “institutional” church is God’s dream, no, of course not, i do however appreciate many of the things that He has done through it. for instance, i do think we should repeat some of the creeds and recite some of the “liturgical” prayers when we either meet, or in our own private time – reason being, what God does for us, He usually does through us. humans need reminding of some of the things we believe. forgiveness for instance. think about it. we talk about it, flout it, preach it. it is reallllllly hard to practice it fully though. from a human stand point, it is impossible. we need as much reminding of that as we can muster. not just when we talk about or even practice it – there will be a time when our practice may slip. who knows.

    i think my thing with Viola is not that he is abstract after all, but perhaps that he seems too mystical. i love mystical and cannot agree more that the Church should be Spirit lead. on the other hand, humans were never meant to be completely spiritual nor completely physical. what one does the other follows. it depends which you let lead (or Who you let lead) but that should not necessarily preclude that all liturgical practice be done away with. God is a God of order you see and He does like repetition (after all, the world goes round the same path day in, day out)
    but i am not entirely sure that is what Viola is saying. hence my … query. because i am not sure on all points just what it is he is saying.

    oh my, that was long. sorry Grace!

    1. James,

      Having read most of what FV has published…I would not say that Frank is absolutely right about everything, and at times he does seem to make some bodacious statements. However, it may be that some of your senses of “elusive(-ness)” may be a result of Frank’s hermeneutical methodolgy, what he (and others) refer to as “Canonical Criticism”. In a short statement, “Canonical Criticism… basically says that every part of the Bible must be interpreted in its relationship to the entire Canon. Therefore, when the NT was created and the canon expanded, the meaning of the OT actually changed from our perspective. It became fuller.”

      Here is the fuller statement by FV which puts more flesh on it;

      There have been developments in theology that challenge the modern hermeneutical model. One of them is canonical criticism. Probably most associated with the late Brevard Childs of Yale. Canonical criticism basically says that every part of the Bible must be interpreted in its relationship to the entire Canon. Therefore, when the NT was created and the canon expanded, the meaning of the OT actually changed from our perspective. It became fuller. Why? Because now it could be completely interpreted from the standpoint of Christ. Recall how the resurrected Christ interpreted the Scriptures beginning from Moses through the Prophets to Cleopas and his companion on their walk to Emmaus. Post-resurrection interpretation goes beyond authorial intent. The modern hermeneutic rejects this. According to the modern hermeneutic, authorial intention *is* the meaning of a particular text, period. Christological interpretations of the OT that would be figurative or typological are rejected out of hand.

      Now the subject of hermeneutics is a huge one. But it’s where many of our differences in interpretation lie. I’ll reference C.H. Dodd’s classic book, “According to the Scriptures,” as well as the work of Hans Frei, Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonheoffer, Edmund Clowney, and James A. Sanders – all of whom held to this canonical approach to Scripture and believed that all Scripture must be interpreted in the light of Christ. I’ve discussed this issue in depth elsewhere, so if you want a more comprehensive understanding, take a look at http://www.ptmin.org/beyond.pdf In it, I give many examples of how the meaning of OT Scripture went beyond authorial intent and understanding. Therefore, I would pitch my tent with Hans Frei in his claim that we should understand the literal meaning of Scripture to be the story of Jesus Christ. The literal meaning shouldn’t be isolated in the authorial intention of the writer (if that can be discovered). Instead, the literal meaning of Scripture is about Jesus Christ.

      ( http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2008/09/reimagining-church-frank-response-part.html )

      I know that in my Biblical training “authorial intent” was everything…and because of that perspective I often missed seeing the Subject of our faith.


  4. ‘the burning and undimensioned depth of the Divine Life is unconditioned and unimaginable, transcending discursive thought.’ (Lewis, Miracles) and at times, Viola speaks as though he has a proper hold on it – but it’s ungraspable.

    that’s just what i was trying to say. thank you, Jack.

    1. I think the key word in the Lewis quote is “discursive“.

      I take Lewis’ use of “discursive” to mean “marked by analytical reasoning”. Thus, the “burning and undimensioned depth of the Divine Life (which) transcend(s) discursive thought” can ultimately only be understood/experienced intuitively.

      Analytical reasoning is a useful help in talking about Divine Life, but analytical reasoning only goes a short distance into the reality of Mystery.

      I think Viola tries hard to be as analytically cogent about Divine Life as is possible–maybe he tries too hard. But, perhaps he tries hard because he’s in a unique position to straddle the divide between “Boomer” Evangelicalism and the younger “PM’s”.

      Amen, “thank you, Jack.” (BTW, I find many of Jack’s statements to be as mystery dense as is much of Thomas Merton’s stuff.)


  5. “Husbands love your wives as Christ loves the church.”

    Which church. Wait … the word church has too much baggage, so let’s not use that term. Wait … the word wife has too much baggage as well, so let’s redefine marraige altogether.

    Why not simply go back to the basics? If the bride is confused, or defiled, or emaciated, or unfaithful, or whatever, the Groom will deal with her. She is still the bride. Marraige vows represent an unconditional commitment to an imperfect person. That’s how Jesus loves His church. The church did not disappear when Constantine empowered her with the state, although she did become defiled and adultress-like. As in the prophetical analogy of Hosea, God did not let loose of her. He did not forsake her and become a recluse hermit unless or until she cleaned herself up and came crawling back to Him. Unlike Hosea, God was and always is in control, always working all things to good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. There are not two churches – the traditional-institutional and the emerging. There is but one church, and although I believe she is indeed in a transitional state, I do not believe Jesus loves one ‘stage’ of the transitional church over the other.

    I see this as a very ambivilant time for the church – much like the emotional state of Israel at the end of Ezra 3: the traditional-institutional church weeps and mourns as she remembers her former glory while the emerging church gives great shouts of praise as the new foundations are becoming visible. As there was only one Israel in Ezra’s day of renewal, so there is only one church today. Let us be careful to honor our heritage and take with us the lessons learned as we progress foward in God’s purposes for, in, and through His church..

    1. I’d like to quote this on my blog if you don’t have a problem with it. Lemme know; you can drop me a mail through my name link.

    2. Ken,
      I agree that God has never lost, let go of, or abandoned the church and that we must be careful to not minimize the church that does not seem to measure up to the “idealized” vision of what the church should/could be.

  6. I agree that Frank has a lot of valid criticisms of institutional Christianity but he does tend to take existential jumps here and there.I have been reading some early Gnostic writings from the early Jesus movement.I know Gnostic is a dirty word to believers but most charismatic and pentecostal Christianity does have lots of Gnostic practices and beliefs within them.Anyway my point is that the Wisdom of Proverbs etc was female by description as is also the word in Greek for Holy Spirit.I believe the 2 are the same.What orthadoxy did was to make the ecclesia, Mother Church- the dispenser of all wisdom and God’s will rather than the Spirit.We shouldn’t read too much into the ecclesia as bride – she has grown old and turned into Mother.Makes patriarchy sound almost acceptable.Please don’t shoot me for my heretic ramblings!

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