June 26, 2017

The Frank Viola Project (And Why You Should Take It Seriously)

UPDATE: Ben Witherington has done a multi-part in-depth review of Reimagining Church. 1, 2 3 4. Frank Viola’s response part 1 and part 2.

OK. I cheated. I maybe kindof promised a review, but after reading the books, I decided I didn’t want to join the debate. I wanted to say something else, namely this: Agree or disagree, Viola is doing what evangelicals are too cowardly to do these days, and what we’re doing instead is killing us. Consider Viola’s project a friendly kick in the pants to get your Bibles, your church history, your theology and your missional great commission in order.

Sometimes, I think we evangelicals talk way too much about the wrong things and far too little about more important things.

I hardly ever- ever- find myself in a conversation about what is the Gospel. Or what Jesus would be teaching us about the kingdom today. Or how to meaningfully repent of our entanglement in various American idolatries. These conversations just don’t happen around me (and I am surrounded by evangelical Christians.)

But the church? Oh yeah, we talk about church all the time. Preachers. Sermons. Music. “Worship.” Music. Programs. Buildings, Budgets. Music. Why we changed churches again. What we like. What we don’t like. How great such and such a church is. What our church needs to start doing. Why this group at our church is wrong, or bad, or stubborn. Why a particular worship leader gets it right. Why we need a new whatever.

The talk about church is endless.

Now I believe deeply in the church as a place of spiritual formation, but I am also deeply aware of the problems and limitations of the church.

For instance, I realize that the church has a tendency to become self-defining. Worship becomes those songs we’re singing in the service. Discipleship becomes participation in church programs. Commitment is time spent at church and jobs at church volunteered for.

Spirituality is…..well…we don’t like that word. Evangelism is what we’re always training to do and telling ourselves we should be doing. Missions is whatever church program lends a hand, money or food to someone in the community.

And so on.

Or there’s the tendency of church’s today to think marketing at every turn. The morning worship service is suddenly all about people who have never been to church. All kinds of changes appear with the same justification: reaching Unchurch Harry and Sally. Ads, signs, logos and scenery worthy of a theatrical production are now very important, because every church is in competition with every other church and everything else people like to do.

Of course, it’s very important your church win this little competition, or at least that’s what the pastor says.

Then you have churches that pull rather stupid stunts with money, or “authority.” Some churches talk about leadership or gender roles to the point you want to put your head into a fan. Justifications for expenditures, new building programs and more staff all seem to come from the same playbook. These are the kind of churches that persuade thousands of people to never go back to what they’ve known as church again. Who can blame them? (I know some will, but seriously….think about it.)

If you have the kind of Christianity that needs an emphasis on the basics, spiritual formation, authentic human interaction, or some occasional experience of spontaneity, good luck finding a typical evangelical church that cares about such things.

And then, there are those of us who’ve gotten burned. Fired. Hurt. Rejected. Sent packing. Thrown under the bus and kicked to the curb. Told we weren’t supporting the pastor or were quenching the Holy Spirit.

We talk about the church too much because we can’t get it out of our system or get over what it’s done to us that is completely outside of Christian humility and decency.

Yes, we talk about the church too much because, unfortunately, the church looms very, very large in evangelicalism. Too large, in my view, at least in its current evangelical version.

But we aren’t going to get away from it either. Many of us are continuing to wrestle with what it means to be Christian in some form of community. We know the church is a long way from the ideals and commands in the New Testament, but it’s like someone has removed all the roads and markers on the way back there.

That’s where voices like Frank Viola come into the conversation.

Viola is the primary voice in evangelicalism these days advocating “organic” church. That’s not as simple as rejecting the institutional church and adopting a house church. It’s not as simple as having a massive historical, Biblical and practical critique of the denominational church, its leadership and programs.

No, it’s more complicated than all of that, and you will make a terrible mistake if you read either of Viola’s recent books with that mindset.

It’s not simple at all, and it’s not the way of protest and accumulating reasons to never go back to church.

What Frank Viola is doing for all of us- even those of us who don’t come out entirely where he does- is practicing “that Protestant thing” of “reimaging” the church in the light of the scriptures, right down to the foundations; right down to the stuff we generally don’t ever hear from the clergy (surprise!).

What Viola is doing that will probably make thousands of readers mad and thousands more glad is exactly what Catholic apologist Louis Bouyer said is wrong with Protestantism in the first place: It keeps trying to reinvent the church again by going back in history and back to the scripture without going back to the Catholic church and admitting its infallibility, antiquity and endorsement by Christ.

Amen. Here’s what I say: Good for Frank Viola. We need to listen to him, even if we aren’t awarding him all ten points on every dive.

You need to read his books and when they make you angry, or when you disagree with his conclusions or spot a historical error, you need to keep reading. You may not wind up where Viola goes, but he goes somewhere, and once there, you can see that, contrary to that last announcement, there IS another way.

Frank Viola isn’t content to just talk about the church. He isn’t content to just live in all the usual assumptions. He’s not content to assume that the way we use words or relate to leadership or experience fellowship is the real thing.

Frank Viola believes that there is a real church and a real church experience underneath all of the mess we’ve made of things. He loves the people of God and I, for one, can’t fault a man who believes the people of God as a people are more important than the church as an institution.

Like any Socrates, there are people who want to get out the hemlock. This discussion makes us nervous. It ought to. We have a lot to be nervous about.

I don’t for a moment believe that Frank’s vision of organic church is the entire answer. I do believe that Frank’s vision of organic church is a lot closer to the truth in the New Testament than the vast majority of institutional churches and Christians want to acknowledge. I don’t think one guy has it all worked out. But I have to say, in Frank Viola’s case, it’s not for lack of trying, and most evangelicals have just quit trying to be the New Testament church and they are full on trying to be a bigger megachurch.

The nuances Frank brings to various leadership and pastoral terms are much needed balances and reminders, even if they can’t be pressed as far toward the option of the organic, non-institutional church as some might wish.

I’ve been reading about church renewal for years, having cut my teeth on Howard Snyder more than 25 years ago. If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: the people who made the problem, and who have invested large amounts of themselves in the way things have always been done, are unlikely to see any value in renewals and reformations that bring into question what has been their own religious security.

I’m not saying all of Viola’s critics are purposely refusing to admit their complicity. No, I believe Viola’s work can be critiqued by church historians and practitioners of Christian community in church and academy. But I believe Viola’s critiques and proposals have serious merit, even with my own exceptions to them.

Many of us suspect that the church should be much simpler, more focused, more organic, more aware of its non-New Testament influences and more characterized as a movement with institutional expressions at times than an institution that struggles to remember when it was a movement.

I don’t know exactly what a New Testament church looks like. I’m not sure how to detox the church from cultural influences and take a radically restorationist view of everything. I’m not entirely sure that it is particularly important that we try to fix everything or understand everything. Perhaps the church most of us are looking for is a matter of learning to see things like Jesus does and build up the church through the work of the Spirit in each of us as well as in the people of God.

On that journey, I count Frank Viola as a major asset. If we can’t find the courage to read what he has to say and appropriate it as God leads, then we need more courage and more honesty. Both of Viola’s books are helpful perspectives and words that will encourage us in the right direction.

Comments

  1. Wow! I think you hit the nail on the head with this one.

    When I read Ben Withirgton’s critique of Pagan Christianity I wondered if Ben was missing the forest for the trees as the expression goes. Ben criticizes the scholarship behind the book, but in doing so lost the message.

  2. Michael,

    You should check out Ben Witherington’s recent harsh review (in a series of blog posts) of Barna and Viola’s book. This biblical scholar makes the book look like a pamphlet written by middle-schoolers.

  3. alex

    i am well aware of bw3’s review

  4. Hi Michael,

    I have read a couple of Frank Viola books – in fact “Who Is Your Covering” really began my journey into post-evangelicalism. Viola writes with an awfully big chip on his shoulder but, as you observe, has a lot of valid points to make.

    The book I am reading at the moment is called “Biblical Church” by Beresford Job and covers some common ground with Viola but goes much more into the historical development of the Church as we know it now.

    I have been following your discussion on church membership with interest and have swung back and forth on the issue as I have read further.

    Although Job does not cover church membership (at least not yet), the material he has covered makes me think that church membership could be one of the contributing factors to the hierarchical nonsense and clergy/laity split we see today.

    It is unusual to see a pastor (I use the word with hesitation as I’m sure you can appreciate) endorse Viola’s books in any way, so I would be interested if you could expand, at some point, your thoughts on church membership with respect to the organic church movement. Although I disagree (at the moment) with the need for church membership (as described by some of your guest contributors), I am still exploring the issue and am willing to be persuaded either way.

    Thanks.
    Phil.

  5. Mr. Spencer:
    On a random note, a while back you mentioned a book on Genesis and creation that really shaped your thinking, but I can’t find the reference now that I have time to read it- can you name it?
    Thanks,
    Kevin

  6. Let me be as clear as I can.

    I see the post evangelical project as conservative, i.e. keeping the best from the broader, deeper more ancient church.

    I do not come out anywhere close to organic church.

    What I see FV doing is bravely continuing the Protestant restorationist project (See Campbellite movement for example.)

    I think much of where he is going is part of the repudiation of the current state of evangelicalism that we need.

    I endorse his courage to ask the questions and some of his answers. The critique we need must be THIS RADICAL and BASIC. I just happen to believe there is wisdom in the previous versions of the same quest and wisdom from 2000 years of results.

    But I am not endorsing FVs version of house church or his conclusions regarding the institutional church in total.

    peace

    MS

  7. Wow Michael. I appreciate your words here.

    And Alex, after all that, all you have to say is that we should read a disparaging review of one of Viola’s books? While I *do* think there’s merit in reading Witherington’s review (if for no other reason than to show that people of good will can and sometimes do disagree), it should only be taken with Jon Zens’ response to Witherinton’s review…itself a helpful mini-booklet! And amid all this reading, don’t miss the forest of Michael’s larger point for the trees of debate & counter-point. Let’s have a church rooted in the life of the Trinity, not ignoring her rich history but also not afraid to critique it and live differently based on the testimony of Jesus and his earliest followers.

  8. Kevin: Conrad Hyers, Creation and __________. (Blanking out)

  9. From what I’ve read from Viola so far, he’s forced me to ask questions that I don’t think I’ve ever asked myself before. If he does the same thing for other Christians, whether they are in institutional churches or not, then he is encouraging the body of Christ to think about the truth.

    You don’t have to agree with his conclusions or his interpretations of history in order to realize that there are some questions your church has never thought about before. At least Viola is asking.

  10. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Or there’s the tendency of church’s today to think marketing at every turn.

    Including all of marketing’s bad habits. House-to-house, foot-in-the-door, talk fast and make your pitch, ABC/Always Be Closing. Sell the kids on it first and get to the parents through their begging & crying; get to the husband through the wife like a real-estate scam.

    I remember these two specifically from Campus Crusade for Christ, circa 1977:

    * MLM Pyramid operations (“Multiplying Ministry”, sheep saving more sheep who go out and save more sheep who…) or “Amway without the soap”.
    * “Bait-and-switch” (promoting an event as a concert or show and then high-pressuring the captive audience once the doors are closed) like timeshare condos in Aspen.

    I was not surprised when I heard Bill Bright started out as a salesman.

    What Viola is doing that will probably make thousands of readers mad and thousands more glad is exactly what Catholic apologist Louis Bouyer said is wrong with Protestantism in the first place: It keeps trying to reinvent the church…

    As in “reinventing the wheel” each and every time. We Romish Papists have “been there, done that, got the T-shirt” for 20 centuries… [moderator edited]

  11. The Meaning of Creation: Genesis and Modern Science- thanks!

  12. Michael, very well done… there is a similar discussion going on at 2ndmanunited on FB (facebook). I cannot possibly add anything to your great assessment, however I would also add that as we “organic worshippers” engage the evangelical community, we must do so with tact, respect, gentleness, and respect. Just because history has not really worked for the church, does not mean that these folks have not loved Jesus and thought that they were continuing His mission. One of the main concerns I have (being an organic church dude) is that we tend to be self-righteous, prideful, and reactionary versus intentional engagement. We spend more time shooting our wounded versus being focused on mission. What does that look like, I really have not mapped it out, and to be honest been quite frustrated with the institutional church, but Jesus loves them too.

    Oasis…where relationships are a mess worth making
    http://oasisgc.wordpress.com

  13. I checked in on this particular post because I was curious as to what a Minnesota Twins pitcher from the 1980’s and 1990’s would have to say about theology. Turns out nothing!

    Great stuff Michael. Thanks for the introduction (at least for me) to this Frank Viola.

  14. You said, “And then, there are those of us who’ve gotten burned. Fired. Hurt. Rejected. Sent packing. Thrown under the bus and kicked to the curb. Told we weren’t supporting the pastor or were quenching the Holy Spirit.

    We talk about the church too much because we can’t get it out of our system or get over what it’s done to us that is completely outside of Christian humility and decency.

    Yes, we talk about the church too much because, unfortunately, the church looms very, very large in evangelicalism. Too large, in my view, at least in its current evangelical version.”

    I could not agree more, even though I do not have the deeply hurtful experiences you allude to in my own past. The point you make is valid. The structure set up in most evangelical denominations tilts towards such actions, thus members are kicking it to the curb everywhere. Dare I say there might be an inherent arrogance in many of these structures that makes them actually biased towards some of these actions?

    No wonder people are voting with their feet, time and talents and going elsewhere/creating new structures…

  15. Nicholas Anton says:

    I have not read Viola’s books, but would on the basis of terms used (Organic) quite possibly agree with much that he says. I too, would see the New Testament Church as being an “organism” rather than an “institution”.

    Just under two weeks ago, I listened to a discussion of “Radical Orthodoxy” on CBC radio. The underlying assumption under-girding this viewpoint is that there was a radical change of thinking at about 1300 A. D., which involved a separation of faith and reason, resulting ultimately in the Protestant Reformation and modern society as we know it. Their view is that the Medieval Church is in fact the New Testament church. I cannot accept that thesis.

    My thesis is that there was a radical change of thinking in the Christian Church following the first century A.D., initiated by the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in 70 A.D., which transitioned the New Testament Church from an “organism” to an “institution”. Some of the resultant changes are as follows;
    1) The Church began to emphasize the “physical” institution rather than the “Spiritual” body or family of God.
    2) Anti Jewish feelings and the suppression of the Jewish religion, encouraged by the Roman sac of Jerusalem, caused the Church to separate itself from and reject it’s Jewish heritage in exchange for Roman autocracy.
    3) Greek democratic concepts, terminology and practice, also inherent in early church practice, with the exception of terminology, also disappeared following 70. A.D.
    4) The adoption of Roman principles resulted in the hierarchical, liturgical, institutional church of the Middle Ages, even though the terminology of the institution continued to be Hebrew and Greek.
    5) Even the Reformation churches, generally speaking, did not abandon the hierarchical and institutional concepts and principles that initiated the Middle Ages.

  16. Jeremy Hoover says:

    As one in the Campbellite tradition, I can affirm that we have become caught up in our own traditions. Our attempts to “reimage” and “restore” the church of the New Testament has resulted mainly in small churches who believe they have “arrived at” and “recovered” the truth. We often turn inward and become very critical of other denominations who “just don’t or won’t read the Bible.”

    As I’m reading Viola’s book, the question for me is not about “restoring” or “recovering” the earliest church forms or functions, but is simply about BEING the church here an dnow in my life. What will that look like?

  17. I am a bit confused by the dismissive comments surrounding Witherington’s, and by way of extension, other critiques. Accurate description must precede legitimate prescription. If Viola and Barna got the history wrong, their ideas may still be provocative, even helpful, and life-giving. But the burden of proof would be on them not those that underscored how incautious Viola and Barna were with historical sources.

  18. bob pinto says:

    I have an untested theory of why many of us think something is wrong in the church and why we keep tinkering.

    Could boredom be a factor? Some people are very content being set in their ways: Same pew/seat, same formatted service, same liturgy,same formulamatic preaching-much ends forgotten by lunchtime.

    But others go crazy from boredom. Boredom equates something is wrong and must be changed. It is very hard to separate feelings resulting from boredom and feelings that something is truly wrong. We get vague signals from the brain and then try to analyze it.

    Face it. We are an incredibly bored nation unable to slow our minds down long enough to appreciate any beauty or thinking. We want sound bytes and a head rush.

  19. Is this where protestant thought is at? How can you re-invent or re-imagine that which God has already made perfect?

    I am sorry if I sound un-ecumenical but this is so alien to me.

  20. Yikes! If you’ve been studying church renewal for 25 years and still don’t have it figured out, I don’t know if there’s much hope for the rest of us :-).

    Change comes slowly (words of wisdom from a Catholic priest on whether the church will ever allow priests to marry). In the Presbyterian denomination, the lack of ordained clergy willing to serve small churches in rural areas is having a two-fold effect: laity either take responsibility for the church’s ministry, or die. I believe this is where our church transformation will take place: a return to a time when we become less clergy-dependent (sorry, I know you are one), and more willing to challenge theological points with the professionals. For me, this is the importance of the church, that those discussions take place within a framework of responsible prayer and study.

    You are dead-on about the fact that we are so busy with programming that we’re straying from the important theological discussions.

  21. Great discussion that really got me thinking! I’m a Senior Pastor and deal with the carnal Christian all the time. Is it possible that they are at the root of the problem within the church. Could it be that the institutional church is thus because its so much easier to “Do” than to “Be”. Is the Church reinventing itself because the people that make up the church would rather Do Church than Be Spiritual.

  22. Nicholas Anton,

    As much as I’m fascinated by some of Viola’s unique questions, and believe that questioning church traditions of almost any sort is healthy – I have a really hard time buying the idea that God let a “radical change” of thinking mess up the church. Viola’s hunger for the New Testament church is good – but, in spite of all the problems in the church in our period, I refuse to believe that we’ve lost the New Testament church.

    Preaching the real gospel, and meeting the real Jesus, and forming a real church with the same spirit of the new churches in the book of Acts still happens today – in every denomination. There are alive churches and dead churches in both sorts, both institutional church and house church.

    The New Testament Church as an “organism” rather than an “institution” is all well and good if that means it’s alive rather than dead. But in our culture today, an “organism” is usually something that evolves and changes … but there should be something institutional about the church – some things that should never change. In spite of the different ages in history, the emergence of the Medieval Catholic church, the cleansing fire of the Reformation, the different revivals and denominations – there are still some things that haven’t changed since the book of Acts – preaching the gospel and the fellowship of believers are part of this timeless institution – perhaps not thanks to fallen man, but thanks to God who has been actively working through all of church history.

    I don’t think this church only exists in any one particular denomination or particular church brand. It mostly depends on the hearts and minds of each congregation at the local level – and on how much they are letting God use them.

  23. I do not disagree that Viola’s proverbial “kick in the pants” is helpful and perhaps needful, but I find Wayne Jacobsen’s punch more potent and compelling. He is one of the publishers of THE SHACK and a “So You Do Not Want To Go To Church Anymore” guy. Try him on at

    http://www.lifestream.org/fatheraffectionplay.html

  24. Duane,

    I promote the God Journey on the sidebar, but Wayne’s off hand comments about the institutional church have really made me reconsider. When asked directly, he allows that some people may have a positive experience in a traditional church. But when the conversation is off the cuff, he routinely disparages the traditional church in a way that’s difficult for me to listen to.

    I believe there is a world of differnce between Viola and “So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore.” I have to make that rare agreement with Tim Challies on this one. “So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore” sees nothing in the traditional church but oppressive power abuses, Pharisees, immorality, etc etc etc.

    A desire to see the church reformed and revived is not the French Revolution. I don’t want to replace the church with the individual.

    I don’t agree with all of Violas outcomes, but he sees the church in an entirely different light, in my opinion.

    peace

    MS

  25. Sounds like Hazel Motes’ church

  26. Hi iMonk,

    Long time reader, first time commenter.

    This may be slightly off topic, but I’m wondering if you’ve come across Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch’s work at all?

  27. Thanks Mike. I appreciate your comments and will keep your thoughts in mind as I explore further.

  28. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    A desire to see the church reformed and revived is not the French Revolution. I don’t want to replace the church with the individual. — IMonk

    Problem is, IMonk, church has already been replaced by Individual in a lot of Evangelicalism. The “What’s In It For Me” of the name-it-and-claim-it fanboys, the “Jesus is MY PERSONAL Lord and Savior” with no sense of community, the “This world is not my home, I’m just passin’ thru” indifference…

    All dating back to the reaction against the mainstreams’ Social Gospel around 100 years ago. Fleeing from a Gospel that was all-social without personal salvation, they clung to a Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation. Instead of a Gospel of Post-Mil here-and-now works, a Gospel of Pre-Mil/Pre-Trib pessimism (“Everything’s a crapsack world. So what? It’s All Gonna Burn. I’m SAVED! Twinkle Twinkle coming Christ; beam ME up to Paradise!”)

  29. I’d like to hear some evidence that other Christian traditions are producing deeper levels of community among the average church congregation than evangelicals.

    I’m frequently at mass and that appears to be the most individualistic kind of service imaginable. Yes, everyone does this the liturgy and eucharist together. But after that?? Where do I look to see evangelicals put to shame in terms of community?

  30. Jeremiah Lawson says:

    Headless Unicorn Guy, I thought an author in First Things had a plausible case that the switch from post-millenialism to pre-millenialism that happened in the mainlines was a pragmatic American reaction to the First World War, not necessarily a reaction to the Social Gospel, though that could have played a part. I think that the eschatological shift happened at the dawn of the 20th century but that how and why that shift happened may have more political and social elements in it than we may account for. There’s nothing like a war the likes of which no one had seen before to crush post-millenial optimism, especially if it happened within “Christendom” and not all the “heathen” nations. Combine that with elements of rationalism already developing at the time and it seems to add up. I’ve got a friend or two who have gotten into Viola lately so I may have to check it out but I’m probably going to be busy reading Snodgrass’s book on the parable. iMonk, you’re recommending the books faster than I can possibly get to them. 🙂

  31. Christopher Lake says:

    Micheal,

    You asked for examples of “deeper levels of community” than that found in the average evangelical church congregation. I was a member of Capitol Hill Baptist Church (founding church of the 9 Marks ministry) for two and a half years, and I found the deepest level of community there that I have found at ANY church, whether Catholic, Protestant, evangelical, etc. Even more importantly, it was deep community that was carefully formed around what the Bible itself *teaches* about church community. The local church, and the blessing and challenge of membership in it, were taken seriously at CHBC, because they are a serious matter in the Bible. I think that this is the major reason for the healthiness and fruitfulness of the church.

    At the current church body of which I am a member, Desert Springs Church of Albuquerque, NM, we are working toward a similar kind of deeper community. By God’s grace, may it be so!

  32. Christopher Lake says:

    Michael, I should have typed “IMonk!” Sorry for the typo with your name! 🙂

  33. “Problem is, IMonk, church has already been replaced by Individual in a lot of Evangelicalism. The “What’s In It For Me” of the name-it-and-claim-it fanboys, the “Jesus is MY PERSONAL Lord and Savior” with no sense of community, the “This world is not my home, I’m just passin’ thru” indifference…

    All dating back to the reaction against the mainstreams’ Social Gospel around 100 years ago. Fleeing from a Gospel that was all-social without personal salvation, they clung to a Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation. Instead of a Gospel of Post-Mil here-and-now works, a Gospel of Pre-Mil/Pre-Trib pessimism (”Everything’s a crapsack world. So what? It’s All Gonna Burn. I’m SAVED! Twinkle Twinkle coming Christ; beam ME up to Paradise!”)”

    So, so true. I think you just nailed on the head the deep-rooted problem of evangelicism: too many of us believe this world is simply a waiting room. We’re so scared of becoming a ‘works-based’ church that we miss the point of why Christ came.

    Do we truly believe that Christ is the greatest news for the entire world, not just in the afterlife, but right here and now? Is living my life for Christ the best possible way to live my life, regardless of what might happen tomorrow? And if so, why don’t I live like it?

    This is the question that the Evangelical church needs to answer. And the answer, I would wager to guess, has nothing to do with a better sound system or hiring another pastor.

  34. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Jeremiah Lawson:

    The trauma of World War One was the trigger for the switch from post-mil optimism to pre-mil pessimism, but the expression of the switch was to flee the post-mil optimism of building a Christian world to the pre-mil pessimism of personal salvation and Only personal salvation. From building a future to awaiting an airlift out. Both these gospels are out-of-balance, just in opposite directions. One all-community, all here-and-now, the other all-individual, all hereafter.

    This is compounded by the “hereafter” being Fluffy Cloud Heaven with harps & halos instead of Resurrection into a New Heavens & New Earth, a transition I suspect dates from Victorian sentimental romanticism.

    Jordan:

    When “this world is simply a waiting room” for the afterlife or The End, you get fruits of indifference, passivity, and runaway pietism. Can’t do much in the way of great deeds when you’re just sitting around waiting for The End. Can’t really live when your only goal in life is to make sure you pass God’s Litmus Tests so you’ll go when that trumpet sounds. Grinning Apocalyptism just makes you look like some sort of death cult, and you don’t even have the baroque nightmare-fuel sense of style like Chronicles of Riddick‘s Necromongers.

    At 52, I’m trying to launch a second career as a science-fiction writer. (It’s NOT easy.) And lit-SF shows a similar transition to what happened to Evangelicalism around World War One. Sometime around 1968, the futures of SF made a similar transition from Bright Futures to Dark Futures, from Great Big Beautiful Tomorrows you wanted to live to see to Crapsack Dystopia du Jours you wanted to die to escape.

    And attempts at Christian SF have climbed on the same bandwagon. Too much emphasis on Persecution Dystopias, too much cross-contamination from Christian Apocalyptic. (Where the only future allowed is the one from Late Great Planet Earth and Left Behind — seven years of Antichrist Dystopia followed by The End.)

    Christians in SF have an opportunity to provide hope, only we need to show a hope other than The Second Coming, a hope of the minor eucatastrophes along the way instead of skipping directly to and dwelling on The Final Eucatastrophe.

  35. Memphis Aggie says:

    Hi Mike,

    I thought I ‘d comment of this:

    “I’m frequently at mass and that appears to be the most individualistic kind of service imaginable. Yes, everyone does this the liturgy and eucharist together. But after that?? Where do I look to see evangelicals put to shame in terms of community?”

    What you are seeing is another basic difference. The Mass is about God and Him alone. We are there to worship and receive Him and all other purposes are secondary including the Gospel readings and the homily and celebrating as a family. These are all played out elsewhere in the Church through groups like the Knights of Columbus, but not a mass. And like all things some parishes have very developed active community events and some don’t. I doubt
    many of them would put the “evangelicals to shame”.

    Your point about individualism in the mass is well taken – in fact traditional Masses are even less overtly about community than they are about joining in silent prayer with the Priest. Community is what is expected to develop as a result of the Host, not through the liturgy.

  36. Dave Moore wrote,

    “I am a bit confused by the dismissive comments surrounding Witherington’s, and by way of extension, other critiques. Accurate description must precede legitimate prescription. If Viola and Barna got the history wrong, their ideas may still be provocative, even helpful, and life-giving. But the burden of proof would be on them not those that underscored how incautious Viola and Barna were with historical sources.”

    I’m with this guy…period. If Viola and Barna care so much about the church and it’s flourishing, you’d think they’d do some actual credible research before making erroneous claims and basing a “constructive” sequel on them.

  37. For anyone interested, here’s a link to Steve Brown’s interview with Frank Viola.

  38. iMonk, thanks for a great post and conversation. Your question about mass and community is what I’d like to respond to. [Btw, I grew up Episcopalian and then did house church for ten years.]

    The commenter who said Knights of Columbus gave a perfect example. My Catholic grandfather was born in the 1920’s when you could literally walk around the city in a day. He’s been a lifelong member of Kiwanis too. I saw somewhere recently an article about how community service organizations have been replaced by ‘activity groups’ like the Sierra Club. Wealth and sprawl seem to multiply individualism, and I think a lot of the present day emphasis on “community” is because the natural American experience of it has genuinely faded away over the past 50 to 100 years.

    Then you have my parents, who still attend an Episcopalian service but their “community” as they see it is their lifelong friends and family members, nearly all of whom happen to be at least nominal christians of various (high church) protestant denominations. Then of course they have the network of local connections that not only bring so much assistance to an upper-middle class lifestyle, they also generate mutual good feelings besides. To them, that’s community.

    My brother and his wife attend an evangelical, non-demoninational service and keep an active social life among their friends, most of whom are in the same congregation with kids the same age. They’re basically conservative yuppies, career and family oriented, who love the Lord and help their friends & family often. I don’t know if that’s community, but it’s definitely a network of close and not-so-close relationships.

    As for myself, I left town and set out looking for a neighborhood full of Jesus Freaks for whom God and church far outranked personal connections and/or civic associations. For ten years, I found what I longed for, and I was glad. It was much like what Frank Viola is promoting. I wish I’d been able to stay there and I hope I can experience something like it again.

    But iMonk, I have to say it’s possible none of these four puts the others to shame in the way you asked. It depends on who’s asking, for it seems there are many different definitions – and degrees – of “community”.

    Still, what I want – and I think, you as well – is community IN the church. If I could find that, I might even put up with mass once a week. Maaaaaybe. 😉

  39. I just want to say that all the articles on “church”, “house” church and “denominations” and experiences have confirmed my views on how I feel about my own experiences in the Christian faith. We all have personal growth to attend to. Some will be advanced and others may be younger in their faith..but we all can learn from each other.

    I believe the bible to be the Word of the living
    God..However whether it is Institutional..house..internet fellowship..to truly love one anotherI can say it truly misses the mark as there is very little love for many of the ones who consistently fall thru the cracks all of them. However..I am personally determined to grow while I still have breath and truly love those who have wounded me and many others. That is what I can do to practice my faith. I also am growing to speak to those who have offended me as the bible says to seek forgiveness and and forgive those who trespassed against me.

    I can learn from the LOrd what He wants me to do personally each and every day thru the scriptures and by HIS Holy Spirit..to do and see more clearly where.. when.. and how to fellowship It takes patience and the love of the lord and other brothers and sisters as number one.

    However another thing that has happened is the flaky stuff that has come into the churches which offends God and is mixed with the New Age and many churches are getting away from the bible as their source of hearing from God..so ..here I am left with a deep sadness..and a realizing that the falling away is still continuing in these last days..that I cannot fellowship in the truest sense because of that.

    That is the problem I hear from many who have left church period. God will judge us all..but that is where I am..it is a difficult time for all of us worldwide. I must remain true to the LORD and not be a part of this heretical teachings. I pray for patience..Godly wisdom..and Godly love to my brothers and sisters and to my fellow man
    I enjoyed reading the articles on here this evening. I did not see anything that was mean spiritied. Thanks for your time ..till next time