Posted: 01/19/2009 at 4:30pm
A Review of Frank Viola’s Reimagining Church
by Steve Eastman
Many people have questioned the institutional church for years. Recently the trend has been accelerating. Some have simply dropped out and drifted away from God. Others have sought an alternative. Frank Viola is in the second category. His name is synonymous with one of the most controversial Christian books of all time, Pagan Christianity. In that recently updated and expanded book, he obliterates so many traditions he may as well have be smashing a wrecking ball against a Gothic cathedral. But the dust has settled. It is time to rebuild. Reimagining Church leads the reader to a concept of church that many find satisfying both in terms of faithfulness to the Bible and authentic spiritual experience.
It is only fitting that Viola introduces the dilemma we are in with a history lesson involving the church in the Middle Ages. Astronomers were having trouble understanding the motions of the planets. Church dogma taught, independent of the Bible, that the planets revolve around Earth. Copernicus came along and developed an alternate theory – all planets, including Earth, revolve around the sun. All the experts opposed him, but his system worked and was eventually adopted. The moral of the story is -- listen to God, but don’t put words in His mouth.
Viola covers many topics well, but I was particularly impressed with the half of the book that covers leadership and accountability. He argues well that Jesus is the Head of all of us and that at any moment He may express Himself through any member of the Body. Some may ask, “What about elders?” Here’s what Reimagining Church has to say:
“Their chief task was three-fold: to model servanthood in the church; to motivate the believing community toward works of service; and to mold the spiritual development of the younger believers. The elders also dealt with sticky situations in the church. But they never made decisions for the church.”
Viola makes his case in part by exposing ways the translators of the King James Bible “slanted” the meanings of certain words to buttress the hierarchy of the Church of England. For the Christian who doesn’t know Greek, the information is invaluable.
Viola includes an appendix answering questions from the opposing side. I had the mental picture of someone breathing down his neck and asking, “Well, what about this and what about that?” Unflustered, Viola answers each objection with scholarship and the advantage of having been part of the kind of church he describes.
Viola assesses other cutting edge movements of today – the megachurch, third-wave restoration, cell church and the emergent church. While acknowledging he has friends in these movements and that God is using them, he describes them under sections entitled Shopping at a Supermall, Pulled Under a Wave, Imprisoned in a Cell and Emerging into the Status Quo. While agreeing with the bulk of what Viola has to say, I would have liked to see a bit more appreciation for other anointed streams.
Reimagining Church says there are four approaches to church restoration. Some restorationists assume the Bible contains a detailed blueprint. Others overreact to the need for cultural relevance. Still others never aspire to an identifiable community that regularly meets for worship, prayer, fellowship and mutual edification. Viola picks a fourth approach -- organic expression. It promises an intimacy with Jesus that allows Him to express Himself through His people with no middleman.
Reimagining Church replaces Rethinking the Wineskin, which is no longer in print.
Visit the book's website.
Edited by Steve Eastman on 05/25/2009 at 10:54pm