Frank Viola author has helped thousands of people around the world to deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ and enter into a more vibrant and authentic experience of church.
Frank Viola has authored and co-authored a series of books on these themes, including the new bestseller God’s Favorite Place on Earth, Revise Us Again, From Eternity to Here, Pagan Christianity, Reimagining Church, Jesus Manifesto, Jesus: A Theography, The Untold Story of the New Testament Church, and Finding Organic Church. Frank blogs regularly at frankviola.org, which is rated in the top 10 of all Christian blogs on the Web today.
Viola’s ministry is focused on two key themes: (1) The deeper Christian life (a term coined by Andrew Murray). (2) Radical church reform. Frank also has a great burden for the poor, and much of his time is focused on helping the poor and standing with the oppresed. He has written on this in a number of blogs posts: 4 Ways in Which I Help the Poor Blessed Are the Undesirable Following Your Spiritual Instincts Regarding the Poor Interview with N.T. Wright Viola’s new book, God’s Favorite Place on Earth, ranked at #13 on Amazon.com out of all books. According to Viola, this book is his “life’s work.” Here is an excerpt taken from the book landing page.
Using story, biblical narrative, and practical teaching, God’s Favorite Place on Earth will equip you to:
- Gain God’s peace and presence in the midst of your worst storm.
- Grow to the place where you are beyond being offended.
- Truly forgive and release those who have rejected you.
- Learn how to live life without fear of anything.
- Trust God when He doesn’t meet your expectations or doesn’t appear to fulfill His promises.
- Increase your faith and overcome doubt.
- Defeat discouragement with a new perspective on Jesus.
- Find out what Jesus means and doesn’t mean by the command, “Follow Me.”
- Be set free from a guilty conscience and delivered from spiritual burn-out.
- Learn how we’ve been misinformed about Mary and Martha and why this is important for your own walk with God.
- Handle rejection, misunderstanding, and unjust criticism, especially from fellow Christians.
- Be set free from bitterness.
- Discover what God is looking for beyond everything else, solidifying the vision for the Christian life into “one thing.”
- Identify what touches the heart of Jesus the most. (It may surprise you.)
- Be inspired to serve the Lord with renewed vigor and zeal.
- Have your heart awakened with newfound love for Jesus by seeing Him afresh.
- Find deliverance from materialism (consumerism) and discover the meaning of “wasting yourself” on Jesus.
- Respond wisely to well-meaning friends when they give you poor advice during your suffering.
Frank Viola publishes a discipleship course each year
God’s Eternal Purpose by Frank Viola
Throughout the book of Ephesians, Paul spills a great deal of ink trying to unveil the eternal purpose of God to the Christians in Asia Minor. The entire letter is a breathtaking unfolding of the divine purpose. In it, Paul puts the most sublime truths into human words. In Ephesians, the ultimate purpose and passion that God has had in His heart from ages past is richly set forth.
Ephesians teaches us that the purpose of God stands far outside the reaches of redemption. In eternity past, God the Father has been after a bride and a body for His Son and a house and a family for Himself. These four images—the bride, the body, the house, and the family—comprise the grand narrative of the entire Bible. And they lie at the center of God’s beating heart. They are His ultimate passion, His eternal purpose, and His governing intention. To put it another way, God’s eternal purpose is intimately wrapped up with the church.
The Mission of God
As I write this book, there’s a great deal of talk about the Missio Dei (God’s Mission or “Sending”) 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?
Throughout my years as a Christian, I’ve been involved in movements that majored in evangelism, others that majored in social activism, and others that majored in spiritual gifts. All of these things were made “ends in themselves.” None of them were integrated into God’s ultimate purpose. In fact, “the eternal purpose” was never mentioned. The result was that those activities, though good and noble, failed to satisfy the beating heart of God.
Let me explain the last paragraph by giving an illustration. Imagine that a general contractor purchases twenty acres of land by which to build a housing complex. After the houses are built, he wishes to have a landscape garden at the entrance of the complex. This is his goal. So he hires someone to plant beautiful trees. He hires another to lay large rocks. He hires another to plant beautiful flowers. And he hires another to plant shrubs and bushes.
The person who plants the trees plants them randomly throughout the complex. The person who lays the rocks does the same. So does the person who plants the flowers. The person who plants the shrubs and bushes does the same.
When the contractor observes what they have all done, he’s very disappointed.
His goal was a landscape garden. Instead, he sees that the flowers, rocks, trees, shrubs, and bushes are all disconnected and scattered about the complex haphazardly.
Is it good to plant trees? Yes. Is the planting of flowers a positive thing? Certainly. But these things “in themselves” were not the contractor’s goal.
He wanted a landscape garden.
That describes the kingdom of God today. Many good deeds, but an overwhelming disconnection from God’s ultimate goal—which happens to be from Him, through Him, and to Him (Rom. 11:36; Col. 1:16–18; Eph. 1:5).
Overshooting the Main Point
Why is it that so many of us Christians have shot past the main point? Why have we not seen the greater purpose of God amid all of our books, magazines, Web sites, blogs, CDs, DVDs, conferences, and seminars?
If I knew the answer to that, I would be twofold a Solomon. I’ll make an educated guess, however. I think part of the reason is that evangelical Christians have built their theology mostly on Romans and Galatians. And many nonevangelical Christians have built it on the Gospels (particularly the Synoptics—Matthew, Mark, and Luke). And for both groups, Ephesians and Colossians have been but footnotes.
But what if we began, not with the needs of humans, but with the intent and purpose of God? What if we took as our point of departure, not the earth after the fall, but the eternal activity in God Himself before the constraints of physical time?
In other words, what if we built our theology on Ephesians and Colossians and allowed the other New Testament books to follow suit? Why Ephesians and Colossians? Because Ephesians and Colossians give us the clearest look at Paul’s gospel with which Christ commissioned him. These two letters begin, not with the needs of postfall humans, but with God’s timeless purpose before creation. They also introduce us to Christ in His preincarnate state.
I assert that if we did this, the Gospels, and the rest of the New Testament (let alone the entire Old Testament), would fall into a very different place for us. And the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ and His counterpart, the church, would dominate our understanding of everything spiritual and physical.
Contrary to popular opinion, the Gospels are not the beginning point of the Christian faith. Neither is the Old Testament. Both give us the middle of the story. Ephesians, Colossians, and the gospel of John are the introduction and the opening chapters of that story. Those writings give us a glimpse into Christ before time and what His mission is all about.
His earthly life that’s portrayed in Matthew, Mark, and Luke must be understood against that backdrop.
In this regard, we can liken the gospel that most of us heard to watching Star Wars Episodes IV, V, and VI first (which is the way they came out in the theaters). But for us to really understand what’s going on in that drama, we must begin at the right place with Episodes I, II, and III.
Toward a New Starting Point
Again, human beings didn’t come into this world in need of salvation. Saving souls, feeding the poor, and alleviating the suffering of humanity was not part of God’s first motion in eternity past because the fall had not yet occurred.
Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not against any of these things. On the contrary, I’m strongly for them. But God has a purpose—an eternal purpose—that humans were to fulfill before sin entered the scene. And He has never let go of it. Everything else is and should be related to it. As DeVern Fromke says,
This which we see in Ephesians is what the Father intended to realize in His Son, and it has never been affected by sin, the fall, or time. It was this purpose which had previously been a mystery, that the Apostle Paul was now unveiling. For the Father from eternity had a wonderful purpose for Himself which of course included man. Redemption is not the end, but only a recovery program. It is but a parenthesis incorporated into the main theme.
Most evangelical Christians begin the Biblical story with Genesis 3 (the fall) and then go on to Romans and Galatians (salvation). The Biblical story, however, begins with Ephesians and Colossians (God’s purpose before time). And it continues on to Genesis 1 and 2 (God’s intention for humankind before the fall) and then the Gospels (in Jesus we see God’s eternal intention). If we learned the story this way, it would change everything.
This article has been excerpted from Chapter 7 of Reimagining Church. The chapter is entitled “Reimagining the Eternal Purpose.”
FRANK VIOLA is the author of numerous books on the deeper Christian life and radical church reformation, including the new release FROM ETERNITY TO HERE (David C. Cook, March 2009) which explores the Eternal Purpose of God (God’s Grand Mission) in great detail.
This highly acclaimed book is endorsed by Ed Stetzer, Greg Boyd, Myles Monroe, James Goll, Alan Hirsch, Shane Claiborne, Leonard Sweet, Dan Kimball, Brian McLaren, Andrew Jones, Dan Francisco, DeVern Fromke, Ralph Neighbour, Mike Morrell, and others, From Eternity to Here is regarded as a masterpiece in narrative theology.
A beautifully crafted saga of God’s greatest passion. The sweeping story of God’s eternal purpose and grand mission that is centered in Christ. A groundbreaking work in biblical narrative and missional ideology.
Pagan Christianity – Reviewed
“Have you ever wondered why we Christians do what we do for church every Sunday morning?” This inquiry is the lead sentence on the back cover of Pagan Christianity? (Tyndale House) by Frank Viola and George Barna. Viola and Barna write in a style typical of iconoclasts, prophets, and reformers. They speak with a prophetic urgency rooted in the Bible and church history. The book is strongly footnoted and every assertion they make, even the shocking ones, are documented. For this reason, many scholars have endorsed the book.
Viola and Barna cover the following: the order of worship, preachers and preaching, church buildings, dressing up for services and the order of New Testament epistles. The title Pagan Christianity? reflects their thesis that many Protestant traditions and practices came from Greco-Roman culture. Or “pagan” culture. This is hard to refute. Over time into the modern practice of “churchianity” departed from New Testament patterns.
The promotional blurb makes the claim: “This book is reserved for those who are ready to embark on an eye-opening venture that challenges every aspect of their church experience as well as offering a better alternative.” Out with the old, in with the new. A New Testament concept. Frank Viola plants organic missional churches, speaks at conferences, and authors books on Christ and His church. George Barna is a famous researcher and pollster. On one of the opening pages they say that they “left the religious system.” One of his arguments against preaching is “it suffocates mutual ministry.”
The book has been unfairly attacked and misrepresented. So much so that a spoof video was created and Viola and Barna have created a special page to answer their critics. The authors prove their point by documenting every claim they makes. There are abundant footnotes to demonstrated this. There is also a strong blend of Scripture citations and expounding of passages, which the sequels Reimagining Church and From Eternity to Here do even more.
Like most reformers, Viola and Barna manage to express some valid issues that need attention. They well state the clergy-laity distinction. They are clear about the disastrous domination of clergymen, the official function of “pastors” who enforce denominational creed and tradition, and they even speak with validity against the Charismatic movement and its’ impact in modern worship “styles.” There certainly is veneration of religious architecture that can cripple us both spiritually and financially. In their firestorm against traditions, they are particularly solid against the public sermon. And they draw a sharp and biblical distinction between preaching/teaching and sermonizing (Acts, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus).
Their opposition to the sermon is a function of their firmly held mutual ministry, organic church model. They argue that the sermon is a “one-way affair,” that “produces passivity,” “lames the church from functioning,” “suffocates mutual ministry” and “smothers open participation.” Their arguments here are compelling. Again, they draw a distinction between giving messages (which is a temporary thing) and sermonizing the same people every week forever. Peter preached a message on the Day of Pentecost, not a “sermon.” They are straight in their critique of the “excessive and pathological dependence on the clergy.” And they talk about clergy salaries as not being biblical.
Frank Viola and George Barna have written a book. That’s hardly a clergy salary … which is being paid to serve a group of people. To compare the two is ludicrous and nonsense. Viola deals with this in his FAQ page – frankviola.org/faq. Comparing high school teachers with pastors is another fools errand. Some have tried to do this and failed as it misses their point by a big distance. The ekklesia of God cannot be compared to the military, General Motors, or a public school. This book is thoroughly scriptural and rooted strongly in history. We may want to close our eyes and plead “It can’t be.” But that’s not intellectually honest. Open the Bible. Read what it says, and let God direct your steps (Ps. 37:23; 119:133).