Frank Viola has written quite a few books with titles like pagan Christianity, Reimagining Church, There Must Be More, Discipleship in Crisis, Rethinking the Will of God and Insurgence. He’s got a couple web sites and a blog and has worked with George Barna who founded Barna Research which is kind of like a Christian version of the Gallup Research organization. If I read his information correctly, he’s also a disciple of Watchman Nee, which is important and I’ll talk about it more in a minute or two. I read pagan Christianity, and I’ve checked out summaries of some of the other books Mr. Viola has written.
I was studying up on his works when I ran across an offer he makes on his website to do print interviews for your book, film, album, resource, other product or service. According to the site all you have to do is send them the information and if they approve you pay $200.00 for it. A nice deal. So I thought, “Hey, our book Whole Bible Christianity seems like a great fit for Reimagining Church. Maybe he’d like to help us promote it.” I figured he must be serious about the problems in the church and finding solutions, and I’d like to help by showing Frank some of the things I think the Lord has shown to me. Since I’m an “Insurgent” I got excited thinking what a great match up this would be.
I was wrong.
I requested an interview, and gave links for my book and website, and said I had read pagan Christianity and agreed with Frank’s assessment of the church but thought I had something to add to the solution. After I sent in the request, I got a reply from someone named Anaya, so maybe Frank didn’t even see it. But since his people represent him, I think I’m safe in characterizing her (his?) reply as indicative of Frank’s attitudes. So in her first reply, she said that pagan Christianity wasn’t supposed to have solutions, but Frank’s later books did and had I read them? I emailed back and said I didn’t have to read them, I had heard what he was talking about decades ago from other people. After about a month I emailed and asked if she had anymore questions. She emailed back and said she hadn’t seen an Interview Request from my email address. So I re-sent copies of our email exchange. To my surprise, she said they weren’t “accepting any interview spots right now because all spots are taken until mid-2019.”
If this is true, why doesn’t it say so on the website? Why didn’t she tell me in the first email all the spots were taken? I think I know why, and it doesn’t have anything to do with how many spots are taken. Without question she looked at my book and website and decided they didn’t want anything to do with it. And why do you suppose this is a problem? Because I write in very passionate terms of God’s Law, with so much support from the Word that it is undeniable that it should be a central part of all believer’s lives. This of course in contrast to standard church teaching ignoring the New Covenant and promoting a mystical buddy from out of town who allows any behavior one chooses.
Can Frank do what he wants? Of course. Does he have to lie? You wouldn’t think so. He says he wants to “break the echo-chamber phenomenon that’s in the bloodstream of the blogosphere today” yet it seems plain from their dodgy response to my Interview Request that perhaps echos are all they want to hear.
Part of Frank’s problem is that he sets up a false dichotomy between a “right” and “left” in the church. I’ll let him explain his “Three Gospels.” From a Bible Gateway interview on his site.
There is the gospel of legalism, which isn’t just working for one’s salvation. The gospel of legalism says that if you want God’s favor, you have to perform to receive it. This causes many Christians to live with a headache of guilt and a constant feeling that they are never measuring up.
In reaction to that is the “gospel” of libertinism which says that because we’re under grace, our behavior doesn’t really matter much to God. So we can live the way we want, and God is okay with it because He understands that we are mere mortals.
The third gospel is the gospel of the kingdom, which brings liberty on the one hand and absolute allegiance to Christ’s lordship on the other.
You see what he does? On the one hand the “right” or “evangelical” or “conservative” view lumps together legalism with performing for God’s favor. On the “left” hand we have “libertinism” meaning behavior doesn’t matter. His “third gospel” proposes a liberty with allegiance to Christ’s lordship which includes behavior that matters but without “performing.” How in the world does one manage this, and where in the Word does this come from? The answer is, it doesn’t come from the Word at all.
It’s this kind of mystical nonsense that comes from people like Watchman Nee and others. Watchman Nee is very mystical and spiritualizes the Bible text nearly out of existence sometimes. He has influenced a lot of people, including many in Calvary Chapel and evidently Mr. Viola too. This is why I said I didn’t need to read any more of Frank Viola’s books. It’s all been said before by many people such as Watchman Nee and Chuck Smith. Many organizations have steered away from the Bible as they tried to steer away from what is wrong in the Church. Mr. Viola is repeating the same mistakes with updated language and a nice book cover. He’s just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic instead of invoking real change.
The New Covenant is the Law written on a heart of flesh. What is new is the heart that will do what God says. Jesus did what God said in all ways, including the “Word of the Lord by Moses” also called the Law. The apostles followed the “living oracles” as Stephen called them. The first three thousand (and the next 5,000) converts to following the Christ were all Law-following Jews. Acts 2:46 says they were “attending the temple together. Paul says what counts is doing what God says.
For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. (1 Corinthians 7:19, ESV)
The “right wing” and “left wing” of Judaism was not doing what God said. They did part, but they did not do what He said with a whole heart of flesh in love and the Spirit.
Another thing Frank has wrong is his definition of the gospel. The word means “good news” but what exactly is the “good news?” What is the “gospel of the kingdom” biblically? If we look in the Bible instead of making up our own definitions, we find that the “good news” is “God with us.” Hebrews 4:2 says that at Mt. Sinai the gospel was preached to them just as to us.
For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. (Hebrews 4:2, ESV)
How could this be if the gospel is according to Frank’s definition? The answer is that doing what God says will mean that “God is with us.” If Jesus is really Lord and King, we will do what He says. Since Jesus gave the Law in the first place then believers in the Lord and King Jesus the Messiah will follow His Laws too. It’s not that hard. What is hard is humbling ourselves and doing what God says all the time no matter what.
Mr. Viola is another in a long line of fancy charlatans with smooth dialogue and a pitch that would charm angels, relentlessly marketing his misleading merchandise. But he’s still on the wrong track. Unless of course he just wants to sell books. As I read his blog post titled Scratch a Christian and You’ll Find Out What’s Underneath at http://frankviola.org/2013/11/20/scratchachristian/ I couldn’t help but chuckle. Did I scratch him and find out what’s underneath?
If the cross is front and center, then His body and blood will be our food.