Item description for Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity by Frank Viola...
Overview A prominent leader of the house church movement offers an alternative to the modern church, proposing an inclusive, egalitarian community of worshippers that do not adhere to established doctrines or denominations.
Author Frank Viola gives readers language for all they knew was missing in their modern church experience. He believes that many of today's congregations have shifted from God's original intent for the church. As a prominent leader of the house church movement, Frank is at the forefront of a revolution sweeping through the body of Christ. A change that is challenging the spiritual status quo and redefining the very nature of church. A movement inspired by the divine design for authenticity community. A fresh concept rooted in ancient history and in God Himself.
Join Frank as he shares God's original intent for the church, where the body of Christ is an organic, living, breathing organism. A church that is free of convention, formed by spiritual intimacy, and unbound by four walls.
From Publishers Weekly Viola (Pagan Christianity), a leader in the house church movement, believes the church as we know it today is nothing like what God intended it to be. According to Viola, the first-century church, which should be our pattern, met in homes without any official pastor. All members of the church were involved in worship, spontaneously breaking out with teaching or song as they were moved. Decisions were not made until everyone reached consensus. There were no official leaders or elders, but there were men who served and taught and helped others, thus leading by example. Viola believes that to bring the church back on track, both clergy and denominations must be completely abolished. Churches should not have buildings nor should they worry about doctrinal statements. Such radical ideas will best be received by Emergent and postmodern readers. Skeptics will cringe at Viola's strident tone and all-or-nothing approach. More concrete examples of what Viola has seen work well in his 20 years of house church work would have greatly strengthened the book. (Aug.)Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Citations And Professional Reviews Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity by Frank Viola has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -
Publishers Weekly - 05/12/2008 page 51
Christian Retailing - 07/07/2008 page 46
CBA Retailers - 08/01/2008 page 43
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Studio: David C. Cook
Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 8.22" Width: 5.56" Height: 0.84" Weight: 0.8 lbs.
Release Date Aug 1, 2008
Publisher David C. Cook
ISBN 1434768759 ISBN13 9781434768759
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More About Frank Viola
Frank Viola is an internationally renowned speaker and author. He is a leading voice of the house church movement, a group of believers that seeks to reconnect with the original model of Christian fellowship. Frank lives with his family in Gainesville, Florida.
Reviews - What do customers think about Reimagining Church?
Finding the church in Scripture May 26, 2010
Viola's purpose in writing Reimagining Church was to legitimize from Scripture the beliefs and practices of simple, organic churches. In reality, he does not attempt to "reimagine" the church as much as he attempts to "rediscover" the church as found in the pages of the New Testament. In doing so, he also calls into questions many of the beliefs and practices of "institutional churches".
The book is divided into two parts: "Community and Gathering" and "Leadership and Accountability". Since my area of research is the gathering of the church, I was especially interested in the first part. However, as I've found in my own research and life, it is impossible to separate ideas about the gathering of the church from ideas about leadership.
In part one, "Community and Gathering", Viola describes the organic nature of the church as found in Scripture. He sets the tone and direction on the first page of the section: The New Testament uses many images to depict the church. Significantly, all of these images are living entities: a body, a bride, a family, one new man, a living temple made up of living stones, a vineyard, a field, an army, a city, etc. (32)
Given the organic nature of the church, Viola next suggests that this nature should carry over into the meeting of the church, which should also be organic in nature instead of being institutional in nature. He also says that while Scripture does not define the church but describes it in metaphors, the chief metaphor for the church in the New Testament is the family.
Perhaps the most important chapter in part one is chapter 7: "Church Practice and God's Eternal Purpose". He says, "The church, then, is not only called to proclaim the gospel, but to embody it by its communitarian life". (147) Viola suggests that while the church today does many good things, it is missing its purpose and mission as the community of God.
In part two (the longer of the two sections), Viola discusses leadership, authority, and submission. He points out that Scripture describes leadership among the church as service, not decision-making. However, he also says that leaders are to provide oversight, which is "watching out for the spiritual well-being of the church". But, when it comes to decision-making, decisions should be made by a consensus of the entire church, not by the leaders.
Viola uncovers the fact that the idea of "spiritual covering" is not found in Scripture, and he discusses at length the difference between official authorities (such as kings, magistrates, and judges) who have authority based on their position, and organic authority which is "communicated authority", that is "when a person communicates God's life through word or deed". Organic authority is not based on position but on function and service.
Finally, Viola tackles the unscriptural disunity and division caused by denominationalism. He says that the church should return to the apostolic tradition:
"The tradition of the apostles is not a codified set of prescribed rules that the apostles created... Technical correctness and outward conformity to a prescribed form of church order has never been God's desire... What, then, is the apostolic tradition? First, it contains the stories and teachings of Jesus. These are contained in the Gospels. Second, it includes the commands and practices of the apostles that were passed on to all the churches. The apostolic tradition, therefore, represents the normative beliefs and practices of the church of Jesus Christ. Beliefs and practices that were prescribed for each and every church (1 Cor. 4:16-17; 11:16; 14:33-38)." (243-245)
I think that most people who read this book will fall into one of two camps. The first camp includes that who are comfortable with the methods, practices, and beliefs of the institutional church. For people who fall into this camp, Viola will not persuade many. Why? Because they will chalk up Viola's book to misinterpretation and misrepresentation of the Scriptures. There are entire hermeneutical traditions used to prop up the institutional church, and these props will not fall easily. However, some in this camp will thank Viola for pointing out that the institutional church needs to be tweaked. This was not Viola's goal.
The second camp includes those who recognize that the institutional church and its methods, beliefs, and practices stand on shaky - or sandy - ground. For these people, Viola's book will help them understand that the church is more than buildings, hierarchies, and programs. It will also help them to recognize the validity of their own associations with other believers outside of the institutional church.
And for me? Well, I find myself in the second camp. I agreed with almost everything that Viola said. For other parts of the book - those parts that I did not agree with right away - it was primarily because Viola presented something that I had not thought about.
Chapter 7, "Church Practice and God's Eternal Purpose", is one of those parts. The more I think about this chapter, the more I agree with Viola. I've talked with him about this some, and I'm excited that his next book will unwrap some of the concepts that he introduced in this book.
One point of disagreement that I had as I read the book concerns meeting location. Viola discusses the evidence from Scripture that the church primarily met in homes. I agree with this. However, Viola says that meetings in other locations (i.e. the temple in Acts 2:26, synagogues in various places in Acts, or in the School of Tyrannus in Acts 19:9-10), these meetings were not normal church meetings, but special evangelistic meetings or apostolic meetings. However, when we search Scripture, these meetings are not called "evangelistic meetings" or "apostolic meetings". In fact, Scripture does not distinguish between any different types of meetings. The church should act the same wherever it meets and for whatever reason it meets.
After reading this chapter, I talked with Viola. He agreed that the meeting place is not as important as the life of the church. If the meeting place hinders life, then the church should meet in a different place. If the meeting place does not allow the church to meet in an organic fashion, then the church should meet elsewhere. I agree with this completely.
I hope many people continue to read Reimagining Church - I would recommend highly! While I do not think it will convince those who are content with the institutional church, I still think it would be valuable for them to read it.
A Lens to See the New Testament Church May 21, 2010
A sequel to 'Pagan Christianity?', the main message of this book is that the church of Jesus Christ, as envisioned in the New Testament, is an organism sustained by divine life, not an institution mechanically driven by traditions of men. The author is not presenting us with a new idea or new way of being the church. There has always been such an expression of the church throughout history as documented by books like 'The Torch of the Testimony' and 'The Pilgrim Church'. With the help of this book, I hope we can all see the characteristics of the churches that the apostles raised up in the 1st century more clearly.
reimagining life Mar 4, 2010
Viola presents a balanced view for the future of living for Jesus that can bring hope to the heart of those who are uncomfortable with "churchianity". I am encouraged to take responsibility for my life in a way that I hope will encourage many others to quit spectating and start living.
excellance in thoughts Feb 1, 2010
Frank Viola has some awesome ideas that he supports well regarding getting back to the 1st century concept of Christians gathering. The reader doesn't know what organic Christianity until he/she starts reading. However, the author does a superlative job of describing and laying out what an organic church is, and why christians should be using it as a pattern for gatherings.
A Mixed Bag... Dec 16, 2009
One of the books I have recently read is Frank Viola's Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity which, as you can imagine, is a reimagining of - you guessed it - church. Frank Viola is an iconoclast. He has a mission (which he would likely call ministry or calling) to shatter the age-old traditional image of the church as we know it. That solid (but crumbling) edifice that is a focus of so much of what Christianity has become. Noble ideas all - no one likes a reformers or a prophet...but it remains to be seen if Viola is either or if he is simply an angry man. Reading this book was an exercise in frustration and refreshment all rolled into one messy ball.
The book begins a little like one would expect an infomercial to begin - with customer testimonials...letters from happy organic church visitors/clients. The testimonials are designed to show how the organic church experience is far more genuine and closer to the heart of God than what our traditional churches have become. Really though it is not difficult for anyone to find a few client testimonials to prop up pretty much any organization. Frankly I am sure that Al Qaida, the Ku Klux Klan and even Jonestown before the tragedy could do the same.
Sadly immediately after the testimonials the next section is titled "I Have A Dream" which worked well when Martin Luther King Jr. used it but should never be used again by anyone else because it just sounds like a bit of a rip-off and cliched. Of course all of the criticisms I have levelled so far focus primarily on the packaging of the content (which is ironic given how critical Viola is of the packaging AND content of the current institutional church). The saving grace for Viola is that his content is really not bad. He has very good ideas as far as church is concerned but I think he tends toward an extreme and I am always wary of extremists no matter who they are.
The language of Viola in his "I Have A Dream" section sounds a lot like a version of theological Marxism (which I realize is an anacronism) as he rails against the human power structures that have corrupted church leadership and led to an oppression of the laity and dreams of a day when God will demolish the human infrastructures that have "ursurped His authority" with something truly Godly and remove the shackles of cleargy oppression from the masses. Wheww. There is so much to critique I am not sure where to begin.
Really there is nothing wrong with Viola's dream. I mean I dream for the same things. Unfortunately his dream denies the existance of human nature (as did Marxism and it's little brother communism...BTW...don't go around telling people I called Viola a marxist-communist...I am simply saying he use similar logic and language). Viola's dream is a dream of the church as it would look remade by Christ and this is not going to fully occur until heaven and earth are united and recreated...you cannot simply look at the "human" aspects of the church in disgust and wish it away - this smacks of platonism and gnosticism.
As long as there is brokeness in the world there will be human infrastructures and heirarchy and God has ordained that, for the time-being, it should be so. Why? Because while the kingdom has come, it is still coming and still yet to come. Things are not yet complete. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:12 "For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."
I think Viola's biggest mistake with the book is the assumption that the practicing institutional church believes it is the full expression of the body of Christ in the world. While the world may see the body of Christ as the institutional church I can tell you that we (clergy) are quite aware that our one hour on Sunday morning constitutes a fraction of the reality that is the body of Christ in the world and so in light of this Viola gives us far too much credit...in some ways he speaks of and is angry at a church that only exists in places like Westboro Baptist or the middle ages.
On many occassions Viola swings his axe against "empty religious ritual". While we agree that ritual is what it is...symbolic...it is not simply a human institution but rather a way of remembering the acts of God within human hitory. Ritual, however empty Viola believes it to be, is critical to our state of being as humans. One need only read Leviticus to see that God has been involved in the establishment of ritual. One need only read the words of Christ at Passover to understand the importance of repeated human action as established by God.
Of course the danger of ritual is that it becomes the thing one is trying to remember rather then a symbol of it but this does not mean one abolishes all ritual, all human institution and all forms of authority because what is left is anarchy. Those that go out and start their organic churches will find to their shock and disappointment that people still end up abusing authority, that heirarchies will still develop, that rituals, symbols and a clergy/laity divide will still somehow form. I fear that people who buy in to the idealistic vision that Viola presents, when confronted with such human failure, will see it rather as a proof of the impotence of God rather than the impotence of humanity because they were taught that the organic church was the true, real and Godly, Spirit-led way of becoming church.
Viola's vision of church is not wrong but it is out of time. His vision of the church is Christ's as well, but it is the church of the new Heaven and the new Earth empowered by the eternal imminant presence of the triune God when the brokeness of the world has been healed once and for all. Viola makes the mistake of so many brilliant thinkers before him (like Luther, Calvin, Arminius,Freud, etc) and surely those to come after - he reads too much of his own context, experience and pain into the lives of everyone else and into scripture and his response becomes a system to be applied outside of his context and into the broader contexts of "the rest of us".
Another concern is that there are many leaps of logic that permeate throughout the text to the degree that it significantly undermines the whole premise of what Viola is trying to say. Too many to go into in-depth one example comes from the end of chapter one that tells the story of the girl Genie, who having grown up in a highly deprived environment eventually loses the capacity for behaviours we believe are hardwired into us - Viola says "Some scientists concluded that her normal DNA was altered because she was deprived of proper nutrition and stimulation." Ok - if anything screams FOOTNOTE this statement does. Unfortunately there are no footnotes anywhere in the book. There are endnotes but they are sporadic and rather incomplete. Viola goes on to apply this story to the church and suggests that humanity has in some way done the same thing to the church that was done to Genie and the church's natural, organic development was interupted and what we have now is a corrupt and twisted version of what was intended.
So what do we do with Viola? Well for starters he has brilliant ideas on how to structure the life of the church. I appreciate his focus on the trinity and that our ecclessiology needs to be trinitarian in nature. I also appreciate his desire to flatten heirarchies and consider venues outside of the insitituional church edifice and common business practices to develop new church experiences. I do not think denominations need to be abolished but rather their theological oversight needs to become administrative oversight and there is no doubt that a large collection of affiliated churches can better maximize their impact on the global scene for the gospel than individual and separate church's can (although there are always exceptions to the rule).
If one strips away the ideological statements (and there are a lot of them) and tempers the practical ideas (i.e. rather than eradicate the instituional church as we know it perhaps help it transform into a local affiliation of house churches) then one is left with a remarkable collection of insights and ideas. Viola offers many fantastic ideas on reimagining the church meeting, the Lord's Supper, the gathering place, leadership, oversight, decision making, authority and submission etc.
Read the book (it really isn't bad) but read it carefully and learn to separate out the ideology and iconoclasm from the practical ideas offered (as one would separate wheat and chaff).