A Book Review of: Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity by Frank Viola
Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity by Frank Viola, is sure to send every “clergy-laity” member scratching around for a biblical defense to the claims made against the 1700 year old institutional form of church. And according to Viola, they will not find a “shred of biblical warrant” to support its existence.
At last, the sequel to the highly controversial book, Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices, has arrived! And it is for certain that not all will applaud its arrival to the bookstore. No doubt, many readers are still trying to grapple with the favorable recognition and popularity of the first book to this series of 4 books on organic Christianity.
The first time, Viola had the help of George Barna and Tyndale in gaining a few listening ears. Now that he has the attention of no small number of readers… he has set off to propose serious answers to an audience that is filled with sincere questions. And Reimgaining Church will not leave readers dissatisfied in their quest for the normal Christian church life. In fact, it will leave them hungering for authenticity in the New Testament fashion.
As the saying goes, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” Many readers have learned that from PC. So let the reader first understand the title. Viola states, “it’s the present practices of the church that I’m seeking to reimagine, not the church itself” (p.13). He clearly outlines his purpose so that there is no misunderstanding. He writes that the purpose of the book is: “to articulate a biblical, spiritual, theological, and practical answer to the question, Is there a viable way of doing church outside the institutional church experience, and if so, what does it look like” (p.12)?
Let there be no mistake, any serious reader cannot accuse Viola of impure motives or building the house of God on sand. Indeed, the foundation of the ideas communicated in this book are constructed upon the triune God (i.e. Trinity as archetype for the church). Therefore, RC should be understood as a proposal that the church of Jesus Christ mirror the very image of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Viola writes, “the church is the earthly image of the triune God” (p.35). In the spirit of Stanley Grenz, Leonardo Boff, and Miroslav Volf… Viola has wonderfully woven together the fabric of God’s eternal purpose in a clear, concise, and intelligent way. Its inspiration can be questioned, as with any author, but its scholarship is insurmountable in its presentation. This is a work for the carpenter and the scholar.
“The Reformation recovered the truth of the priesthood of all believers. But it failed to restore the organic practices that embody this teaching. It was restricted to soteriology (salvation) and didn’t involve ecclesiology (the church)” (p.59). In the pursuit of an organic Christianity that is rooted in the triune God, the greatest hurdle will be with what lies at the heart of the institutional model of the church: hierarchal leadership. And Viola goes to great lengths in addressing the error we have made in our teaching and practice of authority and “spiritual covering.” He even extends his address in the appendix “Objections and Responses about Leadership.”
In every chapter, Viola seems to anticipate the objections and rebukes… and very skillfully, with ease, answers those objections and the many misconceptions that are born out of a first-reading of the ideas presented in PC and RC. I have read all of Viola’s similar writings in his original series… and RC in this new series is definitely his finest presentation thus far. He leaves little in his language to trip over… just a great deal of truth to bear.
Readers will appreciate Viola’s honesty and sensitivity to the issues. Each chapter builds one upon the other and guides you to the end. I found that when a question would arise, it would quickly be addressed to satisfy a deep-seeded longing to know and follow the truth. Although it is not necessary for the reader to have previously read PC… it is recommended. It is always best to start listening to a conversation from the beginning.
Finally, I want to communicate to the reader that only those interested in spiritual revolution, instead of religious reformation, will benefit from RC. We must be willing to forsake all the new recovery methods of the institution and leave behind all the drama surrounding passions, programs, methods, and movements. It is time for a paradigm shift!
Viola writes, “Recovering the organic expression of the church and the practical headship of Jesus Christ necessitates that we forsake our ecclesiastical patches and Band-Aids” (p.270). Only a life fixated on the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ and longing to see that expressed in the church… will find comfort in the reading of this book.
A great exodus is occurring even as I write this book review. It is not one of rebellion, but one of submission. Dear reader, consider a renewed Christology that gives birth to a glorious ecclesiology. Consider the message of this book, and let Christ’s person and work be reflected in all compartments of life.