Reimagining Church (Book Review)

reimaginingThe Dream of Organic Christianity

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.

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About David D. Flowers

David received a B.A. in Religion from East Texas Baptist University and a M.T.S. in Biblical Studies from Houston Graduate School of Theology. David has over 15 years experience as a pastor and teacher in and outside the church. He currently pastors an Anabaptist congregation in Virginia. View all posts by David D. Flowers

12 responses to “Reimagining Church (Book Review)

  • Scott

    I want to quickly say I have read Pagan Christianity and agree with the findings. I have only read the first chapter of Reimagining Church. I don’t agree with the direction and prophetic vision of what I have read. Your findings are accurate, according to knowledge, but within the context of God’s working in and through His people, you guys are lighting a spaceship that will never liftoff.

    You have done a great job of breaking down the establishment of hypocrisy at work in the church, but you are failing to remember that this is God’s church, and His will prevail, not your knowledge.

    Prophetically, everything I have read regarding the organic churches assumptions regarding God’s future establishment of His church has fallen short. You guys have plenty of knowledge, but not much discernment into the will and ways of God. And for the churches sake, I hope you guys align with “the God of the universe,” so he can direct you according to His spirit, and not according to your knowledge. The Body of Christ needs your knowledge, but you need the prophetic. Trust me, if you truly had gifted prophetic apostles or prophets working in your mists, I would not have read a lot of the assumptions and suppositions I have read. The truth is you guys have done an excellent job of breaking down the hypocrisy of the church, but you need help with the process of restoring, according to His discernment. Until you guys are open to this, the help won’t come.

    One more thing. You guys call yourselves revolutionaries. Let’s ponder this for a moment. Aren’t the hypocritical church offenders the revolutionaries? They are actually fleshly revolutionaries. God has given them the spirit, against which, they have revolted. They are the fleshly revolutionaries!!! You guys, in abiding in the Spirit of God, have never revolted against anything according to His organic DNA within you. They have revolted. So aren’t they rightly called the fleshly revolutionaries? And you, simply called the abiding faithful??? By calling yourself the revolutionaries, you are actually working counterproductive to the Spirit of God. You make yourselves appear to be people who revolt, like you have something to prove or something to establish, which you don’t, because that is the Spirits work. When discerned correctly, this amounts to spiritual anarchy on your part. I know you might assume this is reading between the lines but trust me when I say there is merit to it. If the Spirit of Christ has instructed us to even “flee from the appearance of evil,” are we to establish ourselves as revolutionaries? I think not. It is the wrong spirit calling your work a revolting work, it might sound good, but it is fully counterproductive to the Spirits move, and even more so as we see the day approaching.

    I am sorry I had to come a bit hard in this blog. It is not my desire. God’s work is at hand, and I am one who believes that in building a great house, we must prepare to get our hands very dirty. God Bless.

  • David D. Flowers

    Scott,

    I appreciate you taking the time to express your feelings and thoughts.

    My initial reaction is to say that you have not accurately described the spirit in which many are challenging the traditional “institutional” practice of Christianity. It certainly does not describe me in the least. Lately, I have noticed the great confusion and blurred perspective of those speaking out of an old paradigm to a new paradigm they don’t fully comprehend. I understand how it is difficult to accurately interpret something from outside our own experience and convictions. It has taken me several years to truly grasp the heart of the matter. In the beginning, I reacted in the same way you have.

    The “revolution” that I speak of, and those who profess the need for an organic Christianity, is a return to the root of our faith. It is a recognized need for a restoration of the Headship of Christ among his church. Nothing more or less. It is not about being a part of a “movement” or a “revolt” in a violent manner. It is understandable how much of the opposition sees only a change in venue or a tweaking of the outward things. We must be careful not to confuse the message in “Reimagining Church” with other movements of men. Viola describes four paradigms of church restoration that are worth reading over. (See p.37) I do hope you will prayerfully read the entire book.

    I sincerely believe when a person sees a void of Christ’s Person and works (i.e. teachings included) in their personal life and in the church and is whole-heartedly concerned to do something about it… makes room for a renewed Christology that gives birth to a glorious ecclesiology. Out of Christ comes the church. It is not a matter that can be honestly and appropriately assessed on the outside looking in. All a person can see from the outside are rebels who wish to make a name for themselves.

    Scott, i don’t know you… but I’m sure you mean well and love Christ. I don’t in any way wish to communicate otherwise. What I am saying is this: Those involved in organic Christianity have had an experience with the Person of Christ that has revolutionized their faith and the way they practice it. You always have those that are of the extreme order in some fashion or another. However, I believe if you look closer… you will see that the likes of Viola, myself, and many others… in no way see this as rebellion, but as submission to the light that Christ has given us.

    I would like to ask you a question, because you appear to be saying that we do not discern God’s will. Can you tell me what you mean here? What in the profession and practice of those things mentioned in “Reimagining Church” do you see as contrary to the will and ways of the Triune God? I really would like to understand what you mean.

    Thank you again for sharing. I hope, in some way, I have helped you to reconsider the motives and actions of those involved in organic Christianity that is concerned solely with the centrality and supremacy of Christ in all compartments of life.

  • zoecarnate

    Great review, David! Say, we met at Soularize last year, right?

  • David D. Flowers

    No, I wanted to go, but I wasn’t able. There will be an event coming here to Houston in 09. Maybe we can meet then. Peace.

  • mom2olivia

    I really enjoy your blog, and this topic. I have this book on hold at my local Borders Bookstore and will be picking it up later today. This topic is relly appealing to me b/c not only have I been hurt by the church, but have a true desire for God to restore His Church and to be a part of that. I have written some in my recent blog post, hope you can stop by. Also, if you know of any great resources to help me along with better understanding what is whelling up deep inside me, I’d appreciate any help. Yes, Jesus, Come and restore Your Church! Not our Buildings, Not our efforts, but our truest hearts that beat only for you!! God Bless you, and I look forward to this journey with you. Robin

  • David D. Flowers

    Robin,
    Thanks for reading! I encourage you to check out the “Suggested Reading” list at the end of my eBook “Knowing Christ in Divine Order” to give you an idea of what books have been helpful to me. I am excited for you on your journey with the Lord outside of institutional Christianity. Blessings in Christ!
    David

  • brian hofmeister

    I was a little disappointed that the book didn’t give more practical direction.

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey Brian, I actually thought that Viola did a good job of describing organic Christianity. He did have a little booklet called “Gathering in Homes” that was as practical as you could get.
      I hear what you are saying though. At the same time, my experience has been that a person really needs to just experience this life already taking place with some saints instead of trying to implement them straight from a book. Thanks, bro.

  • PC

    Our entire church leadership team went through this book in a 12 week study. While Viola makes some good points, on some things he is simply wrong. His entire premise, in fact, appears to be saying something akin to “you should have started investing when you were 15, now you’re 50 and you’ve missed the boat”. Yes, there is much that is wrong with the institutional church, but what are we to do with it? His take on denominations, for instance, is a point well made (though debatable-I’m not convinced denominations are the evil he seems to think they are) but it’s a bit late for that now, isn’t it? It would be great if there were only one church in every city, one team of elders to serve, one interpretation of scripture that all could agree on, and all the rest of it. But there isn’t and we are where we are. We will never return to the early church model on a single church of the city, so why hammer the point? He seems to ignore that reality and assume that everyone could, through a paradigm shift, just leave their denominations (which are all based on a rendering of doctrine), put aside all their doctrinal differences, and all live in happy harmony in house churches. Which is a great ideal, until we come to the question of whose idea of doctrine will be accepted as being biblical. Catholic? Pentecostal? Baptist? Perhaps there should not be doctrinal differences, but there are, and they aren’t going to go away. Viola seems to completely discount the idea that denominations exist for a reason, and have since the early church, when Messianic Christians separated themselves from gentile Christians. Denominations allow us to love and have relationship with our christian brethren who believe different doctrines and interpret scriptures differently than we do. I believe in house churches and the exercise of the charismata in the church today. One of my best friends is a Baptist who believes the charismata ended with the original apostles. We will never, ever agree on that in this life. But he is free to worship God as he understands Him and so am I, and because of that, we don’t have to bicker about it or have it be the elephant in the room every time we meet together.

    There are many other things on which I wholly disagree with Viola, including his belief that the church shares the DNA of the Godhead, that there is no heirarchy in the Godhead, that eldership is not a position of authority, and so on, based not so much on the scriptures he quotes, but the ones he omits.

    There is much to like about this book, but much to completely disregard as well. If one sets out t tackle this book, it would do one well to know their scripture, because he will quote a lot of it but leave a lot of it out. Just my $.02

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey Pat,

      1. I know Frank personally and I have read all of his books. I have never read or heard him hint at the idea that it’s too late for someone to start over in their understanding of Christ and His church. I have met 80 year old men involved in organic church life.

      2. I don’t recall ever reading a N.T. scholar that recognizes a “Messianic” denomination in the first-century. If anything, the Jerusalem Council decided that nothing should come between other believers in Jesus… especially Jewish law and traditions. Paul rebuked these divisions with “I am of Paul… Apollos… Peter… Christ.” Denominations are reminders that we have failed to meet around Christ alone. The Anabaptist challenged the 16th century Protestant Reformers (reformed Catholics) with this message and it wasn’t received well. They were killed for it among many other things that seemed too primitive and “radical” for them to embrace. Most of all… the Protestants were more concerned with believing the right things (law) than living like Jesus. In the end… they lost their witness completely. That’s because everything good and pleasing to the Lord (including doctrine)… comes out of the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ above all things.

      I grew up a Baptist and I am familiar with everything you mention. We are presently discovering… not only can we be in the same room together with folks who differ in their understanding of spiritual gifts or eschatology… we are learning to share life together and be a local ekklesia where we live regardless of our pet-doctrines. Our bond is being formed on the foundation of Christ alone… not the way we interpret the Scriptures. The written word reveals the Living Word… Jesus. His heart is that we would be one in Him in the middle of our differences… not to huddle up with those who interpret the Bible like us. I teach church history… and I don’t suspect that this will ever be the norm or what’s popular. None of what Frank proposes ever will be… it never has been. I wouldn’t let that keep you from “reimagining” church. 🙂

      3. Viola doesn’t hold to the idea that there is no authority in the church. It is just a spiritual authority that looks much different than the top-down (Gentile) model that Jesus spoke against that is so prevalent in the organized Church today. I hope that folks will keep an open heart and mind with the Scriptures in hand as Bereans. I don’t see Frank omitting verses. I see him pointing out verses that have been ignored for years because it doesn’t support popular practice. There has been wonderful scholarship done on the church as image of the Trinity. Viola didn’t invent the idea that there exists no hierarchy within the Godhead. There is evidence of it within the Scripture and its appears in the writings of the “Church Fathers.”

      May the Lord continue to bless you on your journey. Thank you for taking the time to share.

  • PC

    David, thanks for the reply.

    Please note, I did not say Frank said it was to late for individuals to start over. Franks seems to spend a lot of time telling the church how we blew it over the past 2000 years. I said it’s too late for the entire church to start over, for the reasons I mentioned above. It simply is not going to happen this side of the Lord’s return. I get it that we have gone off course in a lot of areas, but what are we to do with that as a whole body of Christ?

    Likewise what I said about denominations. Are the ideal? Of course not, but I do understand how they came about. And I don’t think the are all bad, nor are they going to go away.

    As far as the church sharing the DNA of the trinity-that is just not so, IMO. The Church is not eternal in the sense of always been and always shall be like God is; it is not without sin, and it is not complete. It is the body of Christ, but not the fullenss of the Godhead. And there most certainly is a heirarchy in the Trinity; while the three persons of the Godhead are one, both Christ and the Holy Spirit are in submission to the Father. It my be a voluntary submission, but it is a distinction without a difference. The father receives submission but I do not see the Father submitting to anyone or anything.

    Frank argues that elders are just ‘older Christians in the church’ holding no formal position or title. Yet we see them being appointed. Appointed by whom? Titus, for one, under Paul’s direction. Does this not imply a leadership heirarchy? Not one of lordship over others, certainly, but servant leadership. Still, an heirarchy nonetheless.

    I agree with much of Frank’s book, but some things I do not. You say, and so does he, that he doesn’t reject authority in the church. Yet I have difficulty finding where he acknowledges any except that of Christ, which in my experience in churches tends to be very subjective and is actually a statement often used by people who do not want to be held accountable to others for their actions.

    I agree with Frank in principle: we should be a body of believers who all walk out our salvation in truth, love, and mercy toward one another, submitted to one another. But the reality is that our flesh remains unredeemed, and the battle ground is the mind. If we were all submitted one to another, we wouldn’t need ‘leaders’. But we are not, the church is not, and in each organized group of people, someone has to be in charge. I wish it were otherwise, but experience with people in general, Christians included, shows me otherwise. Frank uses the analogy a family to illustrate how a church group should function. I agree-yet the family has a leadership structure, does it not?

    Anyway, I realize we will likely not agree, but I do respect your opinion and thank you for writing a reply. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 1 Cor. 13:12
    Blessings on you and yours, my brother
    PC

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey Pat,

      You said, “it’s too late for the entire church to start over”. What if the church isn’t starting over? What if there has always been a people gathering the way Viola proposes? I recommend reading “The Torch of the Testimony” by John W. Kennedy. It’s an older book, but he does a fine job of tracing those believers back to the first-century as he distinguishes between the organized Church and the spiritual church that has always remained faithful to Christ.

      Viola addresses your objections in the back of PC and RC. He has also written a very lengthy response to objections to the claims made in PC.
      http://www.ptmin.org/answers.htm

      I appreciate your heart, brother. Press on in Christ!
      David

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