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From Eternity to Here (Book Review)

from eternity picGod’s Love Story

A Book Review of “From Eternity to Here: Rediscovering the Ageless Purpose of God” by Frank Viola Reviewed by David D. Flowers

Growing up I remember hearing folks call the church the “Bride of Christ.” I only believed it to be one more way to speak of “heavenly” things.

Like many things within institutional Christianity, it was nothing more than a metaphor in a line of many metaphors that were used to talk of God’s love for his children. Viola explains in his book that it is more than a fanciful, nice way to speak of the church… it is “God’s central purpose.” Paul called it “the eternal purpose” (Eph. 3:11).

From Eternity to Here is the fourth book in a five-book series on radical church restoration. (Fifth book is set to be released Sept. 09)  Out of all the books Viola has written, this volume reveals the driving passion behind his life and all of his work. He writes, “in beholding God’s central purpose, I found my own purpose. In touching His passion, I found my own passion” (p.13).

Viola effectively communicates this passion in three parts. The first part is entitled “A Forgotten Woman: The Bride of Christ.” Viola begins by pointing his readers to the “hidden romance” between the great lover (God) and his beloved (the church).

This story begins with Adam and Eve and continues throughout all of Scripture as the true lover is seen through foreshadowing. Viola beautifully describes in detail this great love story between the lover and the beloved that will one day be the wife of God. The story of Adam and Eve is a picture of a greater story. Eve came out of Adam after creation… she was a “new creation.”

Viola says, “There was a woman inside of God before time” (p.41).

Viola is a master storyteller. He has been captivated by God’s love story and is able to wonderfully reveal “the mystery” of Christ to a new generation. “The Holy Spirit must open the eyes of His people in every generation for them to grasp it” (p.25).

“Now Adam is a symbol, a representation of Christ, who was yet to come” (Rom. 5:14).

Out of Christ comes his Bride! Finally, a woman for the Lord to love. Viola writes, “All love stories, whether intentional or unintentional, are patterned after this heavenly romance” (p.91).

It is not that God was lonely or that the Trinitarian community was inadequate. It is because “God is love” that he is not content to keep this love to himself. Viola states that the “superabundance of God’s love required a receptacle that was not within the Trinity” (p.40).

God always intended to share his community with his creation. The nature of God’s love is that is given, received, and returned to him. Without God’s creation, he is a “frustrated lover” (p.58). God is sovereign and in control of the future, but indeed frustrated.

Part II is entitled “An Eternal Quest: The House of God.” The chapters within this section look at the divine passion from another perspective. God is homeless and he desires a house that he and his Bride may have a family.

Viola traces God’s quest for a house throughout the Scriptures. As he traces God’s search from Adam to Jesus, he says, “The house of God is not a thing… it is the Lord Jesus Christ” (p.155).

The last half of this section gets personal and compares our own journey to being like that of Israel’s history. Like Israel, as members of the Body of Christ, we must make a choice as to which house we will dwell in. Put another way… what kind of house are we going to be for God?

Egypt: the world system that is driven by pleasures and places earthly pursuits above pursuits of our heavenly home and King.

Babylon: organized religion that is a mixture of fallen humanity and the divine; characterized best by hypocrisy and described best as the “counterfeit of the New Jerusalem.” Babylon can be compared to the institutional church of today. Many of God’s people live there and they will only find themselves building a community centered on man and not Christ and his purposes.

The Wilderness: this is the place where those who leave the world and organized religion will find themselves. It is a place of transition. “To sift us, to reduce us, and to strip us down to Christ alone” (p.191). This is a time of detox. Yet… it is not our home!

The old wineskin must be done away with so that the new can come. The home for which we were made is a land of freedom and one that flows with “milk and honey.”

Part III is entitled “A New Species: The Body of Christ & The Family of God.” This section speaks of Christians being resident aliens. The Bride of Christ is to remain pure and holy as she awaits her bridegroom.

The church is a “new species.” Viola traces this language through the New Testament. A language that many Christians have failed to recognize and apply to their lives.

Viola simplifies Body life as an act of gathering around Jesus Christ. This is our purpose. Likewise, it should be our passion. Yet, the Body of Christ has been forced into an institution and she has forgotten God’s eternal purpose. She has lost sight of the bigger picture and the great landscape of God’s love story. She has been preoccupied and polluted by a theology that leaves out the ageless purpose of God.

How does the church live out the ageless purpose of God? Viola writes, “Very simply: by loving the Lord Jesus as His bride and learning to live by His indwelling life” (p.288).

The book closes with a brief glimpse into Viola’s journey and a call to return to the Headship of Christ in the church that is reflective of the divine image and God’s eternal purpose.

frank-violaViola writes, “Recognizing that Jesus Christ is the incarnation of all spiritual things will change your prayer life. It will change your vocabulary and the way you think and talk about spiritual things. And it will ultimately change your practice of the church” (p.303).

If we seek the centrality and supremacy of Christ and know that our riches are in a Person and not in things meant to further our individual pursuits… we shall be fashioned into that beautiful Bride and usher in the Kingdom. At last… God will dwell with his people when heaven comes to earth at the marriage of the Great Lover and his Beloved.

I recommend this book, especially for those who have been lost in our narcissistic evangelical ecclesiology.

For the brave… I suggest:  Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices

For those who know there must be more to Body Life than you are experiencing… I encourage you to read:  Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity

I also recommend reading:

Going to the Root: Nine Proposals for Radical Church Renewal
Paul’s Idea of Community: The Early House Churches in Their Cultural Setting, Revised Edition

OTHER BLOGS PARTICIPATING IN THE “FROM ETERNITY TO HERE” BLOG CIRCUIT

Today (June 9th), the following blogs are discussing Frank Viola’s new bestselling book “From Eternity to Here” (David C. Cook, 2009). The book just hit the May CBA Bestseller List. Some are posting Q & A with Frank; others are posting full reviews of the book. To read more reviews and order a copy at a 33% discount, go to Amazon.com: From Eternity to Here: Rediscovering the Ageless Purpose of God

For more resources, such as downloadable audios, the free Discussion Guide, the Facebook Group page, etc. go to the official website: http://www.FromEternitytoHere.org

Enjoy the reviews and the Q and A:

Out of Ur
Shapevine (June newsletter)
Brian Eberly
DashHouse.com
Greg Boyd
Vision 2 Advance
David D. Flowers
kingdom grace
Captain’s Blog
Christine Sine
Darin Hufford – The Free Believers Network
zoecarnate
Church Planting Novice
Staying Focused
Take Your Vitamin Z
Jeff Goins
Bunny Trails
Matt Cleaver
Jason T. Berggren
Simple Church
Emerging from Montana
Parable Life
Oikos Australia
West Coast Witness
Keith Giles
Consuming Worship
Tasha Via
Andrew Courtright
ShowMeTheMooneys!
Leaving Salem, Blog of Ronnie McBrayer
Jason Coker
From Knowledge to Wisdom
Home Brewed Christianity
Dispossessed
Dandelion Seeds
David Brodsky’s Blog- “Flip the tape Deck”
Chaordic Journey
Renee Martin
Bob Kuhn
Living with Freaks
Real Worship
Fervent Worship
Julie Ferwerda
What’s With Christina?!
On Now to the Third Level
Irreligious Canuck
This day on the journey
Live and Move: Thoughts on Authentic Christianity
Spiritual Journey With God
echurch
The Jesus Feed
Book Disciple
My Journey – With Others
On Now to the Third Level
Christine Moers
Breaking Point
Hand to the Plough
Jon Reid
Weblight
D.L. Webster
Searching for the Whole-Hearted Life


Corinthian Elders (Book Review)

New Testament Elders
A Book Review of: “Corinthian Elders” by Jack Fortenberry

In his book”Corinthian Elders,” Jack Fortenberry delivers one more strong defense for the functioning of elders in the New Testament fashion. This book is a “biblical examination” of specific Pauline rhetoric on the teaching and practice of church leadership.

Fortenberry skillfully expounds on the various events that caused divisions throughout the local churches of the New Testament. In particular, he draws our attention to the unhealthy desire and practice of leaders that was wreaking havoc on first-century churches and still plagues us today.

The author crafts a vivid account of the issues facing these churches and presents the reader with solid evidence as to how authority “over” the saints severs the branches from the Vine that is Christ.

Are there leaders in the New Testament church? Absolutely. However, this leadership looks like Christ and allows others to know Christ as head of the church. It makes room for all the gifts to be equally shared among the saints.

Fortenberry suggests that this is one of the greatest threats to the unity in the church at Corinth: division caused by an infatuation with eloquent preachers and teachers.

“by submitting to leaders as a substitute for our fellowship with one another, we will loosen our hold on Christ.” (p.43)

I have read many books on church restoration and organic church life. I recommend this little book to those who are convinced that something is definitely wrong with the top-down model of leadership within the church today and rightfully need to be persuaded by the very words of Scripture that there is another way.

If you are the least bit concerned about the centrality and supremacy of Christ being known in the local church, then give this book a read with your New Testament in hand.

I also recommend reading:
The Untold Story of the New Testament Church: An Extraordinary Guide to Understanding the New Testament
Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices
Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity
The Normal Christian Church Life
Going to the Root: Nine Proposals for Radical Church Renewal
Paul’s Idea of Community: The Early House Churches in Their Cultural Setting, Revised Edition


Surprised by Hope (Book Review)

Getting It Wright!

A Book Review of “Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church” by N.T. Wright Reviewed by David D. Flowers

Tom Wright undoubtedly stands at the summit of New Testament scholarship. I sincerely believe he is the most important of Christian thinkers alive today. His writings are a refreshing challenge and a beacon of hope in a world where much of Christianity has lost its way. Wright’s work is unsurpassed as it reminds us all that our faith is not founded on shady history and loose myths about Jesus.

In his book Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, Wright challenges this notion of “going to heaven when you die” and spending an eternity in some bodiless future. For if this was the case, Wright’s concern is “then what’s the fuss about putting things right in the present world?”

Is our present language of our future existence reflective of sound New Testament orthodoxy? Do we have a consistent biblical message on “life after death?” Wright doesn’t believe so, and he claims we have instead embraced a Gnostic idea of the future that fouls up our presentation of the Gospel in the present.

Our future home is not “heaven”–for this is where God is presently; another dimension altogether. Our hope is in this spiritual heaven coming down to earth. The climax of all human history is the consummation of God’s spiritual realm (heaven) breaking through to our earthly existence. Therefore, in Wright’s view, it is “life after life after death” that ought to be on our minds.

Only this sort of thinking will lead us to a proper practice of the church. If our beliefs about heaven and the resurrection are wrong, then we are not about the Lord’s business in ushering in the Kingdom of God in ways keeping with the example of Christ.

Wright’s greatest emphasis is on “resurrection” and “new creation” that has already begun in this world. It is time to realize the great significance with that which is at the heart of our faith in Christ (1 Cor. 15:12-28). He writes, “it is (resurrection), principally, the defining event of the new creation, the world that is being born with Jesus.”

It is in the resurrection of Christ that happened in this old creation that gives us hope for a new creation taking place right now in the twenty-first century. “Hope is what you get when you suddenly realize that a different worldview is possible…” (pg.75).

This “new creation” should not be confused with baptizing the culture into Christianity and attempting to enact a utopian dream, as so many in evangelicalism have embraced. This misplaced trust in the myth of progress does not work because it does not account for evil, Wright says.

This myth may sometimes run parallel to our Christian hope, but it “veers off toward a very different destination” that ignores the need for the cross of Christ upon the natural fallen creation. It doesn’t see the need for change within, only uniform capitulation to a set order of ideas.

Wright declares, “What matters is eschatological duality (the present age and the age to come), not ontological dualism (an evil “earth” and a good “heaven”)” (pg. 95). We all have seen how this belief in a Platonic escapism has pervaded our theology and demanded that we adopt a popular dispensationalist view of the future; a future where we “fly away” to “Beulah Land” and spend eternity in a glorified retirement home in the sky.

It is time we abandon this empty belief for one that appreciates the hope given to us in the New Testament; a hope where God restores his good creation and finishes the work he began in the universe. Wright states, “What creation needs is neither abandonment nor evolution but rather redemption and renewal; and this is both promised and guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead” (pg. 107).

Wright draws our attention to Christ’s ascension as well as his resurrection. Because of the ascension of Christ, we not only have a savior who is indwelling us and present with his people, but a Lord who is at the same time “gone on ahead of us” by being the first to enter in to our promised resurrected existence. In other words, the work of Christ is finished and yet to be realized. It is reflective of the “already, but not yet” tension of the Kingdom of God.

We await a savior to complete the work he began in us. This completion shall come by way of the parousia or his “coming.”  Wright very simply writes, “he will in fact be “appearing” right where he presently is—not a long way away within our own space-time world but in his own world, God’s world, the world we call heaven” (pg. 135).

Wright challenges our traditional picture of our journey being completed upon death. He argues that there is indeed a temporary “paradise” for believers awaiting the resurrection of the dead and the completion of all things.

Likewise, there would appear to be the same for those who have rejected Christ in this life. When Jesus spoke of “many dwelling places” in his Father’s house, he is speaking of a temporary stop on the journey.  To ignore the finished work of Christ through the final resurrection of the dead is to miss the entire Christian hope.

God’s judgment is a good thing, something that believers ought to celebrate—for evil will be dealt with once and for all and heaven will make its home on earth. On the other hand, the non-believer has much to worry about. Wright calls into question our modern interpretations of hell that reflects a theology from the church of the Dark Ages. Yet, he doesn’t go as far as some “emerging” leaders who, I have reason to believe, may never emerge.

Wright finds it impossible not to believe in some sort of “ultimate condemnation” and loss to human beings that have rejected God’s good grace. He simply says that these folks cease to bear the divine image and by their own choice become “beings that once were human but now are not.”  Whatever “hell” is in reality, none of us would ever desire such a place. The important thing Wright wants to note is that heaven and hell ought not be the focal point of the Christian message.

In the last part of the book, Wright does a wonderful job with making this challenge practical for us all. The resurrection and ascension is not designed to take us away from this earth but instead to make us agents of transformation, anticipating the day when, “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”

Wright looks at the themes of justice, beauty, and evangelism. What do these things look like in light of this radical message of hope?  What does this look like in retrospect to the resurrection of Christ and the promise that we will inherit the same? Wright believes it is “to live consciously between the resurrection of Jesus in the past and the making of God’s new world in the future” (pg. 213).

My only point of disagreement with this book is in the last chapter. Although I do believe there are nuggets of truth founded in Wright’s attempt to manifest our hope in church practices, his commitment to not only his Anglican heritage but to high church in general is reason enough to move beyond his conclusions and on to a narrative ecclesiology that mirrors the earliest disciples.

It seems to me that this is his only break from a legitimate concern for a Pauline hermeneutic. His hope in a revival within the church practices that came years after Paul, as evident in church history, is wishful thinking indeed. It is here that we begin to replace hope with doom and despair.

“Surprised by Hope” is an excellent book that breathes out an overdue challenge to believers in every corner of the earth. I do hope and pray that its message will start a move of the church to return to the Gospel that looks like Jesus and offers the world more than an escape from a devil’s hell.

N.T. Wright is presently one voice among many that is being heard and has earned the right to be heard in a post-Christian world of conflicting voices. How will we respond? Shall we cling to those chains presently dubbed as “tradition” or will we allow the resurrection of Christ to give us wisdom and understanding into that beautiful hope known as the age to come?

I am pleasantly surprised by the hope we have in Christ… for whose sake I am able to reimagine a world without evil.

 

*Please take the time to vote on this review at Amazon.


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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