Frank Viola is one of my favorite writers/bloggers/leaders in America today, and not just because he’s Italian. He blogs at Beyond Evangelical, has written over a dozen books, and is a leader in what’s often called the “organic church” movement. Today I’ll be offering a long-overdue review of his 2010 book Revise Us Again. In this book Frank tackles a collection of problems and misunderstandings he’s identified in the church today, such as how God speaks to us, how we talk about him, how the church becomes divided, the nature of the gospel, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and many more.
- I absolutely love the overall metaphor for transformation: revising the script we’re living from. We’re all scripted beings but at times our scripts run afoul, even our Christian ones. So what we need “can be described as editing out that which is not Christ and revising that which is” (10).
- The afterword exploring three rival gospels (libertine, legalist, new creation) and the Pauline idea that discipleship is about “becoming what we already are in Christ.” (Anytime Frank talks about the gospel, I listen!)
- Frank always has many interesting and insightful things to say. Such as:
- The mind of Christ is only discovered corporately (22-25). God never communicates his whole mind to one individual (not even you!). Within local churches God’s Spirit empowers teachers, prophets, and sages, and through their voices listened to together, God speaks.
- He exposes the popular Christian phrase “God told me” as often being nothing more than a manipulative ploy, especially on the part of leaders. Instead of puffing up your words, just say what you think God is telling you to say and let him authenticate it in the hearts and minds of your leaders.
- He chalks up many intra-church misunderstandings to what he calls “Spiritual Conversation Styles.” My copy has the names of various friends and associates who fit into the categories he mentions, and I could see in my head times when they disagreed in exactly the way he predicts. Frank’s analysis will help you understand why your Christian friends don’t always “get” each other.
- I could pull any number of things from his chapter on the gospel. Here’s one: “The goal of the gospel is not to get you out of hell and into heaven, but to get God out of heaven and into you so that He may be displayed visibly and glorified in his creation” (61). And one more: “We got into Adam by birth. The only way to get out of him and his race is by death. And the only way to get into Christ is by birth. New birth” (64).
- One more is the idea that our gospel tends to start with Genesis 3 instead of Genesis 1. This insightful analysis of our problem speaks to our need to re-frame the gospel in terms of God restoring his original purposes for creation rather than merely managing sin.
- He offers wise advice on topics like seeking God’s presence but not necessarily the feelings we often associate with his presence, not judging other people’s motives, and creating tests of fellowship beyond or other than the fullness of Christ himself.
- The book lacks a consistent style or structure; he is tackling very different issues, and as such he tackles with them very differently. The chapter lengths were noticeably inconsistent, which surprises me for a book like this. At times it feels more like a blog series than a book. Not a huge deal, but it kept me out of rhythm and complicates the question of who I’d recommend it to.
- There’s some questionable exegesis and a few statements that need to be amended or at least clarified. For instance, he says the Torah includes God’s enduring moral principles, standards that do not change and cannot be compromised (17). Based on Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 5 (and elsewhere), this statement obviously isn’t true without qualification. In another example from page 109, Frank quotes Hosea 6.1-3 and then comments: “God tears us in order to heal us. He smites us in order to bind and revive us.” This goes beyond what Hosea 6.1-3 actually says, however, by suggesting that God actively and intentionally tore/smited with the express purpose of later healing/binding/reviving. These are important distinctions, but were minor in the overall flow of the book.
- I do have to say that for me this book over-promised and under-delivered just a bit, but I’m guessing that’s in part because of how highly I think of both Frank as well as the guiding idea of revising our script.
If you are only going to read one of Frank Viola’s books, I would not suggest this one. In my opinion, Frank has been given by God to the church for two primary purposes and one secondary purpose:
- To remind us of and teach us about the centrality of Jesus to absolutely everything without remainder (no matter what; like, for real).
- To expand our vision of the gospel to embrace God’s eternal purpose of summing up all things in Christ and previewing this end game in the life of the church.
- To challenge church forms and structures to ask if we’re organized in ways that work against the life-giving presence of Christ in our midst.
To these ends no one can go wrong with Jesus Manifesto, From Here to Eternity, or Epic Jesus. And if you’re a church leader or interested in church-related issues, you should absolutely read Pagan Christianity and Reimagining Church. (Be ye warned, however, these books will put you in the dock.)
Having said that, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Revise Us Again if you want a collection of reflections that will challenge you in important if somewhat random ways, particularly in terms of how you talk to others about God.
. . .
I believe I am legally required to inform you that I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. I promise I haven’t let this skew my review so that I only say nice things about it.