Today’s interview is with Frank Viola, an author, speaker, and avid blogger at FrankViola.org, which has about 80,000 monthly readers. Viola has helped thousands of people around the world deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ and enter into a more vibrant and authentic experience of church. He has written many books on these themes, including Jesus Manifesto, Pagan Christianity, and Jesus: A Theography.
1. You’ve said one of your goals is to help set Christians free from “the overall shallowness of the Christian faith today,”—that’s a pretty gutsy statement. What led you to this position?
When I was in my early 20s, I had been part of 13 different denominations, several different Christian movements, and many different parachurch organizations. They all helped me for a time, but I quickly moved on because I knew deep down inside that there had to be more—more to the Christian faith, to Jesus Christ, and to the church than what I was seeing and experiencing.
That led me on an odyssey to really know Jesus and to experience what the church was and meant to the early Christians.
I can tell you today—some 20 years later—that Jesus Christ is beyond what most of us have ever imagined. He’s more exciting, more amazing, and more electrifying than what most preachers have told us.
And so is his bride, the ekklesia, when she functions the way God made her to function.
When I say things like that, some people don’t know what I’m talking about. So I encourage them to listen to a talk I gave at a conference a few years ago called “Epic Jesus: The Christ You Never Knew.” I receive emails from Christians in their 20s regularly telling me that this talk brought them to their knees (and to tears). It’s been a game-changer for many.
I am humbled by such comments because what I say in that message is what changed my own life as a young man:
1. “Jesus Christ is ALL, everything else is commentary.”
2. “Everything wears out except for Jesus Christ.”
If you’ve been captured by the sight of Peerless Worth, you’ll understand and resonate with those two statements.
2. What does “church” mean to you?
I prefer to use “church” the way that the New Testament authors understood it, rather than how it’s been molded and shaped in our day.
For the New Testament authors, “church,” which is a poor translation of the Greek word “ekklesia,” was simply a local group of people who gathered together regularly. That local group shared their lives together, laid their lives down for one another, and loved each other in uncommon ways.
Specifically, “church” is a community of Jesus followers who are learning to live by the life of Christ (which indwelt them) together and who were expressing that life visibly to others.
It is for this reason that the “church” in the first century was one of the most exciting things on the planet. And it shook the Roman Empire to its foundations.
The beautiful thing is that what I’m describing here isn’t armchair philosophy or bloodless theory. For the last 25 years, I’ve had the privilege of living in and planting these kinds of New Testament–styled communities, and it’s been beyond amazing for me and for the people who were and are involved.
3. How does the modern conception of “church” compare to biblical principles?
I believe it compares poorly, and that’s one reason why one million Christians leave the institutional form of church every year in America and why 1,500 to 2,000 pastors leave the clergy system each month.
In our book Pagan Christianity, George Barna and I explained how the free-wheeling, Christ-saturated, life-giving, face-to-face, community-driven, every-member-functioning, barn-burning, caring-for-one-another, first-century church devolved into a predictable “show” led by a pastor and a worship team for two hours every Sunday morning where God’s people are mostly passive spectators and hardly anyone in the congregations knows one another.
This isn’t the case for some institutional churches, but it’s commonplace for many—if not most—of them.
That’s not to say that attending a Sunday-morning church service is wrong or bad. It’s just not what the New Testament means by “church.”
I often tell people, “You haven’t lived until you’ve been in a New Testament–styled, open-participatory church meeting that’s led by Jesus Christ through his every-member functioning body.” When I experienced such a meeting for the first time at age 23, it blew my circuitry and wrecked me for life.
4. What do you believe today’s evangelical culture needs to work on most?
There are two things:
1. Many Christians who are in their 20s and 30s agonize over figuring out God’s will for their lives. I’ve experienced this agony myself when I was in my teens and 20s, and it was because of wrong teaching. I was taught, like many people today, that finding God’s will for my life is like a train track. But I discovered that idea is wrong. It’s more like a parking lot.
I’ve written a free ebook about it called Rethinking the Will of God. I’m thankful that this ebook has set many Christians free.
2. Christians loving one another, not in pious rhetoric, but in reality. To love someone, according to Jesus, has nothing to do with feelings. It’s treating other people the same way we want to be treated in every circumstance (compare Matt. 22:39–40 with Matt. 7:12).
Consequently, if I love you, I won’t gossip about you, I won’t ascribe evil motives to your heart, I won’t cast aspersions upon you, I will think the best of you, and I won’t entertain slander against you. And if I have an issue with you or a concern about you, I will go directly to you . . . because that’s how I’d want to be treated by you.
We live in a day where Christians are slashing one another’s throats online and in person even, and it kills the testimony of Jesus.
5. If we’ve been subjected to a “shallow faith” through today’s church, how can we ever be sure we’re following and worshiping Christ appropriately?
I believe it will have these marks to it:
1. It will be in harmony with the Scriptures. It won’t follow tradition or what’s “popular,” but it will stay true to the radical nature of the New Testament.
2. It will not contradict the historic statements about Jesus in the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed.
3. People will detect the scent of Christ on your life. There will be life, his life, displayed in some measure. Namely, you will find yourself treating others the same way you want to be treated in every situation.
6. When it comes to studying your Bible, what books or resources do you find yourself using most?
Some of my favorites are:
7. Do you have any new books or projects we should look out for?
Yes, my discipleship course “Learning to Live by the Indwelling of Christ” opens March 1 for two weeks. You can check it out and join the waiting list here.
I also have two books coming out. One is about five people in the Gospels who will tell the story of how they met Jesus. It’s going to be a moving book. I also have another one that comes out next year which discusses what Jesus is doing now . . . between his ascension and his second coming. You can keep up with my library here.
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Learn more from provocative blogger Frank Viola—download his books on Vyrso today: