We either seek to redefine Jesus, or we let Him redefine us and our world – on His terms, in His way, through His Word.
Really, this is the major fork in the road.
We either seek to redefine Jesus, or we let Him redefine us and our world – on His terms, in His way, through His Word.
Really, this is the major fork in the road.
This is a burning question for the organic church community – as well as other reform movements.
Do we embrace a fabricated Jesus, or the authentic Jesus?
The Seven Great Lies in the Church Today, by Steve Hill
Amen and amen. I stand shoulder to shoulder with Steve Hill on this important article.
If you’ve read Crossroad Junction for very long, you’ve seen me also tackle most of these same, out-0f-balance issues. I’m glad to see others raising identical warnings, now to a broader audience, regarding:
Really, folks, it’s kind of simple: He defines what is ultimately true, real and right, not us.
He’s God. We’re not. Get over it!
Forty-eight years young in the Lord!
On Resurrection Sunday, 1965, I had a deep, deep conversion experience as I totally surrendered to the Lord. I’m told the tears on that old wooden floor made permanent stains.
Wow, how time has passed. It’s been – and continues to be – a wonderful adventure, and even during some tough times I never once regretted belonging to Him.
Through it all, I’ve always felt His hand on my life and was blessed with a solid foundation from Godly parents and mature teachers, which has served me well over the years.
In an age of crazy doctrines and postmodern spiritual angst, that foundation yet stands firm for those willing to surrender their sensibilities to the Living Word and His written Word.
Really, it’s just not that complicated, but it does mean letting go of your own impulse to define Jesus – and what ultimately is right, real and true – on your own terms.
My life is a living testimony to His sovereign Lordship, and His passion is my very life.
I invite you to also surrender, and find life.
Sorry, Frank Viola, but when your “revelation” of Jesus looks a lot like your own sensibilities, I’m not impressed.
And when “deeper life” merely reinforces your own postmodern proclivities, I’m likewise not impressed.
Nor do I find a persistent failure to be a functional part of any healthy, local fellowship – despite all your books and blogs on organic church – to be a virtue.
Really, didn’t you get the memo? Postmodernism and existential angst just ain’t that compelling or counter-cultural anymore.
In America, we’ve lost the right to be born, the right to practice our faith without government dictate or penalty, the right to proclaim moral sanity in the public square, and now the right to due process of law against a president who thinks he literally can pull the trigger and execute fellow citizens at his whim.
In a bizarre “legal memo”, President Obama has asserted that he can target and assassinate Americans – at will – simply on his belief that they are subversives.
The memo’s specific focus is Americans who President Obama has unilaterally concluded are affiliated with al-Qaida (not that this makes it right), but its rationale and justification can now be applied to anyone else who he likewise concludes is a non-combatant subversive.
America was once a great nation, ruled by law under a Constitution that was consciously written to embody a Judeo-Christian worldview.
The bedrock of our constitutional republic – rooted in Biblical principles articulated by men like James Madison and his mentor John Witherspoon – was the liberty to pursue virtue by imposing checks and balances against the evil of unrestrained government power.
I’m having an interesting online (but private) conversation with someone, talking about the state of things in his part of the country.
Here was my observation:
“My impression from interactions on Facebook with various folks in the [deleted] area is that there is a lot of angst that has driven folks from institutionalism and legalism, but not much in the way of any solid foundational Biblical principles operative among them.
“Your area seems to be a hotbed for interest in ‘organic’ things, but mired in lots of unrealistic sensibilities. They seem to have idealistic expectations rooted in those sensibilities but can’t seem to find traction, yet they are not willing to change and so they keep trying and trying without success.”
I wonder if this describes other areas around the country as well?
Be wary of modern day pied pipers of existential theology, who say “Christ is All” but deny all of Christ in order to promote their own limited view of Christ.
In our fellowships, grace is real, raw and unmerited.
But we also understand that although grace is freely given, it costs everything to accept – because when it is authentically received, we then take up our cross as we die to self and follow Him.
Many Christians have lost their way by embracing “hyper grace”, which is really half grace – it robs them of the power to become mature disciples and the confidence needed to go forth as ambassador’s of God’s full grace.
Leading up to Tuesday’s elections here in the United States, I often used this blog and Facebook to urge Christians to vote. (See Does Jesus Want You to Vote?)
When I did, I always got heated push back – mainly from other Christians who oppose Biblical civic engagement.
Generally, they think God is only interested our personal relationships with Him, or that He is solely focused on the Church.
Does God do what is right, or is it right because God does it?
Many think God is subservient or subject to external standards – that He does what is right because there is a higher moral code that even He obeys.
This denies God’s sovereignty, and as a result many today seek to hold Him to the standard of their own sense of right and wrong.
Jesus Loves Me
(An existential version of that favorite childhood song.
I encourage you to have some fun by singing along as you read it.)
Jesus loves me, this I know,
Postmodern grace has made it so.
With His Spirit in my heart,
External truth now has no part.
Did Jesus tell me?
Oh, how can I know?
I feel Jesus told me,
I hope that makes it so.
The Bible says that I must go,
Proclaim His Word – oh no no no!
Now existential I’ve become,
‘Cause His commands just leave me numb
My sense of Jesus is true light,
I do not worry what is right.
With my sensibilities,
I do not need moralities.
The Bible’s NOT the Word of God.
My own perceptions earn my nod!
The Jesus I have come to see,
Surprisingly looks just like me.
I only want the Living Word,
The Bible seems just too absurd.
Now I perceive reality,
The way I want it all to be.
We don’t go looking for or emphasize miracles, but in our fellowships we’ve been seeing the miraculous happen time and again.
We had one man collapse and then die right in front of the paramedics and the fellowship he had been helping to start in the jail – and then come back to life shortly thereafter on the gurney in the jail infirmary after brothers gathered together to pray for him.
I’ve been thinking a lot about why significant segments of the organic church community in the Western hemisphere have failed to achieve Biblical viability – becoming instead anemic, self-focused and insular.
Even a casual observer must acknowledge that “organic” or “simple” churches in the West (unlike other parts of the world) seldom exhibit dynamic spiritual power; consistent reproduction, growth and maturity; or tangible, transforming impact.
You tell me how in Christ love is everything.
How it transcends morality, truth and even scripture itself…
How if we just expressed your concept of love, the world will beat a path to Jesus…
Yet you recoil at basic truth, like the reality of sin and moral precepts.
And you reject much that God has revealed in His Word to help us understand His own nature and thus the parameters of authentic love – for the good not just of individuals, but whole societies.
Somehow, you have been deceived into thinking that authentic love is freedom from truth, when actually it is truth set free.
It hasn’t taken long for the Christian postmodernists among us to start accusing their brothers and sisters in the Lord of bigotry, intolerance and hate simply for eating yesterday at Chick-fil-A.
In the last 24 hours, I’ve seen several blogs and related Facebook comments along those lines.
Really? Bigotry, intolerance and hate? I saw no evidence of that yesterday.
Have some become so trapped in their postmodern sensibilities that it now is wrong to stand up in a civil, respectful manner against those who want to use the power of government to silence a man of faith – and block his businesses?
And his “sin”?
Simply this: Affirming his personal support of marriage as God has ordained it in His written Word, while nonetheless being open and embracing of all who patronize his establishments regardless of their sexual orientation or differing views.
Let’s get a grip, folks.
I figure that if half of the folks reading my blog say “amen!”, and the other half say “oh my!”, then I’m right where God wants me.
The consternation and angst – in blogs, Facebook comments, podcasts and the like – generated by this series have convinced me that what I said needed saying.
My point is simple, and 100% Biblical:
I go, do and obey because of who I am in Christ. It is His life in me, expressed through me.
But here’s the kicker: If I do not “do”or obey as Christ commands, then the life of Christ in me is a lie – at least in those areas where I choose to disobey or stay trapped in my own sensibilities.
My recent blog on “I Want More Religion” provoked a degree of rage which only served to prove the point I was trying to make.
In a lengthy online discussion, one podcaster (whom I will not grace by identifying) commented that my blog made him so angry that he wanted to “kill” me.
Seriously. He said he felt like killing me because I dared say that Jesus was not all about relationship, but also obedience and holiness.
And he kept repeating it…
I’ve heard privately from some who were offended with my use of “lazy-assed” in my blog, I Want More Religion (Part 1).
In my own defense, I was going to say “stinkin’ white-washed sepulchres” and use a whip to toss some tables, but I thought I’d tone it down and used “lazy-assed” instead. ;-)
Seriously, if we don’t get out of this post-modern, introspective, insular, Jesus-is-all-about-affirming-my-own-sensibilities funk, then there is no hope of redemption and wholeness – for ourselves, for those He calls us to tangibly love and bless with real deeds, or for our culture.
I just finished reading, from cover to cover, Frank Viola’s new book “Beyond Evangelical”.
Although it largely consists of re-prints of his prior blogs, it has lots of good stuff … so long as you take it in context.
That context is a repeated emphasis by Frank on an way of relating to Jesus and the world which is sometimes called Christian existentialism, which is hardly surprising given his repeated praise in his blog of existentialist theologian Karl Barth. That existentialism seems to be rooted in the belief that all externals (social problems, cultural problems, family problems, church problems, etc.) will be resolved as we internally connect with the person of Jesus. When we do this collectively as “ekklesia” (the Greek word translated “church”), we then fulfill God’s “grand epic”.
Although this sounds good, most problems throughout church history come from truth out of balance. Presumably, anything outside of Frank’s understanding of who Jesus is, and what Jesus is about, is a distraction. (See my prior blog series, Beyond Evangelical?) Frank Viola nonetheless goes to great length justifying his existentialism by proclaiming the truth that “Christ is all”, but then makes the mistake of interpreting that truth in ways which limit Christ and thus lead to a new legalism.
Whereas the old legalism, which he does a good job of picking apart, was all about “doing” and “not doing”, the new legalism is all about telling folks what Jesus should look like in us, and thus who we can “be” and “not be” in Christ. Along those lines, his book is an apologetic for how Christ from his “beyond” perspective should be the new norm, combined with a polemic against how Christ is expressed in others.
As I’ve noted before, however, the “all” in Frank Viola’s “Christ is all” looks and feels to many of us who’ve been around longer than Frank to be little more than a narrow set of sensibilities that are essentially millennial and post-modern in attitude. This is in contrast to the differing concept others of us embrace – of a multi-generational, multi-graced, multi-called and multi-gifted Body of Christ that includes all “tribes” (to use Frank’s term).
I’ve said it before, and it bears repeating: I am not beyond any other segment of the Body of Christ. I have yet to meet a brother or sister in Christ who can’t teach me something of Christ, because something of Jesus is expressed in all of us. I have something of Christ to offer you, and you have something of Christ to offer me. That, in a nutshell, is the Body of Christ in all of its multifaceted glory.
This book, at its heart, is Frank Viola’s apologetic defense of his “beyond” tribe as against all other flavors of evangelicalism. Rather than seeing the strengths of other tribes and how they have much to teach and add to his “beyond” tribe’s own grace, gifts and calling, he keeps talking in very general terms about how his “tribe” is beyond them.
He does this by putting folks into very artificial categories – often with somewhat inaccurate characterizations, sometimes grossly distorted histories (the errors of which I can personally attest to based on my own direct involvement) , and repeated warnings about all the problems found among other classes of Christians. Yet those other believers who he keeps characterizing in unflattering ways (yet with a measure of charm) candidly look nothing like any fellow believers I know.
In essence, Frank Viola puts everyone into categories to contrast the rest of the Body of Christ with his own tribe – while also paradoxically going out of his way to say we should be beyond categories.
For example, I kept reading his descriptions of all those bad “fundamentalists” and “Religious Right” boogie men – with stereotypes that seemed to be lifted more from the editorial pages of the militantly secular NY Times or the diatribes of MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow than from any real fellowship with real brothers and sisters in Christ – and just shook my head over and over as I kept trying in vain to think of anyone I actually know who actually fit his prejudicial caricatures.
But hey, let’s not let real brothers and sisters in Christ – with real lives – get in the way of a good narrative on how my group is “beyond” everyone else. Right?
My point is not to defend those who he disparages – they can defend themselves. Rather, it is to call him to task for his polite yet nonetheless divisive, sectarian and dismissive rhetoric, while he repeatedly decries others who are divisive, sectarian and dismissive towards him.
In pointing out all the flaws of others – in a very charming and nice way, which I couldn’t help but admire – Frank Viola then fails to give a single real life or practical example of how his “beyond” approach would look or do things differently. Again, there is not one concrete, real world, real life example in the entire book. None, nada, zip. It is simply a litany of aspirational platitude after aspirational platitude – some good, some naive, and some certainly open to a more balanced, inclusive perspective.
“Beyond Evangelical”, like much of Frank’s blog by the same name, legitimately raises valid questions. I agree with him on the need to move from isolated individualism to a more comprehensive expression of “ekklesia”. I commend him for that, although I have a broader view of Christ and His Body than the existential theology my “Beyond” brethren might allow. Nonetheless, this critique of his book comes from the perspective of “ekklesia” – as my life is devoted to finding, experiencing and working out what ekklesia looks like with an active and diverse community of fellow believers here in Virginia.
Yes, Christ is all, but our “all” looks a lot bigger in our fellowships than Frank Viola’s “all”.
Otherwise, from a purely aspirational point of view there is not much to dislike in Frank’s book. But if you are looking for substance and – like me – looking for him to articulate clear alternatives beyond his platitudes and his contrasting negative stereotypes, then you will be left hanging.
It is the easiest thing in the world to point out the splinters in everyone else, but to not see the log in one’s own eye.
In my experience, there are some big log’s in the eyes of the “Beyond” tribe. My challenge to Frank Viola is to prove me wrong: Give us examples. Surely, after all these years of touting what I see as a somewhat myopic existential view of what “Christ is all” means, he can start to point to examples of how real people are doing real things to express his “beyond” platitudes in the real world – beyond their own individual faith and beyond what strikes many of us as their insular fellowships and tendencies toward a rather insular faith. Both his blog, and this book, utterly fail to do so.
Rather than build relationships between various parts of the Body of Christ as we learn to esteem one another above ourselves, my overall concern continues to be that Frank feeds the growing alienation of his tribe from the broader Body of Christ. Of course, in the book he denies this, but it’s there and is a glaring blind spot nonetheless.
I think the ultimate criteria for evaluating “Beyond Evangelical” is this: After reading the book, would a typical millennial Christian (according to Frank, this is his primary focused audience) – who may be steeped in post-modern sensibilities and feel alienated – be more likely to seek out and press into a multifaceted, multi-generational and multi-”tribe” expression of Body of Christ, or less likely?
Some may disagree with my specific critique of the book, but that bottom line question fairly well sums up all of my concerns.
I believe Frank Viola still has much to offer the rest of us so long as he grows beyond the stark limitations of his Karl Barth Christian existentialism and its associated post-modern sensibilities. But I fear, instead, that this book will only reinforce the trend within Frank’s “beyond” tribe to remain mired in its millennial post-modern sensibilities by dismissing much that the rest of the Body of Christ has to offer them.
I keep hearing from folks who have felt troubled and marginalized by authors and bloggers who seem unable to go beyond their own sensibilities and who seek to make their own gifts and limitations normative for the entire Body of Christ.
In response, I can’t shake this urge to proclaim what I see in scripture and experience daily in our own fellowships: The multifaceted, multi-gifted, multi-called Body of Christ.
I am convinced that God’s heart is passionate about releasing His people to be all that He created them to be – not just in our churches, but in all spheres of life.
Our collective failure to do this – both within the institutional and organic church communities – and the insular, anemic fruit that has resulted, is one of the biggest challenges facing the West today.
Here’s the problem I see daily among individual Christians:
Those who are primarily motivated by the heart, feel all must be the same. Those primarily motivated by renewed minds, think all must be the same. Those primarily motivated by transformed wills, act as though all must be the same…
We are post-modern in our sensibilities, so all must be the same. We are called to this, or to that, and so all must be the same. We not are called to this, or to that, and so all must be the same…
Please, everyone, can’t we just stop this nonsense!
Yes, Christ is all. But is He just Lord of YOUR all, or Lord of all?
Is He just heart, or just mind, or just will?
Is He just mercy, or just prophetic, or just ruler, or just giver, or just relational, or just whatever you want or seem to need Him to be?
Is He just generation X, or generation Y?
And let’s get down to the nitty-gritty: Has He really surrendered His Lordship over all creation, culture, spheres of human endeavor, nations and history itself, just so He can be all about you and your sensibilities?
It is bad enough when individuals try to make their own strengths and limitations normative for all. But it is an order of magnitude worse for a leader to do so.
The more I contemplate and reflect on this, and seek the mind of Christ, the more I am coming to believe that these problems are rooted in the difference between a teacher verses a father in the faith.
Both are needed.
But teachers are primarily motivated to reproduce what they have only personally comprehended or experienced. They tend to minister from whom they are, and are very good at laying a foundation based on what they personally understand, but often are not very good at taking us much further.
Fathers (and mothers!) often stand on the foundation laid by the teachers, and may themselves engage in didactic teaching, but their motivation is very different. They tend to focus on who you can be, and are good at helping others be more than themselves and to exceed their own understanding and experiences.
Where teachers delight in replicating what they have personally figured out, fathers delight in us going beyond their own abilities, comprehension, biases and sensibilities.
Now, don’t get me wrong. This is not an absolute either/or. But there are different core motivations, even though some can operate in both arenas.
Maybe a hands-on father in the faith won’t be motivated to burrow down into all the details to bring us deep understanding on this or that – or be motivated to write many books – like a teacher. Rather, his greatest joy is releasing others to be more than himself.
The joy of a father is for you to exceed him by helping you find your own – and often very different – abilities and calling. He delights in watching you conquer the unknown as you venture into new spheres of endeavor in areas he may not even comprehend, rather than simply conveying and replicating his own motivations and understanding.
We have wonderful teachers, writers and bloggers, and they have taught us much from the perspective of their own journey, their own comprehension, and their own sensibilities.
But we have too few fathers in the Body of Christ these days.
As a father who has birthed and mentored many in the Lord, I make this plea to the gifted teachers among us who have taught me much: Keep writing, blogging and teaching. You have much to offer. But understand that Christ, as head of His body, never intended for your own understanding and experiences to become limiting factors, or God forbid, the new legalism.
He calls all leaders in His Church to enable and equip others. And yes, Christ is all. But “all” is not defined by or limited to your own understanding and sensibilities.
Unless we all grasp this truth – individuals, teachers and fathers alike – we will never become the wonderful, amazing Body of Christ.
This is my passion. This is my calling.
A cry of confession…
A plea for forgiveness…
A call to repentance…
Yesterday was the 123rd anniversary of Hitler’s birth. The fact that we do not celebrate his birth or the evil he did is a testimony to those who gave their lives to stop him.
One such man was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a brilliant theologian and humble pastor who wrote two of the great Christian classics of the twentieth century, The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together.
For Bonhoeffer, his faith was not just a private matter or limited only to the church. As he saw firsthand the horrors of Nazi Germany, he resolved to stop them and became involved in a plot to overthrow the government. The plot failed and Bonhoeffer was arrested. He eventually was martyred by Hitler, who imprisoned him in a German concentration camp and then hanged him.