Title: Jesus Now
Author: Frank Viola
Publisher: David C Cook
[Disclaimer: I was provided a free copy of this e-book via NetGalley. It is my duty to inform you that I was provided this resource for a short period of time in exchange for my fair review of the contents. This is yet another example of the government intruding and infringing upon the rights of citizens. Nevertheless, this is my disclaimer.]
I cannot remember how I came across the name Frank Viola. It may have been when I was reading Primal Fire by Neil Cole. It may have been chance. It may have been Twitter. At this juncture, I'm not really sure that it matters all that much because I'm just about sold on his ideas. I probably need to do some more reading, but it is probably important that I started with Jesus Now. This really is an excellent book and I highly recommend that if you are a leader in the church or someone who seeks to be a catalyst for change in an otherwise boring and stagnant vacuum of faithlessness.
That sounds remarkably harsh, but I speak from experience. Since being evicted from the ranks of paid, professional clergy five years ago, I have had the opportunity to travel about to various churches from various denominational backgrounds and listen to a variety of preachers. It has been my experience that for the most part most churches in most parts of the world are utterly boring–and it is precisely for reasons that Viola expounds upon in this book: "One of the greatest concerns I have for the 'good news' today is that we often present a gospel that is more 'true' than 'useful.' This is never more true than when we're considering the subject and actor of our entire faith: Jesus Christ" (6).
Or maybe I should say it this way: churches are bored. Yet I can attribute the same reason for their boredom: there is simply not any significant emphasis on Jesus as the Resurrected Lord who is our power, as the Lord who has been given all authority in heaven and earth, as the King who has ascended to the Right Hand of God, as the Messiah who has exposed the powers of this earth through His death on the Cross. Frankly (no pun), I don't think the church is enamored with Jesus. Maybe the church doesn't really know Jesus well enough.
I like the idea behind the book: that we will see Jesus didn't just quit working because he ascended to the right hand of the Father, but he continues to work in us, through, and for us in a variety of ways and in a variety of capacities. Some of the important ways Jesus continues to work are as our Great High Priest, as the Chief Shepherd, the Author and Finisher of our Faith, Head of the Church, and Lord of the World. There are others too, but I think you get the idea of where Viola is going with this. He pays particular attention to the book of Hebrews which I appreciated immensely, but that's not all. The book is just filthy with Scripture references, quotes, and exegetical ideas from Scripture. This is for sure: there is no lack of Scripture in this book–in fact, take away the Scripture references and there's not much book left.
Theologically there are, of course, areas where the reader will find some disagreement with Viola. There were a few examples for me. For example, I am somewhat in disagreement with him concerning the idea of cessationism. Many competent theologians have concluded that some of the Spirit's gifts have, in fact, ceased to be fully present in the church–which is not to say that such gifts are not manifested ever. He writes, "There is no biblical merit for the cessationist idea" (65). I'm not so sure about this because there seems to be some indication that even for Paul such gifts were not perpetuated (i.e., leaving people sick at places, exhorting Timothy to drink some wine for his stomach ailments). That said, it's a disagreement that I'm not willing to die for. If the Spirit chooses to do what the Spirit chooses to do, then so be it. Maybe if the church stopped stumbling around in the darkness over silly arguments we would see an atmosphere where the Spirit is manifest more often. Maybe the Holy Spirit is waiting for us to finish with all our petty bickering and treating each other poorly. Or maybe the Holy Spirit simply refuses to show up in churches where the predetermined conclusion is that he is no longer working among his people. That is, maybe we prevent his appearance because of our disbelief.
There are also areas where I am complete agreement with Viola. In chapter 5 he talks about Jesus the 'builder of ekklesia.' His question early on is: "So what happens when gifted Christians are reared in a human organization built on unbiblical systems rather than in an organic expression of the body of Christ?" So what happens? Let me be honest. I am new to this whole 'organic church' movement so I remain just a tad bit skeptical when it comes to abandoning the 'old ways' of doing things. On the other hand, as someone who grew up, learned, and sought to perpetuate the 'old way' of doing things, I know how badly I was burned–strike that–how badly my faith has been wrecked by those old people doing old things the old ways. Much of the wrecking of my faith has occurred at the hands of people who simply didn't want to hear the truth about grace, Jesus, and the hard cost of following Jesus.
So I think it is true that Jesus can work through these structures and that perhaps he does; nevertheless, who is to say that the gigantic growth of a relative few churches has been the best thing for the many churches that have not experienced such growth? And who is to say that setting up the church like a multi-million dollar corporation with a CEO at the head is necessarily what Jesus had in mind? We Protestants scoff at the idea of the Papacy of the Catholic Church, but we are no better when we have one preacher set over thousands of people on several different campuses all connected via satellite and the internet. We just do it on a smaller scale than the Catholics.Viola is right: "The great need today in the body of Christ is to reinstate the headship of Christ. Tragically, all sorts of things have replaced Christ's headship. Church boards, committee meetings, church leaders, church programs, manmade rules and regulations, etc., have often supplanted the headship of Jesus Christ" (75).
As someone who has been at the mercy of these supplanters, I can only say 'amen!' and ask how many other preachers like me have suffered at the hands of these interlopers? How many of us have had our faith wrecked and turned upside down because of such ideas? I couldn't agree more that there must be something better for the church. And Viola may not come right out and say it in the book, but I have a suspicion he would agree that these things are not only killing God's prophets, apostles, and evangelists, but they are also slowly choking the church to death. When a church spends more time in committee talking about 'business' than they spend on their knees seeking the face of God there is a problem. A serious problem. "Christ alone has the right to rule his church–not any human or committee. It is His body, not ours" (76).
I could go on and on about this, but I'm writing a review of a book so I must stop. In that spirit, just a couple of final thoughts.
First, I love the few times that Viola gives us big long lists of things such as things the Holy Spirit is doing, names of the enemy, or the ways in which Jesus is exercising his authority over the church and directing the Work. I seriously believe that if the church took more time to see Jesus for who he is the church would be like Josiah whose architects found the word of God: "When the king heard the words of the book of the Law he tore his robes" (2 Kings 22:11) except that we would be tearing our robes and saying, "That is Jesus?!?!?! Woe is us!"
Second, I read the Nook version of this book (e-pub using Adobe Digital Editions) and I found the book very nicely put together (I only found one typo in the book). I always put in a plug for the Nook version of e-books since the other guys seem to get all the publicity.
I highly recommend this book. Again, it is true that not everyone is going to find agreement at all points, but that's not a bad thing. The author's enthusiasm for Jesus is what comes across in the book and is what, in my opinion, needs to come across. If you are interested in what Jesus is doing now, if you need a spark to your boring church life, or if you need your passion for Jesus reignited, this is a good place to start. And when you are finished reading it, give it to a friend or a preacher or to your entire church board. Do your best to be a catalyst to get the church's eyes turned back to Jesus.
This is an important work for the way in which it redirects our attention to Jesus and away from the wreck we have made of the church which will only be repaired when we fix our eyes on Jesus.