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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Review: Frank Viola's "Revise Us Again"

            Over the past couple of weeks, I have read Frank Viola’s “Revise Us Again.”  This book is quite unlike the five books on modern versus early church methods of operation and also quite unlike the book he co-wrote with Leonard Sweet, “Jesus Manifesto.”  This is more practical everyday teaching, with the notation that being connected to the simple church movement (if it is a movement), there are people who have come from a variety of traditional church backgrounds, all of which have their over- and under-emphases.  In the information given to originally promote the book, most of the discussion has been about what he writes in the third and fourth chapters, but, unlike some other writings one may have encountered, the chapters before it, in my opinion, are not just information to set up the presentation of these points and the chapters after breaking down more detail about them.  Each of these chapters is, to a degree, a stand alone teaching, all with the overlying theme of the Christian traditions one has come out of can reasonably lead to various over- and under-emphases that are less than God wishes for us.

            Chapter 1 deals with how God, in the Old Testament, spoke to his people through the priest, the prophet, and wisdom.  They were all means of God communicating to his people, and we can see in the Old Testament that there were times each of these methods were ignored to the people’s detriment. Today, likewise, we are likely to have come from a tradition that has emphasized the importance of the past or present or future, and Viola discusses the danger of emphasis on any one versus seeking the mind of God.

            Chapter 2 is titled “The Lord Told Me” and it speaks about a habit some persons from some backgrounds have of spiritualizing their decisions, and even more obviously, how some people continually proclaim that the Lord told them to do thing X one week, and do something contrary the next. From there, he goes about what this has to do with God’s glory.

            Chapter 3 is titled “Let Me Pray About It” which is along the same line—this is used by some as a spiritualization of “no”.  Viola proceeds to teach about overspiritualization of everyday living.

            Chapter 4 is “Spiritual Conversational Styles”.  Much of the publicity about this book has centered on this chapter, and Viola here contributes something important with regard to why certain parts of God’s people continually misunderstand the words, motives, and actions of persons in other parts of God’s people.  Probably the reason for the publicity being centered on this chapter is because this chapter is worth getting the book.

            Viola indicates that Chapter 5 lightly goes over a theme of “Jesus Manifesto”—leaving parts of Jesus’ message out of how we communicate his message. 

            Chapter 6 deals with the idea of feeling God’s presence—what that is said to mean in some parts of God’s people, what some people mean (and miscommunicate) by the idea of “feeling God’s presence”, and what scripture tells us about this.  Then, interestingly, he juxtaposes this in the last part of the chapter with a seemingly spiritual opposite—what St. John of the Cross tagged “the dark night of the soul.”  For those who haven’t been in contact with the “Toronto Blessing” on the first end, or experienced “the dark night of the soul” on the other, this chapter may not make any sense, but it was a notable contribution to me.

            Chapter 7 hasn’t been talked about in the publicity, possibly because to try to shorten this idea down is to distort it.  The title is “Captured by the Same Spirit You Oppose.”  Some persons involved in simple church know that during the beginning of the Reformation, the Catholic Church sought to have Luther put to death, and interestingly, people who supported Luther succeeded in having believers to respected Hus put to death.  This is notable in that there were ideas that are basic to simple church, such as not having titular, as opposed to gifted, leadership that Hus also taught in his day.  The point is not a history lesson, but that the believer examines one’s motives.

            Chapter 8 is “The God of Unseen Endings.”  Viola develops the theme of God giving the Old Covenant, and via Jesus completing that covenant so we might have a better covenant.  This is because God, albeit in control, does not promise to meet our expectations of him.  I have written in previous blogs about the analogy between the physical chosen people of the Old Covenant and the spiritual chosen people of the New Covenant, but this chapter taught me more about this concept (that gets me excited because, the longer one is a believer seeking to know him, the less often one actually learns something, as opposed to having been reminded).

            Chapter 9 deals with the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  In other writings of Viola, it is clear that Viola comes from a charismatic background, and in another place tells the story that he was part of a house church in which some of the people came from a charismatic background, and some came from a church background antagonistic to that.  He has told previously how the situation was dealt with by agreeing not to talk about that doctrine one way or another, and how God, after a period of time, healed the situation.  Viola speaks of this in greater detail in this chapter, as he introduces a bit of Rob McAlpine’s concept of “post-Charismatic.”

            Chapter 10 is titled “Your Christ is Too Small.”  In this, Viola develops a bit on the idea that we can get caught up with a certain move of God and fail or refuse to even note the next thing the Holy Spirit is guiding God’s people toward.

            Last is the Afterword, titled “The Three Gospels”.  This deals with the tendency of many believers to move toward being legalistic or libertine, as opposed to the liberty of following the One who lives in the believer. The last 13 pages are a sort of “if…then” sentence of taking each of Paul’s letters, first quoting passages that indicate truths of the Christian life, followed by “then” quotations of what Paul directed each of the groups and us to do because of the previous truths.

            This is very different from Viola’s previous books, but, as with his others, is good and personally challenging.

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