Interview with Frank Viola
Frank Viola is one of my favourite authors. His books "Pagan Christianity" and "Reimagining Church" revolutionized my understanding of the gospel and of church life, and gave me the language to understand many things that I knew had gone awry within comtemporary Christianity. It was a great honour to ask Frank a few questions about his latest book, and get to discuss some of his earlier writings with him. Frank has a broad background of Christian ministry and church involvement, including within the Charismatic church, and he brings today a great encouragement for us.
RevivalMag: Frank, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for our readers. Some of our readers are going to be familiar with you already from your earlier books, but I imagine quite a few will not have heard of you. Tell us about your new book?
FV: The latest book is called "The Day I Met Jesus" and I co-wrote it with Mary DeMuth. It tells the story of five women who met Jesus, through their own eyes, along with some teaching relevant to each story.
RevivalMag: These are five fairly time-honoured stories, ones we're all familiar with, right? It's the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, the woman with the issue of blood, etc. When I read the book though, I was amazed by the deep insights you draw out each of story. I mean, I was regularly in tears, and had to stop and do business with God. Where did the idea of looking at these women come from?
FV: For many years, I've been seeking fresh and creative ways to bring the Scriptures to life. And most of my books do that very thing. The "biblical narrative" idea was spawned many years ago. I wrote God's Favorite Place on Earth in 2013, which looked at Jesus' interactions in the little village of Bethany told from Lazarus' perspective. The Day I Met Jesus is the follow up to that, written in the same style. I love the idea of hearing the biblical narratives from the first-hand perspective of those who were there and met Jesus face-to-face.
RevivalMag: I have many friends who are feminists, and I'd like to think I have a pretty well balanced view of gender and societal issues myself. You can imagine my chagrin when reading about the woman caught in adultery, when I realised that I had judged her myself. I really saw her the same way the Pharisees did, like it was all her fault, and that the man had nothing to do with it, and she was the dirty rotten sinner that gentle Jesus had grace on. You opened my eyes to see her with compassion, and to see again just how much our society (and the society at the time) devalued women. I guess this isn't a question...
FV: As Mary and I point out in the book, Jesus' treatment of women was radical in His day. His most faithful disciples were in fact women. They stayed with Him through his horrific torture on the cross and they kept caring for Him even though He was dead. There are tremendous lessons here, many of which we bring out in the book. I don't want to spoil too much ;)
RevivalMag: In the story of the prostitute who loved much, you chose to go right back to her beginning, and frame her situation as starting with rape. I found this a powerful and compelling idea, and again, I was humbled at how ungracious and Pharisaical my thinking had been regarding this woman too. No one gets into prostitution for the fun of it! Did you realise how much you would be speaking into the current dialogue in our society about rape culture?
FV: That particular story has so many applications, and we bring many of them out in that chapter. One of them is the way Christians put some sins above others. Prostitution, for example, is regarded as incredibly serious when greed, gluttony, idolatry, and slander are blinked at. Yet in the Bible, the latter are emphasized more. My co-author Mary DeMuth did a fantastic job with the application of this story and contemporary sex-trafficking, etc. Mary is a renowned sex abuse advocate and she has great insight into this whole area. However, the story really puts its finger on how Jesus views self-righteousness and judgmentalism which is very much alive in contemporary Christianity today, regrettably. The lack of self-awareness among many believers in these areas is remarkable.
RevivalMag: Having been reading your books and your blog for a long time now myself, it really seems that your gift to the Body of Christ is to help us rethink the way we do things, maybe change our mindsets and see Jesus in a better light. Do you agree? When did you realise this was your gifting?
FV: My mission is to help serious followers of Jesus know their Lord more deeply, gain fresh perspectives on old or ignored subjects, and make the Bible come alive. On that score, much of my work provokes people to rethink their traditions and assumptions. I wouldn't say I'm trying to get people to see Jesus in a "better" light, it's more like blowing their minds with an epic revelation of Jesus Christ that bowls them over and leaves them hungry and thirsty for more of Him! My Mere Discipleship teaching is an example.
RevivalMag: I love that, and I would say, that's what's you've done for me over the years. So thank you! Who has been an inspiration and mentor to you?
FV: T. Austin-Sparks is the main one. To my mind, his insight into Jesus Christ and God's Timeless Purpose in Him was the greatest of any mortal since Paul of Tarsus. I've written specifically here about what teachings of his have influenced me so much.
RevivalMag: You've written a load of books, and blogged for quite a while. Out of the many messages that you've put out there, which of them do you feel that people have been most willing to embrace? And which have they not been so willing?
FV: If we're talking about most living Christians being my audience, then that's not a question I can answer, because each of my books have been embraced and changed by many and also shown no interest by others. What I could do though is tell you you which titles which have sold the most and which have been the most controversial. My bestsellers are God's Favorite Place on Earth, From Eternity to Here, Jesus Now, The Day I Met Jesus, and Jesus Manifesto. The most controversial were my first books in 2008, Pagan Christianity (with George Barna) and the constructive sequel Reimagining Church. Those two were also bestsellers and have been embraced by many, but are certainly the most controversial. My critique of John MacArthur's Strange Fire has been quite popular as well. You can find info on all these books at frankviola.org/books.
RevivalMag: That's a good answer. Frank, if you could address those of us within the modern charismatic movement , and help us get over a stumbling block or a mindset that we currently have, what would you say? What do we need to have Jesus blow our minds about?
FV: Stop putting "things" on the throne like the Spirit's power, gifts, miracles, etc. And begin to explore the supremacy and centrality of the Lord Jesus Christ and what that means practically. (Jesus Manifesto explores this issue in depth.) I've written extensively to the charismatic movement because I grew up in it and am very familiar with it, observing and experiencing both its strengths and weaknesses. My Rethinking the Spirit volume does this at length as well as Revise Us Again. I believe that the Spirit still works as He did in the first-century, but it is certainly possible to put the focus on the Spirit and His works so much that one loses Jesus in the temple. There can be a tendency to exaggerate the Spirit's work in this movement, and sometimes there's a lack of discernment between the work of the Spirit and the work of the human soul.
RevivalMag: Losing Jesus in the temple is a chilling thought, but one I can readily identify with. Thank you Frank. What's up next for you?
FV: My team and I have created this new network for Christians who want to go deeper in Christ and find others of like mind and like heart for the journey, which is often a hard thing to do. Many believers are craving connection (they are spiritually lonely) and mentoring in a deeper walk with the Lord. We're hoping to provide a platform to address some of that.
RevivalMag: That's brilliant, and much needed. Frank, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions, I'm sure you've got a lot going on.
FV: That's my pleasure. Ever onward, ever upward!