The height-endowed kiwi and Marc van der Woude view Viola’s criticisms as a positive thing, constructive instead as some of the some of the less charitable variety that has been coming out lately. I took a bit different view of it though, more along the lines of Alan Creech’s impression (in comments), when he said, “It sounds to me almost as if he is inviting “us” (whoever we are) to come the whole way on over to that part of the house church movement and we’ll be good.”
Here’s the disclosure. I skimmed through some of Viola’s material when preparing my article on spiritual covering. You know those debates where one side is clearly more well-prepared and has the goods to win the debate, has clearly made the stronger argument… but that side has so ungraciously decimated the opposition that you want to side with the opposition? That’s the feeling I got with Viola’s material. I agreed with the gist of what he was saying about the subject of spiritual covering, but found that even so, I couldn’t recommend his writing. In fact, there are many parts of his writings which are well thought-out and offer good insights into church life and practice… but it’s hard to get past the presentation sometimes. The tone seems to be that there are absolutes in the way to do church — he’s found the “right” way and if the rest of us can’t see it, that’s too bad for us, we’ll just be “wrong” until we fall in line. This is a subjective perspective though, it could be just me.
Viola’s present critique offers eight things he likes about EC, followed by seven concerns… but there’s a problem with most of these. Basically, his issues fall under the broad categories that the EC conversation isn’t taking up his particular issues (or not in the same way) and that EC doesn’t have a long track record of successes (since it’s a recent phenomenon). Oh, and there’s some confusion over how he views the EC discussion and centrality of Jesus, which appears on both lists. The support he offers for his criticisms is hardly convincing… he indicates that there’s a problem in EC with the centrality of Christ because during his reading, “In one article, which was quite lengthy, [the Lord] was mentioned once. In another, He was never mentioned at all!” This is contrasted with the writings of Paul, and naturally suffers by comparison.
A small word of advice to those participating in the conversation… don’t expect the consensus — if one arrives — to perfectly match the set of ideas you’ve developed. One primary characteristic about the conversation is diversity, and to be in the mix, we’ve got to be prepared to not only be at peace with, but also to delight in the diversity. Separate out your non-negotiable doctrinal positions and as much as is possible, be at peace with some degree of diversity in the rest of it.