I know, it’s overdue. Long overdue. This blog seems to have disintegrated into one of those that has an irregular stream of posts saying, “Sorry I haven’t posted more, but I will soon, I promise.” But I don’t believe in those posts – and maybe I don’t really believe in apologies for not blogging. Sorry to disappoint you. ;^)
Being engaged in a few other books lately, I loaned my copy of Frank Viola’s Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity to my friend Grant, who is familiar with Frank’s other work. Grant has furnished a bit of a review, which I’ve edited only lightly to present here.
Frank has crafted a thorough yet readable book that, in comparison to Pagan Christianity, presents a gentle yet persuasive argument for a return to organic church. A reader can quite literally jump into any chapter that is of interest and discover a compelling description of what church could be. Frank states that the purpose of the book is: “to articulate a biblical, spiritual, theological, and practical answer to the question, ‘Is there a viable way of doing church outside the institutional church experience, and if so, what does it look like?'” (p.12). For the reader who has left what Frank calls the “institutional church” (IC) and is asking the question, “where do I go from here?” you may find Reimagining Church to be the oasis you seek in the desert.
Now and again there comes an issue in this old E/MC blogosphere that begs for comment from those of us with egos ample enough to imagine that everyone else cares what we think about it. Sorry I’ve been a bit remiss on the point, but I’m finally getting around to comment on Michael (iMonk) Spencer’s prognosis for Evangelicalism. Of course I’m not alone in offering a response, but naturally I imagine you want to know what I think. First, I must offer some explanation for the sake of my readers who read no other blog but mine so that I can fill in the back story.
One of the books that’s been in my to-review pile for a while has been Frank Viola’s Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity. Following my review of Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices and interview with Frank, this book apparently fills in some of th missing pieces of the discussion. In fact, Frank tells me it’s the more important of the two. I haven’t had the time to get through the book yet, so I thought I’d re-publish Leonard Sweet’s review in the meantime.
In Reimagining Church, Frank Viola is at the top of his game, showing a serene, soaring mastery of the theology of church as organism rather than organization.
Earlier today, my wife mused aloud, wondering what those “prophetic types” are saying about Barack Obama being elected in the USA. I thought Grace choking on her scone in response to an appalling snippet of conversation concerning the rise to power of Barack Obama, “almost exactly like the Left Behind books.” No wonder she choked on her scone. I mentioned this “end times” idea to my wife as a suggestion of what these prophetic types might be saying. She made a mental note to ask a friend who tends to get told these things by people who thinks she cares. At least, that’s how my wife put it. So a few hours ago, Frank Viola tweeted a link that brought this whole question up again. Now by the way, Frank’s blog post today not only offered his view on the recent presidential election, he also named who he considers the top six Christian bloggers around, including yours truly. I’m not sure if I’m actually that good or if Frank’s a little deranged, but I figure it’s best not to press to far, just in case I don’t like the answer.
- Grace: “Hype: Myth-telling that manipulates herd mentality that desperately needs a metanarrative to indulge its gross egocentrism.”
- Bono: “It’s extraordinary to me that the United States can find $700 billion to save Wall Street and the entire G8 can’t find $25 billion dollars to saved 25,000 children who die every day from preventable diseases.” … “‘Bankruptcy is a serious business and we all know people who have lost their jobs,'” Bono said, referring to the bankruptcy declared by Wall Street investment bank Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. ‘But this is moral bankruptcy.'”
- Julian, the last Roman Emperor: “Nothing has contributed to the progress of the superstition of these Christians as their charity to strangers, the impious Galileans provide not only for their own poor but for ours as well.” — Tim Keller: “The early Christians were promiscuous with their charity.”
- Sara Savage and Eolene Boyd-Macmillan, from The Human Face of the Church: A Social Psychology and Pastoral Theology Resource for Pioneer and Traditional Ministry: “”…The sociologist Max Weber observed a cyclical process among religious movements that he called ‘the routinization of charisma’. Weber argued that any great vision requires a human process to carry it through time, sometimes in the form of ‘a man, a mission, a movement, or a monument’. Even with the Body of Christ, the life-giving charism has to be embodied in a routine – in some form of human organization. Yet, life-giving visions do not fit easily into neat boxes. So, the very process that gives the vision continuing life also begins to kill it. When the maintenance of the institution (which protects the charism) becomes the institution’s primary purpose, the death of the charism is on the horizon. Only a spiritual revival or reform will re-ignite the gift. In our era, fresh expressions of church and the re-traditioning of familiar forms of church march alongside many initiatives to re-ignite the gift…”
- Len Sweet: “So far… rather than reach back into 2000 years of Church history, Emergent stopped at the ‘liberal turn’ wherein the Gospel became all social and no gospel.” and “The emerging church has become another form of social gospel. And the problem with every social gospel is that it becomes all social and no gospel. All social justice and no social gospel. It is embarrassing that evangelicals have discovered and embraced liberation theology after it destroyed the main line, old line, side line, off line, flat line church.”
- Len Sweet (via Jordon Cooper): “…musing about how I am SO tired of the church viewing the world more as a market than as a mission.”
- via Frank Viola:
“The real trouble is not in fact that the Church is too rich, but that it has become heavily institutionalized, with a crushing investment in maintenance. It has the characteristics of the dinosaur and the battleship. It is saddled with a plant and programme beyond its means, so that it is absorbed in problems of supply and preoccupied with survival. The inertia of the machine is such that the financial allocations, the legalities, the channels of organization, the attitudes of mind, are all set in the direction of continuing and enhancing the status quo. If one wants to pursue a course which cuts across these channels, then most of one’s energies are exhausted before one ever reaches the enemy lines.”
— John A.T. Robinson
“Increasing institutionalism is the clearest mark of early Catholicism – when church becomes increasingly identified with institution, when authority becomes increasingly coterminous with office, when a basic distinction between clergy and laity becomes increasingly self-evident, when grace becomes increasingly narrowed to well-defined ritual acts. We saw above that such features were absent from first generation Christianity, though in the second generation the picture was beginning to change.”
— James D. G. Dunn
There’s a spoof of an ad for Pagan Christianity that’s been going around that’s really quite funny, so I decided to display it here. But seriously, I wanted to pick up the subject again for a bit of an update. Of course, I did a series on the book a while back, consisting of five posts in the book review and another three in an interview with Frank. (Where there’s actually still a bit of discussion going on.)
Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices was a bestseller on Amazon, and is being reprinted. Based at least in part on some of the feedback, reviews, and critiques, the reprint will add definitions for the words pagan, organic church, institutional church, new testament church or first-century church, and biblical or scriptural. The use of some of these words has been commented upon, so the added clarifications on how they are used should be helpful. Additional Q&A will also be added — there is already a lot of supplemental material on Frank’s website.
Today we wrap up “Pagan Week” which was held over from last week for the extended conversation I’ve been having with Frank Viola, talking about Pagan Christianity: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices and many of the subjects it raises. This all follows my own review of the book which ran all of last week. If you’re just tuning in you might want to catch up on part one and part two of the interview; if you’ve been following along, you’ll recall that we’re all sitting around a table in your favorite independent local coffee shop, and have just poured coffee refills as we talked about discerning whether a practice’s origins were good, bad, neutral, or redeemable. As before, Frank and I will converse for a bit an then you’ll get your comments in — as this is the wrapup, feel free to bring up anything we’ve hit in the conversation or in my review so far… I can’t drink too many of those carmel lattes in one sitting, but I’m always happy to hang around and pour another cup of medium roast fair trade coffee. So, back to the conversation.