A Conversation With Frank Viola (May 2012)

By Matt Dabbs

By Fred Peatross

I love how Frank Viola thinks! Recently I spent some time with Frank, and our conversation follows this short introduction. If our conversation whets your appetite, you can read more from Frank at his popular blog, [http://frankviola.org].

Frank has also authored a number of books in both paperback and Kindle. You can view them all here: [http://frankviola.org/books].

Fred: Many Christians act as if there’s certainty in their spiritual relationship … but for me there‘s more doubt than certainty.” It seems to me the passion of ever Christian is to get closer to Christ but what exactly does that look like? And in reality aren’t our spiritual relationships mental relationships? Books, Bibles, sermons and words? Your thoughts?

Frank: Before I answer your question let me remind the many saints associated with New Wineskins that I spoke at the ZOE Conference a few years ago and found them to be a wonderful group of folks!

As to your question, I can only share my experience and observation. The experience and observation of others may differ, of course.

Ever since I started following Jesus, I have been taught four main approaches. One is to approach God via the intellect alone. So theological and Bible knowledge = the depth of one’s relationship with God and their spiritual stature.

Another approach is to approach God via the emotions. So how one feels emotionally (including “feeling” God’s presence) is regarded as the measure of one’s relationship to God. Then there’s the will. If someone is doing something for God, then God is happy with them. And if they aren’t “doing enough,” then God is not pleased with them.

I was part of churches who taught these three different approaches. What I had missed, however, is that the NT talks a lot about the human spirit or “the inner man of the heart” – something deeper than mind, the will, and the emotions, but which works in concert with all of them.

This dimension opens up a whole new universe of walking with God and opens up the door to living by the indwelling of Christ (Galatians 2; Romans 8:8-11). Something I’ve spoken about a great deal elsewhere. Suffice it to say that learning to live by Christ is my major pursuit in life. A.W. Tozer and T. Austin-Sparks spoke much about this dimension also.

Fred: I find myself somewhat skeptical whenever I hear a Christian talk about the Spirit’s leading. With that said can you articulate for us how to discern between the Spirit’s ‘actually’ leading and the human subjectivity connected in a claim that the Spirit led us?

Frank: In Revise Us Again, I have a whole chapter on the phrase, “The Lord told me,” and my concerns with it.

The Spirit of God does lead us as Paul clearly said in his letters and as Acts demonstrates. But in my experience at least, that leading is not usually an external voice that dutifully tells us what to do and not. Nor is it the equivalent of the written words of the Bible (I’ve met people who say the Bible is the Spirit).

Rather, the Holy Spirit gives us spiritual instincts that are within us because God in Christ in the Spirit dwells in us (if we’ve been regenerated, that is). Romans 8 makes this plain. The Scripture will correct or confirm those instincts, and so will the fellowship of other mature believers. Again, this is a very large subject, but that’s a sound-byte.

Fred: What are some of the differences between a missional church and an organic missional community?

Frank: These are all clay words that have been molded to mean very different things by different people.

For instance, one group of Christians views “mission” to be evangelism and/or making the world a better place. So for them, if a church is strong on outreach in an effort to save the lost, then it’s missional. For others, missional means engaging in social justice and works of mercy.

Others view the mission to be God’s eternal purpose, which is something that goes beyond both making individual converts or making the world a better place. Nor is it about individual discipleship.

Remember, humans came into the world not in need of salvation nor to make the world a better place. There is no sin in Genesis 1-2. The world is in good shape. So God had a purpose for creating humans that had nothing to do with redemption. Paul calls it the eternal purpose. And it’s much neglected today.

An organic church, in my use of the term, is simply a group of Christians who are learning how to live by the indwelling life of Jesus Christ together and who are expressing that life together. Like “missional,” the term “organic” has countless meanings today – many of which don’t map to the way I use the term. So much so that I rarely use the term anymore.

Even so, my ministry is not focused on “church” right now but on the deeper Christian life (Andrew Murray’s term). My blog is dedicated to believers in all church structures and forms who want to go deeper in the things of God and look at old subjects with a fresh lens. I’ve learned much from the readers who make comments.

Fred: There are some obvious shifts within evangelicalism. Can you take some time to tell us about these shifts? How would you grade the dialogue between them? And from your travels and observations can you ever see these various communities coming together to serve Christ?

Frank: I wrote about these shifts in a series entitled beyond evangelicalism. But in short, many Christians are tired of the left vs right debates. They are tired of the harshness, legalism, unkindness, and cruelty that marks much of contemporary evangelicalism. But they are also turned off by the libertinism and rejection of orthodox teaching that marks much of mainline Christianity.

They, in short, are looking for a third path. One that takes Jesus Christ and His Word seriously, but that doesn’t fall into the typical left or right camps. Hence the term “beyond evangelical.” My series is slated to be expanded into a book to release in June, God willing. The response to the series and the demand for the book has been pretty amazing. Something is happening in evangelicalism today that I find exciting. I believe it’s returning to Jesus Christ in reality and life.

Fred: What are some of the deepest spiritual longings humans have?

Frank: The five questions of the human heart are: Who am I? Where did I come from? What is my purpose? What can I accomplish? And where am I going? The answer to all of them is Jesus Christ. To know Christ, to live by Christ, and to explore and express Him in close-knit community is the deepest longing of every human, especially the regenerated [link].

Some of us are in touch with this longing. Others of us aren’t due to various elements in our upbringing, environment, or external things we’ve allowed to bury those deep yearnings, usually replacing them with other things that will eventually wear out.

Recall the garden. Humans were created to live by the tree of life (who is Christ) and to live in community (which is the ekklesia properly conceived and functioning). Jesus Christ is life and reality. Everything else wears out eventually. Recently, I introduced this idea in a conference message entitled Epic Jesus. That’s how the landscape looks from my hill, anyway.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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