An observation I made about my initial years of living in Body life has to do with understanding the New Testament. Before I left the traditional church, I was fairly adept at “proof-texting.” That is, taking isolated verses from various books of the New Testament and pasting them together to understand God’s thought on a particular subject. (This is by far and away the most popular form of Bible study in Christianity today.)
Living in Body life, however, gave me an entirely new context by which to interpret the New Testament. Perhaps an analogy will help. The late Gregory Bateson used the following story to illustrate what goes on in the mind of a schizophrenic.
A schizophrenic walks up and down the hall of a psychiatric facility. A doctor’s office is positioned down the hall. The door to the office is closed and a sign appears on the door which says, “Please knock.”
The schizophrenic reads the sign, knocks on the door, then walks off down the hall. He then comes back to the door, knocks on it, then walks off again. He does this repeatedly.
Finally, the doctor opens the door and says, “What do you want?” The schizophrenic replies, “Nothing, the sign told me to knock.”
What happened? According to Bateson, the schizophrenic has lost the context that gives language meaning. A person who doesn’t suffer from schizophrenia understands the implicit context to correctly interpret the sign on the door. The sign simply means that if one wishes to enter into the office, they should first knock and wait for a response. The schizophrenic, however, has lost this context. So he misinterprets the sign.
Point: The meaning of any statement depends on the context in which that statement operates.
That illustration translates smoothly to interpreting the New Testament. Simply put, the great majority of the New Testament was written to organic churches who were experiencing Body life. That was the context in which the vast bulk of New Testament statements were made. The vast majority of the New Testament was not written to individuals. En. Of Paul’s letters, only four were written to individuals. Three were written to fellow itinerant Christian workers (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus). Only one was written to a local brother (Philemon).
Consequently, the many verses that we Christians like to quote don’t belong to us as individuals. They were addressed to churches. They have very little individual application to you or me. They instead find application in Christian community.
Therefore, when one lives in that same context (organic Body life), many of the statements in the New Testament take on new meaning. The New Testament becomes a brand new book, and most all of what it says applies like never before. The reason: The context is now understood in a fresh way.
Let’s now move on to what I believe to be the most important issue in the journey to find the church after God’s own heart.
Several years ago, Michael Hyatt (former CEO of Thomas Nelson) responded to a rumor on his blog. In the post, Michael wrote,
“According to the most recent rumor—which I’ve now heard twice—we [Thomas Nelson] are planning a layoff for June 19th … We are scheduled to close the transaction on June 12th, so, supposedly, this will happen the week following. I want to assure you that this is indeed a baseless rumor. There is absolutely no truth to it … If you hear this rumor, I would be grateful if you would help me short-circuit it. You can tell ’em it’s not true, and you heard it directly from me.”
I recall when this rumor was circulating and was saddened (and surprised) at how many Christians believed it without going straight to Michael to see if it was true or false.
Another example that’s much more national.
Late last year, I came across a website alleging a sex scandal involving President Obama. The “story” first came out in 2008 just before the primary. It was shown to be baseless and quickly faded away. Then it resurfaced again in 2010. (The original story was removed by the source after staying online for 4 years.)
Frank Viola’s podcast has exploded with new listeners.
Frank Viola Author has just released his newest book, God’s Favorite Place on Earth.
Interview by Greg Boyd, ReKnew.org
Today is the release date for Frank Viola’s new book, God’s Favorite Place on Earth. Greg did an interview with Frank recently, and in celebration of his book release, we’re sharing that interview here. If you read to the end you’ll see how you can get 25 free gifts if you purchase the book from May 1st (today) through May 7th! And they’re really great gifts too! Hope you enjoy the interview…
Greg: I was initially struck by the title of your newest book, “God’s Favorite Place on Earth.” As one who loathes the idolatrous nationalism that has often led American Christians as well as others to claim that “WE are God’s favored nation,” I was delighted (though not surprised) to discover that the title of your book has nothing to do with THAT. But can you let us in on what is behind this title?
Frank: Sure. The title of my book is fitting because it seeks to bring out a story in the Gospels that’s rarely navigated. That story is one in which the Creator of the Universe, incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, was rejected in every quarter in which He stepped . . . from the womb to the tomb.
He was rejected from Bethlehem (there was no room for Him there), to Nazareth (a prophet is without honor in His own hometown), to His own family (His sisters and brothers didn’t believe on Him), to Samaria (James and John wanted the city to shake and bake for rejecting Jesus), to Jerusalem itself (which crucified Him). God in flesh was rejected everywhere He went.
The Gospels are clear about this: “He came to His own and His own received Him not” . . . “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
BUT . . . there was only one place on earth where Jesus was fully received, fully welcomed, and fully loved. It was a little village 2 miles east of Jerusalem called Bethany. Jesus spent the last week of His life on earth there. It was home for Him.
In the book, I trace the Lord’s steps in Bethany in chronological order and show that what God is looking for above anything else today is a “Bethany” in every heart, in every city, and in every church.
Greg: I’m told there are approximately 3 million books that will be published in 2013. What is it that you believe makes “God’s Favorite Place on Earth” stand out? Why should someone want to take the time to read this book? And what are the “felt needs” that your book addresses?
Frank: The book addresses 18 specific struggles that Christians face. And it was born out of my own struggles in these areas as well as those of my fellow brethren and sistren.
Some of those struggles are:
how to gain God’s peace and presence in the midst of your worst storm.
how to grow to the place where you are beyond being offended.
how to truly forgive and release those who have rejected you.
how to live life without fear of anything.
how to handle rejection, misunderstanding, and unjust criticism, especially from fellow Christians.
how to defeat consumerism and escape the grip of materialism.
The book is written in an accessible way. It uses short sentences (thanks Hemingway) and combines fiction with non-fiction. Yet it stays very close to the biblical text and is faithful to first-century history. So we call it “biblical narrative.” Readers can see one of the sections where Lazarus speaks about one of the most moving parts of the Gospels.
Greg: You’re a remarkably prolific writer Frank. Can you tell those of us who have read some or maybe even all of your previous books how this book differs from the others?
Frank: I laughed at your comment because, to my mind, you’re the one who is “remarkably prolific.” Maybe you’re projecting that onto me, bro.
The book is similar in that it seeks to extol the supremacy, centrality, and all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ. It also contains a bit of the sublime elements of our faith – which I owe to many of God’s servants who have taught me over the years.
It’s different in that it’s super easy to read. It’s short. And it contains the element of fiction. Lazarus, now old and ready to die, tells the story of when Jesus came to His hometown and the incredible things that took place there.
I also think the book is more emotional than most of my others. Several people told me that they wept while reading it. And I lost it myself when I wrote the part where Lazarus describes his own death.
Greg: One of the things I found most intriguing about “God’s Favorite Place on Earth” was the very creative way you blend historical analysis, biblical teaching and fictional narrative. Can you give our readers some insight into why you chose this unique approach to your subject? What would you say is the central narrative you’re communicating throughout this book?
Frank: What I’m trying to get across is how much Jesus loved Bethany and the family who lived there. And why He loved them so much. The Gospels make a big deal out of this and we miss it because the story is spread all over Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – out of chronological order.
I juice the whole Christian pursuit down to one thing: God wants a Bethany on the earth again … in every one of us. And in every church. This narrative and vision simplifies things, yet it’s so rich and full of life.
Because the message in the book changed my life on so many levels, I wrote it with the hopes that the Holy Spirit would use it to change the lives of others.
Greg: Most of the people who are regulars on the ReKnew website are passionate in their conviction that God is as beautiful as He is revealed to be in Jesus Christ and that evil originates in wills other than God, whether human or angelic. Your book has some interesting things to say about God and suffering, so I’m wondering if you’d share with our readers your understanding of free will, the origin of evil, and the manner in which God works to bring good out of evil? For example, would you agree with those who hold that evil events like the Holocaust come about because they are part of God’s “perfect plan”?
Frank: I used to know the answer to that question.
That subject is way above my pay grade. But I think I might understand a few things about it, nonetheless:
1) When bad things happen in our lives, we want an explanation, but God wants to give us arevelation of His Son. Every crisis is an unwanted opportunity for us to discover a new and fresh aspect of Jesus Christ. So I’ve learned, anyway.
2) I disagree with the statement that tragedies like the Holocaust are God’s “perfect plan or will.” God is both wise and compassionate beyond our comprehension. He knows how to write straight with crooked lines and He’s the ultimate Chess Master, using the moves of His enemy against them. It’s rather incredible how He does this. But He is Love, not evil.
3) Many of our sufferings are a participation in the sufferings of Christ Himself. There is something that Paul calls ”the fellowship of His sufferings” which is the gateway to the “power of His resurrection.” This has been a game-changer for me (Philippians 3).
4) God comforts us in our suffering. He suffers with us. And He uses our sufferings – even when they originate from fallen beings – for our good, often to break us and beautify us into His image (Romans 8:28ff.)
All of these points and more are elaborated in the book.
Greg: What have early readers of “God’s Favorite Place” said about it? What’s their reaction been?
Frank: I’ve been humbled and overjoyed by the responses. 47 Christian leaders have recommended the book, including you – which I was so honored by. Each leader shared exactly how the book touched their hearts. I hope most of the people who read the book will have the same experience.
Greg: Word on the street is that everyone who buys the book this week, May 1st to May 7th, will receive 25 free gifts! That’s a lot of free stuff you’re giving away! Tell us about these gifts and how can people can get ahold of them?
Frank: Huggy Bear is correct about that. Do your readers even know who Huggy Bear is? He held a PhD in “word on the street.”
Anywho, yes. As you know, the release week of a book is the most important time in any book’s life. If a lot of people order the book during release week, it means the book will be noticed and made visible to tons of people who wouldn’t hear about it otherwise.
If not, well, it just gets lost in the sauce of the deafening noise we face each day on the Internet. (Which includes 3 million book published each year.)
So I wanted to reward those who get the book this week by giving them 25 free – but valuable – books by 15 different authors. Your readers can click here for the details, including a book sampler, and video trailer: http://GodsFavoritePlace.com
Greg: Thanks for agreeing to the Interview Frank. We at ReKnew bless you and your ministry and pray that God uses this book to inspire people to make their lives, and their kingdom communities, “God’s favorite place on earth.”
I’m honored, bro. Really honored. The thanks goes to you for having me on.
|Author Frank Viola has just released his newest book, God’s Favorite Place on Earth.
Here is a review.
From David Fitch, Reclaiming the Mission.
I’ll admit it, Frank Viola is an enigma to me (I mean that in the most flattering of terms). His writings have significant influence in worlds I intersect with. They often provoke on issues of the church that I resonate with. He says things I would say but with more friendly prose. He says them provocatively and knows how to get the message out. Like notice how many reviews there on Amazon for his book Pagan Christainity. I have friends who hate a book he writes one year, and love a book he writes the next. He writes on many topics close to my theological agenda. I was particularly curious with what he was trying to say with Beyond Evangelical.
How does he do this? Provoke yet charm? Speak into such huge issues and get people to listen to him? (I wish I could do this!). And you never know what he’s going to do next. So when he asked me to blurb his book God’s Favorite Place on Earth I go “cool” let me take a look. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting. This is what I mean when I say Frank is an enigma: unpredictable in his writing.
This book is a “trip” back to the village of Bethany, the town of Lazarus. It’s an encounter with Jesus in the neighborhood (I wish I had used that line in the blurb). It’s a devotional but it also takes pains to be historical. The premise of the book is simple: when Jesus was on the earth, He was rejected everywhere He went . . . from Bethlehem, to Nazareth, to Jerusalem. The only exception was this little village of Bethany. Frank unfolds how Jesus walks and becomes known (and loved) in Bethany beginning with Lazarus death. We find ourselves in the middle of the story. And within each little piece of the story, Christians are led through the struggles we all face in our everyday lives.
I so appreciated the book I wrote the following blurb for it:
“More than a devotional, better than an academic study, God’s Favorite Place on Earth is a deeply moving pastoral book that will build your faith. Turn its pages slowly, pause between chapters and allow yourself to be immersed into the world of the New Testament. Prepare yourself for an encounter with Jesus the Galilean yet the very Son of God.”
David Fitch, B R Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology, Northern Seminary, author of Prodigal Christianity
According to Frank Viola’s ReChurch series, when the church functions according to its nature, it offers:
• interdependence instead of independence
• wholeness instead of fragmentation
• participation instead of spectatorship
• connectedness instead of isolation
• solidarity instead of individualism
• spontaneity instead of institutionalization
• relationship instead of programs
• servitude instead of dominance
• enrichment instead of insecurity
• freedom instead of bondage
• community instead of corporation
• bonding instead of detachment
by Jonathan Merritt
Frank Viola is a leading Christian author who has never shied away from difficult conversations. For example, his book, Pagan Christianity, has been outlawed on some continents for its scathing indictment of the structure and construct of the church. His ability to navigate difficult waters has led him to write more than a dozen books–including one of my 10 favorite books of the last decade, Jesus Manifesto–and has made his blog, “Beyond Evangelical,” one of the most visited Christian blogs in America.
This week, Viola released his newest book, God’s Favorite Place on Earth. The book takes a fresh look at Bethany, the one town where Jesus was always well received. In this interview, we talk about the new book, his view on women in the church, and accusations from some that he has moved outside of Christian orthodoxy.
Would you elaborate on that? How is it different, and why are they so significant to you?
FV: From Eternity to Here is a 320-page volume in which I seek to unveil the grand mission of God from Genesis to Revelation. It’s the kind of book that packs a lot of information on every page, so readers routinely ruminate on the chapters and take their time absorbing the content, not because it’s academic or hard to read, but because it’s so dense. One of the first readers of the book made this all-too kind remark about it: “It’s an exegetical treasury. Every page is densely packed with deep spiritual insights.”
By contrast, God’s Favorite Place on Earth is a quick and easy read. It’s a work of biblical narrative, I tell the story of Jesus in Bethany through the eyes of Lazarus. After Lazarus speaks, I make specific applications for our lives today. The book addresses 18 specific problems that we Christians face.
I crafted the book to be something that would a fun and exciting read, but one that was insightful and practically helpful as well. Leonard Sweet summed up his view of the book by saying that it’s “part novel, part biography, part theology, part Bible study.”
In addition, I had two first-rate New Testament scholars (Craig Keener and Joel B. Green) read the book in order to ensure faithfulness to Scripture and first-century history.