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.
Frank Viola author of Reimagining Church (David C. Cook, 2008) has answered questions about New Testament leadership. This is a short excerpt from Viola’s Appendix in the book.
For centuries, certain texts in the New Testament have been mishandled to support hierarchical/positional leadership structures in the church. This mishandling has caused no small damage to the body of Christ. The notion of hierarchical/positional authority is partly the result of mistranslations and misinterpretations of certain biblical passages. These mistranslations and misinterpretations have been influenced by cultural biases that have cluttered the original meaning of the biblical language. Such biases have transformed simple words into heavily loaded ecclesiastical titles. As a result, they have eroded the original landscape of the church.
Thus a fresh reading of the New Testament in its original language is necessary for properly understanding certain texts. For instance, a look at the original Greek yields the following insights:
• Bishops are simply guardians (episkopoi), not high-church officials.
• Pastors are caretakers (poimen), not professional pulpiteers.
• Ministers are busboys (diakonos), not clergymen.
• Elders are wise old men (presbuteros), not ecclesiastical officers.
Thankfully, a growing number of New Testament scholars are pointing out that the “leadership” terminology of the New Testament possesses descriptive accents denoting special functions rather than formal positions.
What follows is a list of common objections to the idea that church leadership is nonofficial, nontitular, and nonhierarchical. Each objection is followed by a response.
Objections from Acts and Paul’s Epistles
1. Don’t Acts 1:20; Romans 11:13; 12:4; and 1 Timothy 3:1, 10, 12 speak of church officials?
The word office in these passages is a mistranslation. It has no equivalent in the original Greek. Nowhere in the Greek New Testament do we find the equivalent of office used in connection with any ministry, function, or leader in the church. The Greek word for office is only used to refer to the Lord Jesus Christ in His high priestly office (Heb. 5—7). It’s also used to refer to the Levitical priesthood (Luke 1:8).
The King James Version mistranslates Romans 11:13b to be “I magnify mine office.” But the Greek word translated “office” means service, not office. So a better translation of Romans 11:13b is “I magnify my service [diakonia].”
Similarly, Romans 12:4b is better translated “All the members do not have the same function [praxis].” The Greek word praxis means a doing, a practice, or a function rather than an office or position. The NIV and the NASB reflect this better translation.
Finally, 1 Timothy 3:1 says the following in the KJV: “If a man desire the office of a bishop …” But a more accurate translation puts it this way: “If anyone aspires to oversight …”1
2. 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus are called the Pastoral Epistles. So that
means that Timothy and Titus were pastors, right?
No, it does not. Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus were first dubbed the “Pastoral Epistles” as recently as the eighteenth century.2 But this is a misguided label.
Timothy and Titus were not local pastors. They were apostolic coworkers who were mostly on the move. They only occasionally spent a long period of time in a single place. (For instance, Paul sent Titus to Crete and Timothy to Ephesus to strengthen the churches there and sort out local problems.)
Because Timothy and Titus were itinerant church planters, Paul never called them pastors or elders. These men were not resident ministers. They were part of Paul’s apostolic circle—a circle that was noted for its constant traveling (Rom. 16:21; 1 Cor. 16:10; 2 Cor. 8:23; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2:6; 3:2; 2 Tim. 2:15; 4:10). Therefore, calling these three letters the “Pastoral Epistles” reflects a modern bias, not an objective processing of the truth.
3. Don’t Paul’s lists of qualifications in the Pastoral Epistles, namely 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:7–9, prove that elders are church officers?
All that’s written in 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus must be understood from the standpoint that Paul was writing to his apostolic coworkers, not to churches. This explains some of the differences between these epistles and the rest of Paul’s letters. In Timothy and Titus, for example, the body metaphor is absent. The “brethren” are only occasionally mentioned. And there is little emphasis on mutual ministry.
By the same token, we don’t find anything resembling nascent Catholicism in these epistles. The Spirit of God as well as His gifts are mentioned. And leaders are understood to gain recognition by their example rather than by any held position.
What we have in these texts, then, are the essential qualities of a true overseer, not a list of qualifications for an office that can be ticked off with a pencil.
The summation of these qualities is: spiritual character and faithfulness—godliness and responsibility. Paul’s lists, therefore, merely served as guides to Timothy and Titus in helping them identify and affirm overseers in the churches with which they worked (1 Tim. 5:22; Titus 1:5).
In addition, the flavor of these texts in the Greek is one of function rather than officialdom. Paul himself doesn’t call an overseer an officebearer, but a “noble task” (1 Tim. 3:1b). Moreover, functional language is employed when Paul commends honor to those elders who “guide well” and who “labor” in teaching (1 Tim. 5:17 nkjv).
Consequently, to conflate the overseers in these texts with modern ecclesiastical officials—like the modern pastor—is pure fantasy. It’s a function of our tendency to bring our organizational conventions to the New Testament and read them back into it. It’s the result of a learned cultural framework that we bring to the text and nothing more. In short, the language of function rather than office dominates the “Pastoral Epistles” just as it does Paul’s other letters.3
4. First Corinthians 12:28 says, “And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers.…” Doesn’t this text envision a hierarchy of church officials?
Again, this question is indicative of our penchant for reading Scripture with the tainted spectacles of human hierarchy. It’s a peculiarly Western foible to insist that every relationship be conceived in terms of a one-up/one-down hierarchical mode. Thus whenever we see an ordered list in the New Testament (like 1 Corinthians 12:28), we can’t seem to keep ourselves from connecting the dots of hierarchy.
While we twenty-first-century Westerners like to think in terms of organizational flow charts, the Bible never does. So it’s an unwarranted assumption to think that every ordered list in Scripture is some sort of a veiled command hierarchy. Simply put, to see hierarchy in Paul’s catalog of gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:28 represents a culturally biased misreading of Paul. The question of authority structures is not being asked anywhere in this text. Therefore, we do not exegete hierarchy from it; we impose it upon it.
A more natural reading of this passage understands the ordering to reflect a logical priority rather than a hierarchical one. In other words, the order reflects greater gifting with respect to church building. This interpretation meshes nicely with the immediate context in which it appears (1 Cor. 12, 13, 14). To unfold that, Paul is saying that within the scope of church building, the apostle’s ministry is the most fundamental. That’s because apostles give birth to the church and sustain it during its prenatal development.
Apostles break the ground and plant the seed of the ekklesia. Since apostles lay the foundation of the church, they’re also ranked first (chronologically) in the work of church building (Rom. 15:19–20; 1 Cor. 3:10; Eph. 2:20). Significantly, while apostles are placed first in the church-building scheme, they rank last in the eyes of the world (Matt. 20:16; 1 Cor. 4:9).
Prophets appear second in Paul’s list. This indicates that they immediately follow the apostles in their value to church building. Much confusion (and abuse) surrounds the function of the prophet today. Briefly, prophets supply the church with spiritual vision and encouragement through prophetic utterances. Like apostles, prophets unfold the mystery of God’s purpose for the present and the future (Acts 15:32; Eph. 3:4–5). They also root out the weeds so the church can grow unhindered.
Teachers are mentioned third. They follow the prophets in their value to church building. Teachers put the church on solid biblical ground. They supply instruction concerning God’s ways. They also shepherd God’s people through hard times.
To continue the metaphor, teachers water the seed and fertilize the soil so the church can flourish and blossom. If we examine the ministry of the teacher with an eye for chronology, teachers build the superstructure of the church after the apostles have established the ground floor.
This interpretation of 1 Corinthians 12:28 follows the path of Paul’s thought far better than that of a hierarchical command structure where apostles “pull rank” on prophets, and prophets do the same with teachers.
It also brings to the fore an important spiritual principle: The absence of hierarchical authority doesn’t mean egalitarian gifting. While the New Testament affirms that all are gifted and all have ministry, it equally demonstrates that God disperses His gifts in a diverse way (1 Cor. 12:4–6). Every gift is valuable to the body of Christ. But some gifts are greater than others within their respected spheres (Matt. 25:14ff.;1 Cor. 12:22–24, 31; 14:5).
This doesn’t mean that those with greater gifts are greater in authority (or intrinsic worth) in some formal sense. But God has called each of us to a different work. And some have greater gifts for different tasks (Matt. 25:14ff.; Rom. 12:6; Eph. 4:7).
Within the sphere of our gifts, each member is indispensable to the general upbuilding of the church—even those members whose gifts are not outwardly impressive (1 Cor. 12:22–25). Therefore, every Christian in the Lord’s house is responsible for using and increasing his or her gifts.
And we are all warned against hiding them in the napkin of fear (Matt. 25:25).
In short, the idea that 1 Corinthians 12:28 denotes some sort of church hierarchy lacks argumentative force. The text has in mind greater gifting with a subtext of the chronological order of church building (some plant, then some water, etc.—1 Cor. 3:6). It doesn’t indicate a pecking order of an ecclesiastical hierarchy or an authoritative ladder for Christians to climb.