The following is Part 2 of a Seedbed interview with Frank Viola about a conference talk titled “Epic Jesus” that has been shared with thousands of people both in person and through being passed along on the Internet.
Theologians have long struggled to keep their paradigms straight and be able to communicate what is most basic in Christian theology. In this message you seem to suggest that there is a way to keep the person of Jesus, the kingdom, and the Trinity all at the forefront of our theology. Can you briefly explain how this works and how a local church can infuse this into their community life?
The message gives the framework and introduction to all of this. I don’t think I can briefly unpack the answer to this question as it’s highly complicated and it depends a great deal on culture, location, the kinds of people that make up a local assembly, etc.
I do explore the question in detail in “Reimagining Church, “From Eternity to Here,” and “Finding Organic Church” for those who are interested in my answer. They are all part of my ReChurch series.
In this regard, 1 John 1:1-2 has been a guiding light for me in the area of ministering God’s Word along with the 3 “ins” found in Galatians:
“God revealed Christ in me” (Ch. 1)
“Christ lives in me.” (Ch. 2)
“Christ formed in you.” (Ch. 4)
What are some of the ways in which you see the church today trying to “graduate beyond Jesus Christ,” as you said in your message?
Leonard Sweet and I unraveled that in Jesus Manifesto. But here’s an example. It’s the person who thinks, “Yea, I know all about Jesus . . . been there, done that, got the T-shirt. We need to go on to evangelism, discipleship, social justice, Christian theology, helping the poor, being holy, being merciful, learning truth, living a good Christian life, power, signs, wonders, gaining wisdom, etc. etc. etc.”
To my mind, a person who says we must “go beyond Jesus to other things” hasn’t met the Christ of Colossians (so to speak), and their Christ is too small.
According to the NT, Jesus Christ is Wisdom. Jesus Christ is Truth. Jesus Christ is Life. Jesus Christ is the Way. Jesus Christ is the Power of God. Jesus Christ is Holiness. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of all spiritual things, virtues, gifts, ministries, etc. I call this discovery the journey into deep ecclesiology.
Modern-day Christianity has separated all of these “things” from Christ opposed to taking Christ (in experience) as all of these things. As I’ve put it elsewhere, Jesus Christ is ALL, everything else is commentary. Our need is not “things” … or “its” … it is Christ. And it’s always Christ.
That’s not religious talk or pious rhetoric. It’s the reality that Paul gave his life for and what bled out of him in all of his epistles. The same with John and the other authors of the NT. I’m speaking of something that’s extremely practical; not bloodless theory. My other work deals with it.
You said in your message that the kingdom of God is the manifestation of God’s ruling presence. How is the kingdom present in any ways where Christ is not yet present through his church?
This is a big topic today, and from what I’ve seen, the discussion often leads to theological speculation as well as heightened blood pressure.
The NT doesn’t seem to ask this question. But I can say two things with some level of confidence: (1) The Spirit often works on hearts and in situations before members of His church arrive in visible form. Sometimes He works by the prayers of God’s people. (2) Sometimes we cannot detect the source. Cornelius is not alone in those whom God prepares before he sends a Peter to talk with him. This applies individually as well as collectively.
Regardless, I believe the 3 main views about the kingdom I sketched in the message should be reexamined and rethought today.
If you could share one thing with those who identify with the Wesleyan tradition, what would it be?
Leonard Sweet and I have written two books to date. One is called Jesus Manifesto where we unfold the reality of living by an indwelling Christ and the All-ness of Jesus. We also just finished a 400+ page, 1800+ endnoted tome that re-tells the life of Jesus from Genesis to Revelation.
Leonard is a Methodist who is deeply conversant with the Wesleyan tradition. Wesley understood the indwelling Spirit like few others in his day. But we must go on to understand that (1) the indwelling Spirit and the indwelling life of Christ shouldn’t be separated, the latter being “the mystery” that Paul stewarded, and (2) we must learn how to experience the indwelling life of Christ and be able to intelligently show others how to experience it. This is what drives me.
Frank Viola is a popular conference speaker and the best-selling author of numerous books on the deeper Christian life, including Epic Jesus, Revise Us Again, From Eternity to Here, and Jesus Manifesto (co-authored with Leonard Sweet). His blog, “Beyond Evangelical,” is rated as one of the most popular in Christian circles today: frankviola.org.