Jen Wise, over at Restoration Living, recently interviewed me on the subject of rescripting the Christian life. This is part 1 of a 2-part interview. The interview follows her introduction:
I recently had the honor of interviewing author Frank Viola on his recent book, Revise Us Again. I am delighted to share with you an in-depth look at the experiences behind the words, the theology that shaped the book, and his journey to understanding the issues within.
Revise Us is a timely book that approaches many issues that often go untouched, but deserve our attention. It is a ‘must’ for anyone entering theological studies or ministry (possibly in the same way ‘A Little Exercise for Young Theologians’ is used) as it touches on issues of Spiritual Conversation Styles, Christ as our chief pursuit and the pitfalls to avoid as a mentor (or mentee).
This is also a compelling read for those outside of vocational ministry. Chapters exploring God’s three-fold voice and His felt presence are both compelling and stretching on a personal level. A close look at ‘The God of Unseen Endings’ will be a comfort for anyone who has traveled through rough waters in life.
Join us below as we dig in to all these issues from a unique Restoration Living perspective.
~ Jen Wise
Jen: How have we been ‘scripted’ (through upbringing, culture, etc.) to see our faith as a portion of our lives rather than holistically?
Frank: It seems to me that as Christians (= followers of Jesus Christ), most of our scripting comes from the particular tribe of Christianity to which we belong or grow up in, the teachers we listen to, and the fellow believers we hang out with.
These all play a major role in how we view and approach the Bible, how we view the Lord, and what sort of religious habits we acquire.
In Revise Us Again, I deal with ten areas of the Christian life that are rarely addressed today. They are areas that I’ve faced in my own struggle to follow Jesus. The book is really a conversation. Some of the questions the book raises and explores are:
*How do you handle the times when God doesn’t meet your expectations and seems to neglect fulfilling His own promises?
*How do you cope with not feeling or sensing God’s presence (even at times when others do), and what does that mean exactly? And what does it not mean?
*What is the experience of “the dark night” in the Christian’s life and why does it happen? (This is greater than a dry spell. It’s when God seems to completely walk off the stage of your life.)
*How do you deal with people who are always saying “The Lord told me”? Or “Let me pray about it” – which for them is Christian code language for “no”?
*Why is it that so many Christians argue over their views of God and the Bible, when in reality they agree more than they assume. They are just using different styles of communication to describe the same things? (Some of the recent discussions over hell is largely – though not completely – due to differing conversational styles.)
*Why do so many mentors turn on the people they are mentoring, and how does one deal with that? And if you are or will one day mentor others, how can you avoid falling into this trap?
*What is a legalist? What is a libertine? And what’s the difference between legalism and submitting to Jesus’ Lordship? What’s the difference between license and liberty in the Christian walk?
*What do the resurrection appearances of Jesus showing up and then vanishing teach us about how the Lord interacts with us today?
*What does it mean to be captured by the same spirit you oppose, and how can we avoid it?
*How should we evaluate the Charismatic movement and its strong emphasis on spiritual gifts, power, and miracles? What things can we take away from the movement that’s helpful and separate them from what’s not so helpful?
*How can two groups that don’t believe the same about spiritual gifts come together and meet as one local church? What must happen for this impossible venture to take place?
*Where did “What Would Jesus Do?” come from, is it biblical, and does it work in real life?
Jen: You reference the need for regular evaluation and re-evaluation of our ‘script’ (pg. 10 of Revise Us Again). What does this look like for you personally? What are some warning signs that re-evaluation is needed?
Frank: I’ll give one example (there are others in the book).
As a young believer, I was taught that God is obligated to fulfill His promises in His Word. He is bound by them. As I grew in my walk with the Lord, I encountered events in my own life (and in the lives of other Christians) where God didn’t seem to be faithful to His Word.
I’ve had good friends–very devout Christians–who weren’t healed. Some of them passed away as the result of sickness. In those situations, the Lord’s grace didn’t seem to be sufficient.
During those times, I met a God who refused to meet my expectations. I met a God who didn’t seem to fulfill His own promises.
All Christians will someday meet this aspect of the Lord if they haven’t already. And simply saying that the person in question just didn’t have enough faith is often a cop-out. Doubt can certainly throw an obstacle in the way of God’s movement in a person’s life (the NT gives many examples of this). But in the cases I am referencing, I believe faith was present.
Through the years, I’ve watched many believers fall away from the Lord when they met this aspect of God. Their attitude was, “I tried Jesus, but it just doesn’t work.” Or “God isn’t good after all.” Or “ever since I’ve been a Christian, I’ve missed great opportunities, and my life has gotten worse. Following Jesus isn’t worth it.”
So instead of grabbing overly-simplistic answers to explain the complexity and mystery of God’s working, I had to “revise” my theology.
As a result, I learned about the deeper ways of God in the area of suffering, testing, and walking through fire. I discovered the meaning of “My grace is sufficient” even when all human reason screamed that it was not.
In short, I met the God of Resurrection. A God who takes away that He might establish. A God whose ways are higher and deeper than my own. This is the God that the Scriptures reveal to us. So it seems to me anyway.
Jen: You describe the three forms of God’s voice as Torah-speaking, prophetic-speaking and wisdom-speaking (pg. 20 of Revise Us Again). Similarly you described three spiritual conversation styles: Quoter, Charismatic and Pragmatic (pgs. 46-54 of Revise Us Again). These descriptions line up exactly with the three spiritual emphases we have identified (and are working to merge) of goodness (wisdom-speaking, pragmatic), truth (Torah-speaking, quoter) and beauty (prophetic-speaking, Charismatic). What do you believe caused the development and division between the three strands? How can we work to weave them together both personally and in the Church?
Frank: Part of the cause, I believe, is in allowing the human soul to be divided up and govern the things of the Spirit. Many students of the Bible have discovered that there are three basic parts of the human soul: mind, will, and emotion.
Emoters gravitate toward a certain form of Christianity (the Pentecostals are an example). Intellectuals gravitate toward another (the Anglicans are an example). And those who live in the will are drawn to another (the Baptists are an example).
So in the body of Christ, there are feelers, thinkers, and doers. Every Christian denomination tilts hard toward one of these. Christian movements and Christian youth-oriented organizations tend to combine two of them (typically, mind and will or emotion and will).
These three parts of the soul also account for the communication styles that Christians are inclined to unconsciously use when discussing spiritual and theological things.
I observe a lot of spiritual/theological conversations on Facebook, blogs, and forums. And I’m always amazed that much of the disagreements are not really rooted in substantive differences, but in the varying conversational styles that the participants are unconsciously using. (I explore the matter of spiritual conversation styles in one of the chapters in the book.)
In Jesus, we can see all three aspects coming together and being governed by the Holy Spirit. The same is supposed to be true in the local assembly as I try to demonstrate in the book.
In sum, I believe we need the feelers, thinkers, and doers all working together, giving and receiving from each other, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide and govern. Today, they tend to segregate from each other and form their own isolated camps.