Friday, June 17, 2011

Revise Us Again, by Frank Viola

Revise Us Again, by Frank Viola, is a patchwork quilt of sorts, at times poorly sewn. This is an editorial and organizational criticism more than a criticism of the content of Viola's thoughts. The theme of revision, though used throughout in chapter subtitles, seems to be imposed on the book, as if it were applied as an afterthought and whose idea was better than its execution. So for me the writing never gains the necessary momentum to carry me along. The intended thesis is never fully realized and ends up feeling like a compilation of musings about what's bent or broken in Evangelicalism without a clear enough focus or a proper framing. The idea seemed forced to me - or reached for and missed.

I do, however, appreciate several themes that Viola does present in Revise Us Again. First, my Christian life requires as honest an examination as I can give it. I don't think this theme consistently reaches the level intended, that of revision, though perhaps it could have had it been worked at a bit longer. Second, I am happy that Viola gets at the idea of community as an expression of charity. This idea is so terribly important and so awfully missed in so many of our church communities. And third, Viola seems downright charitable in this book - this is not to say that he normally isn't, Revise Us Again is my first encounter with Viola's work, but I appreciate his generosity toward others. He doesn't condemn in this book, he doesn't berate - he points and suggests, nudges the reader as if to ask, "What do you think about ... ?" The book scored highly for me in this respect - Viola desires that his book draw the Body of Christ together rather than divide it. This is a noble goal and one not easily attained when writing about what we do poorly or get wrong as Christians.

Now I did take issue with Viola in Chapter 9, "Stripping Down to Christ Alone: Revising the Holy Spirit's Ministry." I read this chapter wrongly every time, and I believe it's because I don't share Viola's history - I'm not "post-Charismatic" as he labels himself. Perhaps if I had a similar background to Viola's, this chapter would make a great deal of sense to me, or even seem necessary. But as it is it seems, at best, off. So when he includes the following sentence in the chapter, "To my mind, the Holy Spirit has but one job: to reveal, to make known, to magnify, to glorify, and to make central and supreme the Lord Jesus Christ," I cringe. (And what bothers me about the sentence is the phrase, "has but one job.") Most likely, I am quibbling. But it doesn't seem an apt description of "the Lord, the Giver of Life," or comprehend the Orthodox prayer "O Heavenly King ..." If we must talk about the Holy Spirit having "but one job," it is important to understand that this one job is the same one job the Father and the Son are busy about - the restoration of all things, reconciliation, redemption. Of course, speaking about the Most Holy Trinity makes me nervous to begin with because I fear we often err by saying more than we ought to, that we speak of things too great and marvelous for us.

Don't misunderstand, every time someone writes about more than one person of the Most Holy Trinity, I do not expect an orthodox treatise on the proper relationship between the three persons of the Godhead. But Viola sets it up in such a way that it needs to be discussed or qualified in some way because he juxtaposes Son and Spirit, and in such an arrangement there seems to this non-post-Charismatic that the push back Viola gives pushes back too hard and too far. Now his audience may need the heavy push, the shaking that says, "It's Christ." So I must assume the best and pray that it helps many others as they wrestle with their own histories. Nonetheless, the chapter deserves some clarification and needs a positive assertion about the unity of the Divine Persons rather than to do what it does - push off from one in favor of another (this is not Viola's intention, but it is my impression).

All in all, I liked Revise Us Again. I have my differences and my opinions, but the re-evaluation of "What is it we are about?" is relevant when there seems as much upheaval as stability within Evangelicalism. And it is always timely in my own life in respect to the Church, the community, within which I live and worship. There are weaknesses within the work and the project seems, in places, to reach beyond what it attains. But the thinking within the book is sound and the spirit of it leans toward restoration.

1 comment:

kkollwitz said...

I don't know a thing about this author or his book, but I like your review.