the weblog of Alan Knox

Response to Frank Viola

Posted by on Dec 17, 2008 in blog links, books, community, definition, edification, gathering | 7 comments

On Monday, I posted a list of questions that I asked Frank Viola, along with his answers. Today, I want to respond to his answers (see my post “In Conversation with Frank Viola“).

First, I appreciate Frank’s detailed description about how he started writing about the church. Frank said that his investigation of things related to the church was triggered by his experience with a group of Christians that met in a home. This is extremely important, because some suggest that the idea of “organic church” is idealistic, that is, it doesn’t work in practice. Actually, the idea is very practical – and it does work – but, it doesn’t work in the same way that the traditional church structure works. I think this is why some people believe that an organic community of believers would never work. It does take a different way of thinking about church, leadership, service, teaching, relationship, and many other concepts.

My own investigation of things related to the church began in a different way, and we’ve only been experiencing organic community within the last few years. It is difficult to shift patterns of thought even within an organic group. Some have “left” our group because they perceive a lack of structure, or organization, or leadership, or vision, or whatever you want to call it. I’ve also heard from some of them that they are having a hard time developing real relationships in the traditional churches that they’ve started attending. Why? Like I’ve said before, traditional organizations and structures tend to hinder relationships.

This gets to the next point. I appreciate that Frank discussed the differences between “organic”, “house”, “missional”, “emerging” churches. Its good to think about the distinctions in those terms and to ensure that you’re using the terms correctly. I also appreciate this statement that Frank made: “Some house churches are organic, while others are not. And some organic churches use buildings.” (He made this statement in response to question #12, but it fits nicely here in this continuing conversation.) Like Frank has told me before, “organic” is not a matter of meeting location, but a matter of life within a group of believers.

I wish that Frank had responded a little more concerning the “difficulties” related to organic church life (that is, in question #3). While I believe that meeting without the structures and organizations found in the traditional, institutional church is scriptural, freeing, and beneficial, there are difficulties that accompany this type of organic community. As Frank said, “As I’ve said many times, organic church life is a wedding of glory and gore.” He suggested that churches can receive help from extra-local (apostolic?) workers. That is great when a worker is around, but what about in the every-day life of the community? What kinds of difficulties do those within organic communities face that those within institutional churches do not face? How should they deal with those difficulties?

I agree completely that the church is a family – a literal family. As Frank said, “That’s not ‘positional truth.’ It’s quite real.” There are huge implications for a community that sees itself as a literal family, and not as a figurative family. Of course, this is the type of relationship that the Spirit produces among believers. We can examine our relationships – are we living as family with one another – to recognize to what extent we are allowing the Spirit to move us and change us into a real family, or to what extent we are hindering the Spirit’s work among the community.

Finally, I want to respond to Frank’s discussion of the role of the “scholar” among the church. I agree. (Well, not with the part about them being tied up and their mouths wrapped in duct tape.) While Scripture helps us as believers, the life of the church does not come from Scripture or from history or from tradition. The life of the church comes from the shared, divine life that we have in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. When scholars only offer knowledge, then that knowledge is “dead knowledge”, as Frank calls it. Or, as Paul said, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” There is much, much, much more to the life of the church than information about the Bible or about the first century world. And, as Frank said, education is not synonymous with spiritual growth or maturity.

Scholars, in this case, are like all believers. We all have to learn how to live with one another, learning from one another, teaching one another, edifying one another, growing in maturity with one another. No one – neither pastors, nor scholars, not even Greek professors – can stand alone. We are interdependent – both dependent upon one another and dependent upon the Spirit of God. I think that a scholar can be very valuable to the life of the church. Of course, I also think that every believer can be (and should be!) very valuable to the life of the church.

Now, as for the negative critique: 1) Frank is completely wrong about ice cream. While Oreo cookie ice cream is good, it is not even close to Moose Tracks! 2) A soft drink should always be referred to as a “coke”, regardless of the flavor. 3) Since Auburn is not playing (well, since they didn’t actually play all year long), I don’t care who wins the BCS Bowl Game between Florida and Oklahoma. While these are important differences, I think I can forgive Frank and accept him as a brother in Christ.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 12-17-2008

    Good stuff Alan. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  2. 12-17-2008

    You’re both wrong… the best flavor of ice cream is Peppermint Stick.

    Also, soda – not coke!

    I’ll be praying for you Alan!

    God Speed,

  3. 12-17-2008


    Wrong, wrong, wrong! Both of you guys!

    1. Chocolate Chip Cookie dough was sent from heaven like Manna!

    2. It’s not a soda or a coke, it is a pop! Open it and see what it calls itself!

    3. The Wolverines are the winningest team in College Football history and should be the only team anyone should speak of!

  4. 12-17-2008


    Thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    Lew and Lionel,

    If you guys keep leaving this kind of comment on my blog, then I’ll have to turn on comment moderation. You’re both heretics!


  5. 12-17-2008

    I have enjoyed and benefited from both Frank’s original answer and your own response back to him.

    What encourages me is to see that these kinds of issues are finally being addressed openly and more widespread than ever before. I believe there is much to be gained when we talk publicly about these matters in a spirit of Christian love and edification. The tide is definitely turning.

  6. 12-17-2008


    I enjoyed the interview also, and I agree that it is very encouraging seeing more people talk about these issues.


  7. 1-3-2009

    I think all yous are wrong. Vanilla is best–then add whatever topping you want. What could be more American than infinite choice??!! ;o)

    Thanks for doing the interview, Alan.