Last November, when I was finishing Reimagining Church by Frank Viola, I had the opportunity to chat with Frank a few times about that book. (See my review “Reimagining Church“.) During one of those conversations, Frank said that his next book would unwrap some of the concepts in Chapter 7 which was called “Church Practice and God’s Eternal Purpose”.
From Eternity to Here is that book. In this book, Frank describes what he calls “the eternal purpose” of God. What is the eternal purpose of God? Well, it is three purposes combined into one, actually. And, Frank divides this book into three parts which each describe one aspect of the eternal purpose: 1) The Bride of Christ, 2) The House of God, and 3) The Body of Christ and the Family of God.
Let’s get the “bad” out of the way first. While I loved this book, and I agree with Frank, I disagree with some of the methodology especially in Parts 1 and 2 (but primarily in Part 1). While Frank finds the church described as the bride or Christ and the house of God directly in Scripture, in the first two parts of the book he utilizes a typological hermeneutic to flesh it out. Unfortunately, I think some of the typology stretches the narrative of Scripture.
This is a small point for me. Why? Because Frank also defends his claim from the direct statements of Scripture. Thus, Frank demonstrates that God is providing a bride for Christ and building a house for himself without the typology. Some will probably disagree with me on this point, and that’s fine. Now, on the good points of this book – and there are many.
Frank begins by reminding us that God is creating a bride for Christ – and the church is that bride. If we recognize the church as a bride, it will affect the way we think about ourselves and other brothers and sisters. For example, Frank says:
What is the Lord looking for? He is looking for a people who will take their stand in Christ. He’s after a people who will dare to believe that they are part of Christ’s beloved bride. A people who will defy what they see through their natural eyes and instead look through His eyes. He is looking for a people who see themselves as He sees them, through the prism of divine righteousness, part of a new creation wherein the fall has been eliminated. This is the necessary beginning to fulfilling God’s grand mission. To take any other view is to serve God out of guilt, religious duty, or ambition rather than out of love. (62-63)
This first part reminds us that God is creating a people to love, not because of what they have done, but because he desires to love them. As Frank says, this should remove the necessity of trying to impress God or trying to get him to love you. God loves his church; and we should live in that love.
In the second part, Frank describes the eternal purpose of God as God building a house for himself. As Frank reminds us, God does not desire a house built of brick and mortar, nor a house built on doctrine and theology. God’s house is his people; and it begins with the person of Jesus Christ. Frank says:
When Jesus lived on earth, the house of God was limited by space and time. It was also limited to one person, Jesus of Nazareth… But when Pentecost arrived, the ekklesia was born… (162)
God is building a house for himself through the church (the ekklesia). Now that the Spirit indwells each of God’s children, it is possible for God to dwell among his people. But, there is a problem, as Frank points out:
In this connection, I want you to imagine countless living stones scattered all over the earth. I want you to see innumerable living stones living their own individual Christian lives. I want you to see scores of living stones who love God, but who are isolated and independent of other living stones. They may attend religious services, but there’s little to no “building together” among the members.
That is precisely the situation we find ourselves in today. (169)
Just as God’s people must learn to live in his love as the bride of Christ, we also must learn to live together as God’s building – his dwelling place.
In the final part of the book, Frank describes the eternal purpose of God as making a new creation, which is the body of Christ and the family of God. He combines these two images to describe believers as new creatures. He says:
While Jesus never denigrated the physical family, He redefined its entire meaning. The Lord introduced the family of God, the very thing that the physical family was designed to portray. And you and I have been made part of that family. But that’s not all. We have equally been made members of Christ’s very own body. We are His limbs, His hands, and His feet… The body of Christ exists to express God on earth. (236-237)
Frank steps through the writings of Paul to demonstrate how we demonstrate ourselves as a new creation – Christ’s body and God’s family. As Frank told me when I talked to him about this book, this section is the most exegetical and least typological of the three.
Frank concludes with this:
The big sweeping epic of God’s timeless purpose is centered on a bride, a house, a body, and a family. These four elements make up the grand narrative of the Bible. The mission of God – the Missio Dei – is wrapped up with each of them.
God’s mission demands more than a theological head-nod of agreement. It demands practical expression. The Lord wants a people who embody the bride, the house, the body, and the family in every city on this planet. (281)
And, this gets to the heart of the matter.
Many people who disagree with Frank concerning the content of Pagan Christianity and Reimagining Church – that is, they disagree that the church should be more organic and less structured – will agree with Frank’s content in this book – if they read it. Why? Because this content is not new. Unfortunately, the understanding of the church as a bride, a house, a body, and a family is often wrapped in institutional clothing.
But, I believe that as people think about the church in these ways – really think about, not just give “a theological head-nod of agreement” – it will affect the way they think about the church and one another. Also, I believe these ideas offer a starting point in discussions about the church. Most will agree that the church is a bride, a house, a body, and a family. We can start there by asking what that means and how we live it out.
In fact, I believe these ideas are so foundational, that I’m beginning my seminar “Developing a Biblical Ecclesiology” with the idea that the church is a family. Why am I beginning with that concept instead of one of the others? Because, for the most part, while the other views are more metaphorical, the church is a real family. And we know what a family should look like. When we compare our actions and attitudes toward one another with the way we know we should act and think toward family, most people quickly recognize the problem.
Like I said, the ideas in this book are not new, but they are foundational. In fact, I would recommend reading From Eternity to Here, then Reimagining Church, then Pagan Christianity (yes, the opposite order from publication). But, regardless of the order in which you read them, I would recommend all of these books.