Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Book Review: Beyond Evangelical by Frank Viola

I received a free review copy of this e-book from Present Testimony Ministry as part of Frank Viola's book launch team.

When I first began reading Frank Viola's blog earlier this year, I read so much that seemed to express thoughts that I had already been having, and when he asked for people to join his book launch team, I applied.  I received my copy of Beyond Evangelical in June, and for various reasons (none of them are probably all that great an excuse), was not able to actually get around to reading it until this week.

Beyond Evangelical is a compilation of already-written posts on Viola's blog combined with new chapters; there are 20 chapters total and some are quite short.  While the chapters do not easily flow into one another, I think this is actually a strength in that they are each stand-alone.  One could read any chapter of this book at any time without having to read the surrounding chapters to understand it.

There are two things that I appreciated most about Beyond Evangelical.  The first is that it showed me that I am not alone in my thoughts.  Secondly, each chapter can make me ask the question "how does this apply to my life?" without telling me exactly how it must be done.  I think this is because those who will identify as "Beyond Evangelical", are, as Viola says, found in all streams of Christianity; there is no one denomination that would fit.  It is simply a desire for and knowledge of something more than is currently offered.  "Those who have moved beyond evangelicalism," Viola writes, "want to know Jesus Christ in reality and in the depths.  They aren't quietists, pietists, passive mystics or gnostics.  Outward activity is important, but it's like fruit falling off a tree.  It's the natural result of living by the life of Jesus." (Chapter 2).

Beyond Evangelical should not be considered a book that puts down other streams of Christianity, but rather, one that acknowledges that none of the expressions we have are truly adequate.  Quoting his book Jesus Manifesto, Viola writes the following in Chapter 14:

"Concerning the reality of Christ Himself, all the fullness of God dwells within him.  It is for this reason that every theological system breaks down somewhere.  Every systematic theology, no matter how coherent or logical, eventually meets some passage of Scripture or passage of life that refuses to fit into it.  Such passages have to be bent, twisted, and forced to fit the system.
Why is this?  It's because Christ is too immense, too imponderable, and too alive to be tied into any immovable system of thought constructed by finite humans.  Thus, He will always break out."

If you are struggling with something in your Christian faith but can't quite put your finger on what it is, you might be moving beyond evangelical, and it would be worth your time to read this book.   A variety of options for ordering can be found here, in a listing of Frank Viola's other books.

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