I had a chance to chat with Frank Viola recently. You may recall, Frank has published some very controversial books lately. Then along came Jesus Manifesto coauthored with Len Sweet, a long time friend. When I asked Frank if he would talk with me about the book, he was gracious to talk to me. Here are the results of our conversation.
So tell us, what motivated you and Len to write this book?
For years, Len and I both shared a burden and concern that Jesus has been getting short-changed in many quarters of His church. In our observation, scores of Christians are excited about and majoring in things that are about Jesus, while Christ Himself is getting left out in the cold.
It appears that there’s a segment of the Christian church that wants to be the hands and feet of Jesus, while detaching themselves from the Head. Others want to bring attention to the work of Christ in the past, but don’t care too much about seeking His face or living by His Risen life in the present.
So we felt to do a project together that would not only give Christ His rightful place . . . that would not only exalt Him beyond the exosphere . . . but that would also unveil His breathtaking Person in ways that would re-introduce Him in a powerfully fresh way to many of God’s people, leaving them staggering to hunger and thirst for Him and Him alone. Our book seeks to bring together the atoning work of Jesus, the teachings of Jesus, and the Person of Christ into one enormous whole in the context of knowing Christ as our indwelling Lord as Galatians 2:20, Colossians 2, and Romans 8 vividly describe.
Let me give you an example of how deep the problem runs. Take for instance the four Gospels. A question sometimes asked is “What are the main themes of the four Gospels?” And so people will begin counting words and underling terms. “The Kingdom of God” is a popular answer. “Eternal Life” is another. “Salvation” another. But the governing theme of all four Gospels is none of the above. In fact, it’s as plain as the nose on an Italian’s face, yet we routinely and frequently miss it. (I’m Italian by the way 😉
The theme is JESUS CHRIST.
What are the four Gospels? Among other things, they are the content of what Twelve men who lived with God in human form for a little over 3 years presented to a new group of Christians beginning on the day of Pentecost in the city of Jerusalem. They preached Christ to those new believers for about four years. They told the stories of what it was like to live with Him. What He said, did, taught, etc.
The first church on earth was built on a revelation of Jesus Christ. And that revelation is partly contained in the four Gospels. Yet we very rarely hear the four Gospels described in this way.
Let me go a little further. One of the things that has fascinated me as a Christian is the fact that Paul of Tarsus would spend several months with a new church plant in heathen soil, and then return after a year to find them still gathering under Christ and following Him. In fact, last year, I wrote an entire book about this very subject. The question before the house for me was: “What on earth did Paul preach to those people in the space of a few months to cause that kind of dynamic and sustaining effect?” Remember, that was a day in which there was no NT available, the OT scrolls were scarce and locked up in the synagogues, and 90% of those new Christians were illiterate.
Right or wrong, I believe that some of what we have presented in Jesus Manifesto gets close to what Paul preached. He called it “the unsearchable riches of Christ” in Ephesians – something we don’t hear too often today. We feel (and hope) that Jesus Manifesto gives readers a glimpse of some of those riches.
Tell us the story behind writing the book with Leonard Sweet.
In June of 2009, we put together a 2,400-word essay outlining what was on our hearts. We published it on the Internet, and it quickly went viral. As time went on, two things happened. Readers wanted us to expand the essay, and Thomas Nelson Publishers wanted to publish a book on it. So we began unpacking the ideas we had outlined in our essay into a 200-page book. It released a year later, June 2010.
What has the reaction from readers been so far, and how do you feel about it?
Concerning how I feel about it: To be frank, I think it’s a pretty sweet book 😉
All jesting aside, I feel quite good about the work. Len and I both felt that a burden had lifted from us when we wrote the essay and particularly when we completed the book. The fact that so many influential Christian leaders from all different tribes have supported and endorsed the work has been a real marvel to me personally. (Readers can check out the endorser list at http://www.thejesusmanifesto.com/endorsements.php)
As far as reader reactions go, it’s beyond what I expected. Our goal in the book was to present a seismic revelation of Christ to the heart of every reader. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is using it toward that end in the lives of not a few people. Consequently, many are saying that the book has changed their lives. Others are saying it brought them to tears as well as to their knees – this includes Christian leaders and pastors.
When people use words like “masterpiece” … “epic” … “a classic” … “breathtaking” to describe your work, it’s profoundly humbling and causes you to thank the Lord in amazement, knowing that it’s Him and not you. So I feel confident that God has breathed upon it, and I’m very grateful that he would use the likes of me, a very flawed vessel, to carry a piece of the ark so to speak. I’m very in touch with the fact that it’s not what we do that has any spiritual or eternal value; it’s what God does.
Reviews and testimonials are coming to us almost daily. People can read how it’s impacting other readers here.
What do you hope to see changed as a result of the book, especially among leaders and pastors?
I began following the Lord seriously at the age of 16. For about the first decade of my Christian life, I gave my life to Christian service. I did a lot. But something happened to me in my late 20s. I got a revelation of Jesus Christ that ruined me. My entire pursuit changed from serving Him to knowing Him, for I realized that I didn’t know Him very well.
Some of the mail I’m getting is by pastors and leaders who are saying the same thing: it sounds like this — “This book has wrecked me. I now realize that I don’t know Jesus very well and I’ve been preaching things instead of Christ.”
My hope is that this same epiphany (if I can use that word) would happen to every person undertaking Christian service today after reading the book. That they would put it down and begin to make their sole pursuit and obsession knowing Christ in the depths. For everything else flows out of that relational knowledge, including Christian service.
Incidentally, we’ve just launched a new iTunes podcast that explores these issues in depth called CHRIST IS ALL. It’s free to subscribe and many young leaders are making use of it.
Frank, you’ve written a number of books on the church and God’s mission, how does Jesus Manifesto relate to those previous works?
I recently write an entire blog post on this very question. Readers can check it out here. But the short of is that the golden thread that runs through all of my work on the church and God’s mission is the absolute and utter headship, centrality, and supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thus Jesus Manifesto is the thread that ties all my previous works together. It’s the hub and the rim while my previous five books are the spokes. In the same vein, Len has said that Jesus Manifesto may be the most important book he’s ever written. People can hear him talk about it here.
If you had one thing to say to a young pastor just starting out what would it be?
There are 3 books that I have written with every young leader in mind: They are: Finding Organic Church, Pagan Christianity, and Jesus Manifesto.
So my advice would be for young leaders (and those who feel called to the work) to read those three books prayerfully and with an open heart toward the Lord. And when you are finished, I’m completely available to talk to you about your impressions, reactions, and what you feel God is saying to you in response.
I’m on the look-out for young people who are gifted and called by the Lord, but who are people of integrity who won’t take short-cuts in God’s work. But rather, who are willing to prepare for their ministry the Lord’s way.
I receive a steady influx of emails from pastors in their 40s, 50s and 60s who are burned-out spiritually and have come to conclusion that they didn’t prepare for God’s work in their youth the way the Lord prescribed. (The Lord’s way of raising up workers just about been forgotten in our time and it’s rarely observed today, unfortunately.) Youthful enthusiasm and youthful ambition drove them in their 20s, and now they feel they wasted much of their lives . . . and there’s little fruit to show for it. Some of these men are (or were) pastors of large congregations.
So I’m always thrilled when I meet young gifted people who are willing to prepare for their ministry God’s way as laid out in the New Testament (the pattern is consistent from beginning to end). I’ve got one eye open for young people who are willing to throw away the calendar and spend their youth knowing Jesus Christ in the depths, learning what Body life is all about experientially, and learning a bit about the cross in experience. To my mind, these are the ones whom God will use mightily in the future for the fulfillment of His eternal purpose. Regrettably, such people are relatively rare today (I’m privileged to have some of them in my life right now). But I hope and pray that their tribe increases in the days ahead.
FRANK VIOLA is a bestselling author, organic church planter, and international conference speaker. He has authored the newly released Jesus Manifesto with Leonard Sweet, From Eternity to Here, Reimagining Church, Finding Organic Church, and Pagan Christianity with George Barna. His website contains a vast array of free resources on the deeper Christian life and the organic expression of the church: www.FrankViola.com – To read all about Jesus Manifesto, go to www.theJesusManifesto.com