A while ago I was invited to write a review of this book - "God's Ultimate Passion: Unveiling the Purpose Behind Everything" by Frank Viola. Here is a first shot. It has been a long time coming.
This book contains so much. To try to capture the passion and purpose of God in human language is an endless challenge. (We have to live our relationships with God, not just write and read about them.)
And so far, I have only read the early chapters and the closing chapters. My wife has this habit of reading books from the end. "This is amazing! You must read this!" And so I was tempted to skip to the closing chapter, the Afterword, which is a kind of a check-list in the spirit of 2 Corinthians 13:5
"Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?"
Evelyn found this check-list at an appropriate moment. We were heading into a big discussion in our gathering about how we are organised and whether we should be more connected with institutional church. So now we are aiming to use this check-list to stimulate some evaluation in our group about what we understand by 'church' and how we do it together.
Frank Viola opens the Afterword with:
"If I can sum up the message of this book in a sentence it would be this: Your God is after a people who live for one purpose - His ultimate passion. But He's also after a people who do not feel that they are special or elite in any sense. And that particular stance takes away every tool of the natural soul." (p. 277)
The book lives up to the goal of describing God's ultimate passion. It is written in an easy style - almost spoken English. But sometimes the English seems too casual, or you have understand the local accent. For example, in this quote, "If I can ..." should be "If I could ..." according to my personal mental English grammar check. But these are minor technicalities in the big picture.
Frank Viola's vision and writing is deeply rooted in the Bible in a way I have not come across before. He brings to life a holistic view relating the OT to the NT. The basic theme of the book is the Church as the Bride of Christ. Frank shows the repeating patterns of OT and NT - just as the partner for Adam, Eve, was created out of the side of Adam, so the partner for Jesus Christ, the Church, was created out of the side of the resurrected Christ.
He takes us deeply into the NT world view:
- the law and all the hassle of the OT are clearly old covenant,
- we are in the new covenant, we are in the Bride of Christ,
- we are holy, sanctified, loved.
Frank also brings fresh life to over-familiar passages from the Bible by narrating and commenting on them inspired by "consecrated imagination" and a deep study of the Jewish roots and context of the texts. The character of Mary Magdalene and the story in Luke 7:36-50 now have depth and life for me as never before.
In the same way, the character of God comes alive. He is not an object in an abstract theological system. He is a passionate lover. Love drives the universe He has created. His purpose is the creation of a lover for His Son. This is a romantic epic drama way beyond the scale of any Hollywood production- and we are a part of it. But:
"She [the church] can only be free to love her Bridegroom when she realizes who she is and how profoundly her Fiancé loves her. She can only love Him freely when she is utterly liberated from fear, guilt, and religious duty and takes her Lord's view of herself." (p. 53)
So the key is relationship. Relationships of passionate love between us and Jesus and among the members.
Maybe this should be the last blog post on the books and knowledge to wisdom themes:
"Spiritual progress, therefore, is tied up in knowing Christ as our All. Spiritual growth takes place when we take Christ as our Portion to be all things for us. Greater Bible knowledge will not do this for you. Increased religious activity or spiritual service will not do this for you. Neither will spending more time praying. Only a revelation of the vastness of Christ can meet the bill." (p. 266)
So what I need is not 'knowledge', not 'wisdom' but 'revelation'. According to my gut feeling (and my previous blog post) this makes sense. But where do I get 'revelation'. Paul got his unexpectedly by the grace of God on the road to Damascus. I went for my longest bike ride ever today (46.5 km at 25 kph) but I was too much taken with the sunny Brabant scenery and the steady rhythm of pushing the pedals and breathing to catch the revelation.
Maybe the answer is in the chapters I haven't read yet.
Frank goes on:
"As I survey the landscape of modern Christianity, it seems to me that spiritual things and objects have replaced the Person of Christ. The doctrines, gifts, graces, and virtues that we so earnestly seek have substituted for Jesus Himself. We look to this gift and that gift ... we study this truth and that truth ... we seek to appropriate this virtue and that virtue, but all along we fail to find Him.
"When the Father gives us something, it is always His Son. When the Son gives us something, it is always Himself. This greatly simplifies the Christian life. Instead of seeking many spiritual things, we seek only Him." (p 267)
A great book for Christians to bring their faith to life. But maybe not one for some one who is not already familiar with Christian jargon, theology and the Bible.
'Revelation' goes beyond language and logic. We can get lost in the convolutions of the Trinity - one God, three persons deeply in love with one another. Adam recognising his partner - of him yet separate - bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh (Gen 2:23). Jesus recognising His Bride composed of the body of believers each enlivened by the Spirit of Jesus in them. We come into the new life by believing and receiving the Spirit of God in us. We become new creation. A new form of humanity. We need to live that out in community, forming an alien culture in the consumer, liberal capitalist culture around us.
Logic cannot carry this message. Systematic theology turns it dry and it falls as dust.
Revelation, vision, experience of the hot burning passion of God the lover are the only means.
(Graphic updated 2007-04-16, References updated on 2007-04-21)
"God's Ultimate Passion: Unveiling the Purpose Behind Everything" by Frank Viola
Present Testimony Ministry
Eurobooks European distributor
Frank Viola Speaks out on God’s Ultimate Passion an interview on OpenHeaven.com