Sunday, June 10, 2007
Book Review: God's Ultimate Passion
I can honestly say that this book, God's Ultimate Passion, is like nothing I've ever read before. I really didn't know what to make of it. The genre and style of writing is entirely unfamiliar to me - if I had to put a label on it I'd say it is most like the allegorical spiritual writings of the medieval mystics except with more of an exegetical approach. I'm sure it's just my own lack of experience with this kind of writing but I have to say that I was really struggling to get into it.

Let me see if I can explain. In the book, Frank Viola, who heads Present Testimony Ministries, guides us through three large stories or metaphors (though I think he wants to say that they are more than "metaphors") by which we can understand God's purposes and passion for the world. He describes 1) God's romantic passion for his Bride; 2) God's desire for a home; and 3) God's creation of a new species of humanity. All three of these images/stories point to the Church - the Bride, Temple, and People of God. Throughout each of the three sections of the book Frank traces these themes both allegorically and directly throughout scripture. He sees the story of Rebekah and Isaac as an image of Jesus and the Church. He sees the Tabernacle and Temple of the Old Covenant as signs of God's desire to make his home among his people - as he will more fully do through Christ and through the Church. And he talks about the experiences of the New Testament church in terms of what it means to be a new type of humanity that transcends old categories of Jew and Gentile, etc.

I agree that each of these themes are central to how we view God's purposes in the world, and it was very helpful to see how each of them is woven throughout the Bible. Some of the connections he makes I would have never picked up on. In fact I feel like I got a little glimpse of what it must be like to read the Bible in the old "allegorical sense" promoted by the Medieval Catholic theologians but rejected by many of the Protestant Reformers. It really drew out the rich interconnectedness of scripture for me.

However, where I struggled was in connecting all this imagery with real life. The book is saturated with scriptural references and imagistic language relating to these three themes, but only rarely did I feel like he was bringing it back to everyday life. It would have been helpful if at times he would have translated some of the biblical images and metaphors into what they look like in the "real" world. I.e. take the allegorical sense of scripture and translate it into a more literal sense for those of us who aren't accustomed to simply dwelling in the imagery and metaphors.

I think part of this just has to do with my own biases. For so long I had been exposed to Christians that avoid dealing with the real world by simply "spiritualizing" everything and talking about it in obtuse religious terms (though I'm not saying that's what Frank is doing), that I have a reaction to any kind of theological or spiritual talk (or writing) that doesn't translate it's ideas into ordinary language for the average layperson in a way that connects with the world we live in day to day. (Though the folks in my church who have to sit through my more theological sermons might not believe me when I say this. ;-)

At any rate, I think this book will be helpful especially to those long-time Christians who are already steeped in the imagery and language of the Bible and for whom meditating on these stories and metaphors will seem natural and deeply meaningful. Unfortunately for someone of a more practical and analytical bent like myself, I found this book a little hard to get into. Of course that's probably as much a flaw in my own psychology as anything in the book itself.


posted by Mike Clawson at 10:38 PM | Permalink |


At 6/11/2007 12:01:00 PM, Blogger Rhonda

We've read many of Frank Viola's books but not this one...yet.
:) thanks for the review!


At 6/11/2007 05:44:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Are his other ones in this same style (as far as you can tell from my review)? Or are they more practical/down-to-earth?


At 6/12/2007 12:10:00 AM, Blogger Rhonda

Rethinking the Wineskin and Pagan Christianity are both down to earth reads but The Untold Story of the New Testament Church was rather deep.
I struggled at times throughout that book.
I think my husband and I can relate to Frank and the way he writes because he considers himself a reconstructionist and that's kind of where we are.
If I'm not mistaken I think he referred to your description of emerging church in one of his interviews???


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