My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I enjoyed the book. It’s well written and uses some powerful metaphors and images in describing the church. The style is natural and the organization is logical.
Many people know Frank Viola from numerous house church books (if you don’t like the phrase “house church” you can substitute your favorite moniker; Viola likes the word “organic”). From my perspective, this book is locked into the debate for house church rather than a debate about church. If you are looking for reasons to consider an alternate model to the North American traditional evangelical church Viola addresses the major issues you might be considering. If, on the other hand, you are looking to this book to increase your understanding of ecclesiology you will need to keep looking.
This book has a twofold argument: 1) the church as we know it today falls short of delivering on what God intended and 2) more organic expressions of church are the solution to the problem. Because I have a strong propensity to fully agree with both #1 and #2, I am probably not the best critic.
Viola’s views regarding the role of relationship and leadership in church are powerfully argued. I have read some detailed reviews online about this book and they often get stuck on Viola’s view of structure and authority. In this regard Reimagining Church carries the day. Viola does a masterful job of deconstructing the current church paradigm as he describes body life in the organic church. The book, however, is not meant to be a deconstruction and this is its weakness: Viola’s reimagined substitute for contemporary church models is limited to house church issues set in modern day America.
Missing is any deep dialogue about the nature of God’s relationship with mankind (including the Abraham covenant, Israel and only then the church), the Kingdom of God, the expansion of that Kingdom across the pante te ethne or a robust theology of church through history. This might be too big bite for a book of this scope (see Walls, Malphurs, Bosch, Newbigen, Barth, and others for examples). My fear is that readers who love organic church models will think that this is a definitive ecclesiology and it is not.
To be fair, Viola does not subtitle the book, “A Definitive Theology of Church.” Yet I cannot understand how one writes a book about church reimagined without at least pausing to consider the greater ecclesiological issues at hand. Without it one ends up with a temporal and monocultural view of church. I would suggest that the lack of a broader ecclesiological framework in contemporary evangelicalism is central to why the church has lost its organic nature.
So, I recommend this book as an analysis more of “why should we do house church in contemporary North American society” rather than as a treatise on what church could be if it were truly reimagined.