From ETERNITY to HERE (Review and Reflection)
Dony K. Donev
To write this review of Frank Viola’s From Eternity to Here for The Pneuma Review has taken almost a year. In order to critique (even review) one’s work, you must know it. And not merely to have read it once or even twice, but to understand in depth the presuppositions that have led to its writing and the goals set with its publication. The way this is done is through studying the very mindset behind the author’s complete works. For the reading of a book must turn into a journey or it will never get you anywhere. Have I done all this – most probably not, but I sure tried. So, here is the result of my journey.
In times of postmodernism, when metanarratives, and especially Biblical metanarratives, are being deconstructed and questioned by just about every secular movement, there has been a consistent attempt to explain the story of the Bible again to a postmodern and unchurched generation in a way they would actually understand.
To begin with the obvious, the book is comprised of three narratives that already have been much openly discussed:
The Bride of Christ
The House of God
The Body of Christ and the Family of God
The careful reader immediately notices the family-framed language of the description, which perhaps derives from the story of the first family in Genesis, where Viola begins to show the true message of the Bible. It is not merely the fall of Adam and Eve, but the whole creation being God’s very plan for redemption of the universe and the salvation of mankind. This perspective changes the understood purpose of the Gospel from preoccupied with the fall of humankind to God-centered missio Dei.
The description of the creating and joining of Adam and Eve is simply phenomenal as it recreates the plan of God for humanity and the universe from a Biblical point of view. And from the very beginning, the book resembles the expository apologetic style of Augustine in De Civitate Dei (as even the full title De Civitate Dei contra Paganos is promptly resembled by Pagan Christianity). But instead of being philosophical, what we have here is much more a narrative, very similar to the approach taken by St. Symeon the New Theologian.
The view of God’s love is very similar to the way Karl Barth treats it in his commentary to the Romans. Perhaps, because Viola sees it from his own experience of knowing God from God’s own perspective through God’s grace. And at times when speaking of the ultimate purpose of God for mankind and the universe, Viola, almost like Barth, walks a very thin line bordering universalism. And while it is true that God draws the creation to Himself through His love, any self-conscious theologian would make his listeners aware of the danger of universalism, except, of course, if he/she subscribes to such a soteriological view. So, I wrote Viola with the question if he subscribes to universalism and his response was “No.” And I guess it would be quite difficult to be a Universalist, while considering hell a real and unpleasant place.
The three discourses of the book have been much discussed since its publication, yet a few observations are in order. Part one represents an ageless romance of transcendent and eternal God who creates His bride and reconciles the entire creation with Himself in order to redeem her back to His love – a passion that passes through space and time like no other.
The second narrative shows God on a mission. And while the Creator is described as “homeless” and searching for a home within His own creation, His mission is only completed in making mankind His home. Thus, the creation searches with God and a deserted and wildered mankind is found by God only to find eternal rest in Him alone.
This introduces the third “new species” discourse that quite frankly resolves the dilemma of one whole generation, whereas the story of the Bible is reconciled anew with a postmodern human mindset shaped by a Star Trek, Star Wars, Matrix-like culture. The union of Adam and Eve also puts a completely new perspective on the Biblical role of women and it makes an interesting case for their equal roles in creation and ministry.
Disappointment has been expressed in the unchurched language used in the book to describe God’s emotions, but what about a sermon preached in 1741 by one Jonathan Edwards under the name “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”? Yet, a warning is indeed in order as the beginning of the 21st century is marked by a surge of postmodern apologetics through which Christian authors address issues outside the institutionalized church (social, political and economical) with the language of the people. But this attempt often goes so “deep undercover” that it remains foreign even to the church itself. A prime example for this phenomenon was the “Purpose Driven Church,” which being a powerful address to the unchurched, often remains a mystery to many mainline Christians who simply could not separate themselves from the known church language. A fair warning would be finding a balanced way to present Biblical truths while keeping the language of the Bible itself as God intended it.
But even with the above, Viola’s story remains missional and concerned with Missio Dei not only for a selected few, but the entire mankind and the whole creation. And this brings the mission of God not to the foreign lands where it has been sent for centuries, but very much home where the real issue is. Embracing God’s love still remains the only spiritual ground where spiritual things do not replace the center of the Gospel – the incarnation of Christ Himself. And only then, the essence of being missional becomes the central dimension to the life and ministry of the church.
Viola views the loss of this dimension historically when the church was absorbed in the culture of Rome and Byzantium in a cultural ideology described by Eastern Orthodoxy as a symbiosis between church and state, which slowly, but surely removes Christ from the center of church and life. But this book is different from the rest, because it proposes a new ideological presupposition that encounters and resolve the deconstruction of church beliefs and praxis proposed by Pagan Christianity. Many traditional and even postmodern representatives of organized religion are terrified by the idea which Viola suggests, watching thousands of people leaving their churches to form not another church, not even a movement, but a new and phenomenal experience – a new phenomenon in the experience of God. For the claim that many current models of organized religion have reached a point of final capacity in the postmodern struggle of becoming more and more nominal may not be so farfetched after all.