Only one chapter from Frank Viola's Pagan Christianity today. I've lost my will. Every post is an effort.
The previous posts were:
1. Viola's Preface
2. Barna's Introduction
3. The Church Building
4. The Order of Worship
5. The Sermon
6. The Pastor
7. Sunday Go to Meeting Clothes
8. Music in the Church
9. Chapters 8 and 9: Tithing/Paying Ministers (8) and the Sacraments (9)
And now chapter 10: "Christian Education: Swelling the Cranium."
There's little doubt that Viola relays a common sentiment that much in ministerial training seems out of focus. We have launched an MDIV program here at IWU for the Fall (we've officially accepted our first two students) and, Lord willing, will officially call it a seminary in less than two weeks. We have launched it recognizing some of the things that Viola mentions in this chapter.
So Viola thinks training should be "hands on" rather than merely intellectual (200). He critiques the notion that "the teaching of knowledge is the teaching of virtue" (215). "Contemporary theological learning is essentially cerebral" and "In the process, our theology rarely gets below the neck" (216).
OK, there's the good in the chapter. But as I've read through this book, here is my fundamental critique. It is not simply that Viola consistently throws the baby out with the bath water. Of course I completely think he does. My critique is that he could have actually done something edifying with this book. At least to some extent, he has correctly identified the superficialism and myopic traditionalism that no doubt pervades and predominates in the church today.
But instead of urging authenticity and genuine spirituality in each tradition, he has insisted that we burn all the institutional churches down and start a house church. For this reason, his book on the whole is not helpful for God's people. It will only appeal to the angry (and feed their angry) and confuse the innocent.
His view of seminaries is stereotypical and unbalanced. Take this statement: "contemporary ministerial training can be described by the religious talk of Job's miserable comforters: rational, objective, and abstract. Very little practical, experiential, or spiritual" (201). But his reaction is not, let's fix Christian education, our approach at IWU. His reaction is, let's burn down all the Christian seminaries, universities, and Bible colleges.
"[C]ontemporary theology is a blending of Christian thought and pagan philosophy" (208). And Viola's thought is a blending of Christian thought and the thinking of a particular American Christian subculture, mixed with some of the ancient cultural forms in which the New Testament message was incarnated. Again, he takes biblical descriptions and supposed descriptions based on him filling in gaps in our knowledge, and he makes them pre-scriptions for a quite different place and time. This is sheer madness.
I'll let the church historians and theologians rip his villianization of Aquinas and his wild connections between things in history.