Frank Viola is a leading Christian author who has never shied away from difficult conversations. For example, his book, Pagan Christianity, has been outlawed on some continents for its scathing indictment of the structure and construct of the church. His ability to navigate difficult waters has led him to write more than a dozen books–including one of my 10 favorite books of the last decade, Jesus Manifesto–and has made his blog, “Beyond Evangelical,” one of the most visited Christian blogs in America.
This week, Viola released his newest book, God’s Favorite Place on Earth. The book takes a fresh look at Bethany, the one town where Jesus was always well received. In this interview, we talk about the new book, his view on women in the church, and accusations from some that he has moved outside of Christian orthodoxy.
JM: You wrote on your blog that God’s Favorite Place on Earth is your life’s work, distinct from your magnum opus From Eternity to Here. Would you elaborate on that? How is it different, and why are they so significant to you?
FV: From Eternity to Here is a 320-page volume in which I seek to unveil the grand mission of God from Genesis to Revelation. It’s the kind of book that packs a lot of information on every page, so readers routinely ruminate on the chapters and take their time absorbing the content, not because it’s academic or hard to read, but because it’s so dense. One of the first readers of the book made this all-too kind remark about it: “It’s an exegetical treasury. Every page is densely packed with deep spiritual insights.”
By contrast, God’s Favorite Place on Earth is a quick and easy read. It’s a work of biblical narrative, I tell the story of Jesus in Bethany through the eyes of Lazarus. After Lazarus speaks, I make specific applications for our lives today. The book addresses 18 specific problems that we Christians face.
I crafted the book to be something that would a fun and exciting read, but one that was insightful and practically helpful as well. Leonard Sweet summed up his view of the book by saying that it’s “part novel, part biography, part theology, part Bible study.”
In addition, I had two first-rate New Testament scholars (Craig Keener and Joel B. Green) read the book in order to ensure faithfulness to Scripture and first-century history.
JM: This work is unique among all the books you’ve written. Why did you choose, as you say on your website, to blend “drama, devotion, theology, biblical narrative, and first-century history” in this way?
FV: The longer I write books, the more I realize that there are different kinds of readers in the Christian world. I know people who only read fiction books and can’t stay with non-fiction. I know others who only read short books. Others only read books recommended by people they trust.