The following is a tag-team approach to Kelly Kapic’s new book, thanks to our friends at www.MaloneCTM.com.
Whenever we think or hear or read or say anything about God, we are doing theology. In the tradition of Helmut Thielicke’s A Little Exercise for Young Theologians, Kelly Kapic offers a concise introduction to the study of theology. He highlights its value and importance while explaining its unique nature as a serious discipline.
Not only concerned with content and method, Kapic explores the skills, attitudes and spiritual practices needed by those who take up the discipline. This brief, clear and vibrant primer draws out the relevance of theology for Christian life, worship, mission, witness and more. As Kapic says, “Theology is about life. It is not a conversation our souls can afford to avoid.”
Publication Information: A Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology. By Kelly M. Kapic. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2012. 126 pages. ISBN 978-0-8308-3975-9. $8.00.
“To study with Kelly Kapic must be serious fun. His joy in teaching theology is infectious.” Sinclair B. Ferguson, Professor of Systematic Theology, Redeemer Seminary
“This is a great primer both for new students of theology and for those well practiced in the discipline.” Timothy George, Dean of Beeson Divinity School
“Deceitfully easy and highly accessible, this guide is based on the best of theological wisdom and tested classroom experience.” Veli-Matti Kärkkäïnen, Fuller Theological Seminary
“Kelly Kapic concisely states major characteristics of faithful theologians in this little book…. This is a very good beginning.” Thomas C. Oden, Professor of Theology, Drew University
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Full Book Summary & Review by Dr. Scott Wright, Pastor of Redeemer Church (PCA) in Hudson, Ohio.
Summary: With this excellent little book Dr. Kapic helps his readers avoid the strong dichotomies of what he calls theological detachment, “a view which produces a divide between spirituality and theology, between life and thought, between faith and agency.” The opening three chapters comprising the first of two parts seek to answer the question, “Why study Theology?” In his response Dr. Kapic asserts that our notions about God powerfully influence our identity, affect our lives and give shape to our worship. Eighteen years of pastoral ministry in a Presbyterian church have confirmed for me the importance and challenge of this truth. The challenge comes, as Dr. Kapic notes, from indwelling sin and the human penchant for self-absorption. This makes forging good theology difficult. The importance lies in its power to affect our faith. Insofar as our theology is unsound, our enjoyment of God will be diminished, for we all were created to “reflect his glory and bask in his love.” Hence we must learn the song of God’s redemption as His Spirit reveals the word to our minds and seals the word to our hearts. This is anything but a dry and dreary exercise, and one can imagine the sparkle in Dr. Kapic’s eye as he writes, “we are on an adventure.” Yes, and God calls us “to come, to gaze at Christ, to hear his word and to respond in faith and love.”
Part Two consists of seven chapters and delves into the characteristics of faithful theology and theologians. This discussion is germane to all who speak of God because “whenever we speak about God we are engaged in theology.” Here Dr. Kapic stresses the inseparability of one’s life and theology. It is a “practical science” in which we are not neutral observers but fully engaged pursuers “who wrestle and rest in the God who has made himself known.” In a culture satiated with rampant hypocrisy and empty promises it is refreshing to hear him say that ours must be lived theology. How sorely we moderns need to grasp this point! The theologian is one “who freely soaks in the love of the Father and the grace of the Son and finds renewal in the strong fellowship of the Spirit.” This refusal to divorce theological considerations from practical human application is what Dr. Kapic calls an “anthroposensitive theology.” Six traits of a good theologian are highlighted. First, one must exercise “faithful reason” or a reasoning from God’s revelation that is full of faith. A good theologian resists emotionalism on the one hand with his reason and guards against rationalism on the other hand with his faith.
Second, he must be committed to prayer since God is not the mere object of study but the Lord he worships. Only by prayer may we avoid making our faith “something we discuss rather than something that moves us.” Third, a good theologian must be humble and penitent. Pride sounds the death knell of good theology. As finite and fallen creatures, we are sinners who live before One who is infinitely greater than ourselves and we depend completely on His grace and stand in need of the wisdom and insight of others.
Fourth, a good theologian must be compassionate. He knows “that God’s glory is gracious and that his grace is glorious,” and this leads to a “public theology” that sympathetic toward and concerned for the vulnerable. Fifth, a good theologian seeks the counsel of saints both past and present. “The Spirit guides the church as a body and not just a collection of assorted individuals.” Consequently Dr. Kapic underscores the benefit of engaging with tradition and locates himself among the Reformed. But he quickly adds that our final authority is God speaking in and through the Scriptures. “Our worship,” he says, “is not a solo but a chorus of praise.”
Finally, echoing the Psalmist he says a good theologian must love the Scriptures. “Oh how I love your law!” (Psalm 119:97). The self-revelation of God in the Bible is the means by which He forms His church and shapes our worship. Indeed, it is in Scripture that “we feel the warmth of his breath” having our memories stimulated, our hearts enlivened, our souls comforted and our affections drawn to Christ. Evaluation: This is an excellent, well-written little book. One must not be fooled by its brevity and simplicity into thinking it is insignificant or trivial. Part of its value lies in its accessibility to all Christians.
Evaluation: The book is little for good reason. As a primer for new theologians it is not likely to intimidate or overburden them. It is not meant for extended theological study or a full scale examination of doctrine. The “full course meal” will likely follow. This little book is meant to whet the theological appetite and prepare the aspiring soul, and in both goals it succeeds. The book’s content is concise but its wisdom is deep. Dr. Kapic’s straightforward presentation offers profound truths and practical wisdom in a pleasant and irenic style. It is said that great beauty is often most appreciated through simplicity and candor. Of this Dr. Kapic’s book is a good example. The material itself is biblical and sound, the style direct and fluid, the spirit gracious and affable. I warmly recommend it.
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Comments on Chapter 1: Dr. Stephen Moroney, Chair, Department of Theology at Malone University
Summary: While some people are haunted by the question of whether or not God exists, the vast majority of humans believe that there is a God and many of us wonder what God is like. People have theological questions and convictions and whenever they ponder those questions or voice those convictions, they are engaged in theology–the study of God. The Bible warns us, however, that our ideas about God and our responses to God are tainted by sin. We are tempted to create false gods and follow them, whether the golden calf or Baals of the ancient Israelites or the self-absorption and self-centered consumerism of modern western culture. Idols gleam and glimmer but they can never satisfy our souls in any deep or lasting way. Even more seriously, idolatrous ideas distort our worship of the one true God. Theological reflection can help us here, says Kapic, as “a way of examining our praise, prayers, words and worship with the goal of making sure they conform to God alone.” As those who are made for joyous fellowship with God, human beings cannot afford to miss out on theology and its exploration of our Creator.
Evaluation: A central purpose of Kapic’s little book is to help people avoid the plague of theological detachment, marked by “a divide between spirituality and theology, between life and thought.” The first chapter, a mere five pages in length, offers the initial antidote to this plague. Kapic makes the point that it is part of the human condition to think and to speak words about God. Kapic quotes Martin Luther to the effect that “we are all called theologians,” and he cites Carolyn Custis James’ insight that “whether our theology is good or flawed, those we love most will be first to feel the effects.” Like it or not, we are already theologians who have entered the conversation about God. Formal, intentional, systematic study of theology merely helps us do better what we inevitably do anyway–think and talk about God. The opening chapter is an inviting entrée to themes Kapic will develop in more depth later in the book: faithful worship of God, true (but imperfect) knowledge and love of God, enjoyment and delight in God, personal faith and reasoned commitment to God, growth in theological wisdom through prayerful study of God, humble and repentant response to God, compassionate concern and pursuit of godly justice, all undertaken with others in the community of faith, in loving dependence on Scripture, which draws us to evermore embrace the triune God by whom and for whom we were created.
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Commentary on Chapter 2 by Tim Longbrake, Assistant Director of Spiritual Formation at Malone University
Summary: One cannot worship what one does not know. More knowledge of God necessarily leads to a greater worship of God. This is why it is so important to study theology: seeking after knowledge of God and consequently gaining a level of revelation leads to a change in worldview. Humanity must find meaning in first understanding God in whatever capacity that knowledge is afforded. Only after gaining knowledge of God can one begin to understand oneself. Kapic warns that “it is not that we lost sight of all except God, but rather that we view everything in light of God and through the story of his creation and redemption.” The Kingdom of God is the lens through which one views the world, and the study of theology serves to focus this lens to allow for a better and clearer understanding of God’s will and purpose. Moreover, since real worship cannot be contained within the walls of a sanctuary, worship must consume one’s entire existence, a constant seeking to “think God’s thoughts after him.” True worship of the Almighty occurs when one passionately seeks after God.
Evaluation: Kapic writes this chapter to rightly focus Christian worship. There has been a fairly recent trend in musical worship of singing songs of praise to God that are more about what the singer is doing than all that God has done. Too often congregants are engrossed in lifting themselves up in worship; but worship should not be an autonomous act of egocentrism directed toward nothing in particular. Instead, worship of the One True God should be rooted in one’s knowledge in and thereby directed toward God. While one’s knowledge of God in his essence will always be limited, the journey to know God is essential in order to truly worship him. This is vital information for the Theologian: attaining knowledge of God leads to deeper, more meaningful worship. The perception is often the opposite, that one becomes rigid and aloof with more theological education, but Kapic successfully argues that knowledge of God leads to intimacy and not detachment. For theologians—which as explained in chapter 1 is everyone who endeavors to know God—it is encouraging that any understanding of God increases the joy found in knowing God. To truly know someone is to love them; to truly love them is to know them.
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Commentary on Chapter 4, “The Inseparability of Life and Theology” by Kim Deitrick, Director of Christian Education & Youth, Grace UCC Uniontown
Kelly Kapic’s handy guide, A Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology, provides a crisp and to-the-point look at the inevitable relationship between theology and the Christian life. He purposefully explains how the knowledge of God helps us to understand and conform to God in ways that are simple yet worship-filled, wonderful yet unique. With the help of ideals from timeless theologians such as Augustine, Kierkegaard, Barth, Chesterton, and Calvin, Kapic challenges his readers to take this relationship seriously as we join on the pilgrimage of faith together.
Kapic delves into the interwoven nature of everyday life and theology in chapter four, “The Inseparability of Life and Theology.” He sparks the attention of the theologian when he asks, “How is my life related to my theology,” for it is a travesty to consider separating one from the other. Kapic argues that, despite the rise of postmodern ideas, the Holy Spirit should be the true leader to helping us understand God.
To prove this, he introduces us to some great theologians of the ages: Paul, Gregory of Nazianzus, Charles Hodge, and J.I. Packer. All agree that the mark of a true theologian lies not in the depth and breadth of intellectual maturity with a goal of perfection; rather, it lies in the realization that we are all sinners saved by grace and directed through the daily struggles of life by the Spirit—that is true faithfulness. A person does not simply know God through studying scripture hermeneutically and purposefully; she also needs to experience the presence of God and prepare herself spiritually for everyday encounters with the living God.
However, Kapic does take care to warn that pride and piety can very often step in the way of theological discussions. Instead of studying and speaking of God with arrogance and feeling as if we have God completely figured out, we should come to speak of theology in a way that reflects the humility in our study and softness in our hearts. Great theologians come to terms with the fact that God will always be too infinite for our very finite minds to understand; we will never be able to fully comprehend God’s character and love and to attempt to claim that we do proves dangerous indeed. What Kapic refers to as “anthroposensitive theology” affirms what all past theologians have concluded: our intellectual thoughts about theology must also be accompanied by life-application.
Inevitably, our ultimate goal is to apply our thoughts about theology into our lives as spiritual beings serving a God who communes with us, cares for us, and reveals himself to us humbly. We become great theologians by being devoted to, as Kapic explains throughout the rest of the book, faithful reason, prayer and study, humility and repentance, suffering, justice, and knowing God, tradition and community, and love of scripture.
Kelly Kapic moves mountains with this compelling and faith-filled, one-hundred page book. He clearly has worked many long hours and had conversations with many to put together his thoughts about theology into this succinct guide. It does not matter if one comes to A Little Book for New Theologians well-versed in theology or if one takes up this book for daily devotional reading, it benefits positively all who read it because of Kapic’s desire for the reader to connect his or her Christian life with the study of theology.
Quoting Martin Luther as saying, “We are all called theologians, just as we are all called Christians,” Kapic strings this theme through all of the chapters, talking to the reader as if he sits with him nonchalantly in a café, speaking in words that are clear and easy to understand (15). Desiring to know God and study what God is like proves a challenge but is something that all Christians must attempt because God is not only at the very center of our core and our being, but knowing God also ties together within us the relationship between worship, wisdom, and knowing our own selves. We cannot separate our Christian life from theology, for the two are like a basket that has been tightly woven together to create a strong holding place for whatever may be carried within.
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Commentary on Chapter 6 by Rev. Amy Price, Adjunct Professor Malone University, Pastor in the East Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church
Summary: In his 2012 book, A Little Book for New Theologians, Kelly Kapic seeks to put forth an accessible understanding of what theology is, identifies the reader as a theologian, and gives a lay of the land for theological practice. Chapter Six is a very brief treatise on the role of prayer and study in the practice of theology. Kapic cautions the new theologian that one’s practice of theology is not an outward discipline, but an inner one. To read of Luther’s epiphany (or Wesley’s strangely warmed heart), is not the same as having one’s own personal experience of God. Prayer and study are the ways for the theologian to wrestle with her faith and truly encounter the risen Christ. However, it is not simply having times of prayer or study that are important, according to Kapic, rebutting the popular evangelical notion of “quiet time” or “devotions.” Instead, Kapic rightly emphasizes “constant communion” with God, having an attitude of prayer, a constant awareness of the presence of God. This attitude of prayer is coupled with coram Deo, the living of life before God. With a life of prayer and a life lived before God, theological study and reflection is not simply study, but divine and life-giving conversation.
Evaluation: Having recently graduated from seminary, Kapic’s book reminded me very much of a first-year seminary text. In fact, I would recommend it as an excellent introductory text at any seminary. It’s a fast read and would give all first-year students, regardless of their various vocational backgrounds, equal footing at the start of their seminary journey. His attention to prayer and study as facets of theological practice are spot-on, and I applaud his emphasis on the constancy and pervasiveness of prayer in one’s life. I wished he could have spent more time on this topic, but that would betray the “littleness” of this little book.
Having skimmed the other reviews posted on the www.MaloneCTM.com blog (I know, a big no-no!), I’d have to agree with the other affirmations of the book as a whole, while offering one major criticism: the formatting. I understand it’s difficult to write a text such as this without referencing other writers and theologians; however, I found the frequency of footnotes and semi-related block quotes inserted on nearly every page rather distracting. Still, a solid introductory text to theological reflection and practice (two items that should never be separated, in my opinion, and thankfully, Kapic’s).
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Commentary on Chapter 7 by Adam Robb
In Chapter 7 of A Little Book For New Theologians, Kelly M Kapic sets out to show the importance of Humility and Repentance in the study of theology. He explains how God regards those who are humble in their pursuit of Him by giving them grace and why God is opposed to those who are proud or arrogant. He also cites some well known theologians such as Augustine and Martin Luther, showing how they guarded themselves against pride.
‘In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that- and therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison- you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.’ – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity. Kapic does a magnificent job juxtaposing God’s immensity with our finite nature and how that affects our studies and attitudes toward others. In this chapter it’s as if he is holding up a mirror to our lives so the reader can see whether or not they have been practicing humility themselves.
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— More chapter reviews to come in the future!
God’s Favorite Place on Earth is Frank Viola’s “life’s work.” It just released.
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Here are the reviews …
“In Frank Viola’s hands, the story of Lazarus—like Lazarus himself—once again comes to life. In a world where hope is battered and life can so easily beat down the human spirit, we are reminded once more of the possibility of becoming a host of Life. The gift given to Lazarus can be yours as well.”
John Ortberg, senior pastor at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church and author of Who Is This Man?
“God’s Favorite Place on Earth realigned my heart toward Jesus and His mysterious, confounding, surprising, beautiful ways. It’s not often I learn something new when reading a book, but Frank Viola’s sharp storytelling and insightful interpretation made me hunger for more of the real Jesus. Pick up this book if you need a reversal in your Christian life; it will not disappoint.”
Mary DeMuth, author of Everything: What You Give and What You Gain To Become Like Jesus
“Frank Viola’s pen and voice are consistently both penetrating and trustworthy. Beyond his invitingly beautiful writing skill—which makes reading a joy and a sight-seeing tour that brings God’s Word into 3-D when he relates narrative passages, I’m grateful for the depth of his themes. Frank probes the ‘deep calls unto deep’ content of the Holy Spirit’s call within the Scriptures, and awakens that hunger that must be regularly fed to secure renewal in each of us. God’s Favorite Place on Earth is the kind of book I’ve discovered I need to periodically find and read; thereby keeping ‘the fallow ground’ of my own soul plowed, re-sown and watered, in order to continue fruitfulness and to deepen the root system of my spiritual walk and growth in Christ.”
Pastor Jack Hayford, Chancellor of The King’s University, Los Angeles
“Frank Viola’s God’s Favorite Place on Earth is a fast-moving, groundbreaking look at the Christian’s struggle against legalism, discouragement, doubt, rejection, and spiritual complacency. Told through the voice of Lazarus, the narrative is intellectually gripping and emotionally touching. This is a masterfully engaging book that distills the vision of the Christian life into one focused quest: To be God’s favorite place on earth today. I recommend this little volume to all Christians and Christian leaders. It brings several familiar Gospel stories to life in a fresh and compelling way.”
Mark Batterson, New York Times bestselling author of The Circle Maker
“Out of the rubble of the crumbling religion of Christendom is arising a new tribe of kingdom revolutionaries who are captivated by a vision of a God and a kingdom that is anchored in the humble, enemy-loving, self-sacrificial love manifested on the cross. And one of the boldest, most insightful and certainly most creative leaders of this rising movement is Frank Viola. Combining masterful storytelling, historical knowledge, biblical insight and practical wisdom, Frank artfully uses the Gospels’ depiction of Lazarus and the small town of Bethany to lay out a beautiful and compelling vision of a God who longs to make every human heart and every church ‘His favorite place.’ In the process, Frank prophetically exposes the subtle but all-important difference between hearts that embrace Jesus and hearts that merely appear to do so. It is the difference between the unimpressive town of Bethany, where Jesus was welcomed and worshiped, and the much more impressive Jerusalem, which crucified Him. This is a beautifully written, timely, prophetic work all would benefit from reading!”
Greg Boyd, pastor and author of Benefit of the Doubt, Present Perfect, and The Myth of a Christian Nation
“A lot of people write books, Frank writes stories and in this one we once again see why he’s such a master. Honored to call him a friend, excited to call him an author I love to read.”
Jon Acuff, Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Start, Quitter, and Stuff Christians Like
“As masterly as a Cezanne canvas or a Stravinsky score, Frank Viola surpasses himself in his best book yet—a work of serene, soaring magnificence. Part novel, part biography, part theology, part Bible study, Frank’s imaginative touch and command of prose haiku leaves the reader resolved more than ever to be a Bethany—God’s favorite place on earth.”
Leonard Sweet, Drew University, George Fox University, Chief Contributor to sermons.com
“My Sunday School teachers did the best they could, but growing up the biblical people and accounts were no more than flannel graph images in my mind. They existed at about the same level as the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny. As I’ve become a student of God’s Word, I’ve fallen in love with the real people who find themselves in the pages of the Bible. I learn so much from their dreams, their failures, and especially their surrender. Reading God’s Favorite Place on Earth by Frank Viola, my soul began to burn from Chapter One. To delve into Lazarus’ heart and thoughts … I received a beautiful glimpse into the life of Christ on earth. Lazarus’ stories make a perfect foundation for God’s truth, God’s intimacy. I can’t wait to share this book!”
Tricia Goyer, USA Today best-selling author of 35 books, including The Promise Box
“Perhaps it’s because I work in a creative business, the idea of ‘place’ has always been important to me. Where I find inspiration, where I write, or where I take time off, matters because I’ve discovered that where I create is the key to what I create. In spite of that, and in spite of my Ph.D. in Theology, I had never considered the importance of Bethany in the life of Jesus. Frank Viola’s new book God’s Favorite Place on Earth helped me understand why that one location meant so much to His life and ministry – and why a loved and valued place can transform yours.”
Phil Cooke, media consultant and author of Unique: Telling Your Story in the Age of Brands and Social Media
“This book exudes love for Jesus. Its creative format offers an inviting window for valuable meditations on what we can learn about the Lord and our relationship with Him from His life and that of some of His closest friends.”
Craig Keener, Professor of New Testament at Asbury Seminary, author of The IVP Bible Background Commentary
“Reading God’s Favorite Place on Earth illuminates the story of Jesus in such a new and captivating way that it’s bound to impact your life. Read this powerful book and reconnect with the Lord’s heart for every Christian, every church, and every city. “
Pete Wilson, pastor and author of Plan B and Empty Promises
“God’s Favorite Place on Earth is engaging fiction, poetry, theology, and devotion all put under one cover. The book brings new insight and perspective to Jesus and His most intimate friends – Lazarus, Mary, and Martha – with creative language that is beautiful and inspiring. It’s emotionally moving and brings the reader back into the Gospels as an observer, addressing some of our deepest struggles as Christians in the process.”
Anne Marie Miller, author of Mad Church Disease: Overcoming the Burnout Epidemic and Permission to Speak Freely: Essays and Art on Fear Confession and Grace, speaker and blogger
“In the scope of the Biblical story, weren’t Lazarus, Martha, and Mary just minor figures living in a unimportant village? That’s certainly what I assumed until Frank Viola showed me what I had been missing. With a mix of creative narrative and pastoral insight, Viola reveals what these friends of Jesus meant to Him—and what that means for us.”
Joe Carter, editor at The Gospel Coalition and The Action Institute
“Frank Viola is a powerful story teller. The story in this book changed Frank’s life. That’s a powerful statement. After reading the pages of this book, I’m convinced that learning God’s favorite place on earth might just change yours also. Do you need some encouragement? Ever feel rejected in your Christian walk? Read this book!”
Ron Edmondson, pastor and blogger at ronedmondson.com
“More than a devotional, better than an academic study, God’s Favorite Place on Earth is a deeply moving pastoral book that will build your faith. Turn its pages slowly, pause between chapters and allow yourself to be immersed into the world of the New Testament. Prepare yourself for an encounter with Jesus the Galilean yet the very Son of God.”
David Fitch, B R Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology, Northern Seminary, author of Prodigal Christianity
“My friend Frank Viola is one of my favorite authors. He has the rare ability to make theology beautiful and grace delicious and practical. In God’s Favorite Place on Earth, Frank teleports you back into the ancient 1st Century soil of Bethany, Jesus’ favorite place on earth, and a whole new world of grace will unfold like drama right before your eyes. This book will move you to love Jesus more. “
Derwin L. Gray, author of Limitless Life: You Are Not Your Past When God Holds Your Future, speaker and pastor
“God’s Favorite Place on Earth beautifully creates a powerful and moving portrait of the humanness of Jesus and His dearest relationships. Taking a story well-told, Frank Viola engages the voice and view of Lazarus to bring a new perspective and moving relatability to Jesus’ life on earth. Incredibly thoughtful and moving.”
Jenni Catron, Executive Director of Cross Point Church and author of Just Lead!
“Frank’s deep love for Jesus abides in every sentence of this unique and beautiful book. He makes the dry bones of the old stories-from-Sunday-school dance with beauty and resurrection power. God’s Favorite Place is a call, a challenge, and a love story, all at once.”
Sarah Bessey, author, editor of A Deeper Story, and blogger at sarahbessey.com
“Familiar stories scattered in different parts of the gospels are woven together into one narrative in this innovative work. Fictional elements help bring the events to life, and each chapter concludes with practical teaching to drive home the message that if you choose to welcome Jesus into your life, remarkable consequences will follow. Frank’s refreshing and infectious passion for Jesus permeates every word.”
Adrian Warnock, author of Raised with Christ and blogger at adrianwarnock.com
“Hold on for a mind-bending, Spirit-honing journey. I’ve been a fan of Frank’s writing for many years now, and this book distills all of the things I love best about his books. Here, for the first time, Frank not only offers great wisdom and theological insight, but also offers narrative passages to take us back to the sights, sounds, and realities of Jesus’ day. We are there at the table with him in Bethany. We are there at His side when He calls Lazarus from the tomb. To encounter Jesus personally is to be changed forever, and Frank offers that opportunity by taking us to God’s Favorite Place on Earth.”
Eric Wilson, New York Times best-selling author of Fireproof, 1 Step Away, and October Baby
“Here’s an invitation to experience Jesus in a remarkably personal way, through the eyes of His close friend Lazarus. As Lazarus retells ‘the old, old story,’ we find ourselves there, with him, with his family, with Jesus, watching Jesus at work and enjoying the warmth of His presence and the power of His influence. Frank Viola draws us into a powerful drama very much at home in the Gospels and faithful to the first-century world, and then he helps us to personalize Jesus’ message.”
Joel B. Green, Ph.D. Professor of New Testament Interpretation & Associate Dean for the Center for Advanced Theological Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary
“God’s Favorite Place on Earth is old school, time-tested wisdom delivered in a highly creative format. I not only hope this book gains a wide reading, but an equal application. I know it spoke to my heart and gently challenged me to follow Jesus ever more closely, to make a Bethany in my heart.”
Todd Hunter, Anglican bishop, founder of Churches For the Sake of Others, author of Our Favorite Sins and Christianity Beyond Belief
“Without question, this is Frank Viola’s most exhilarating book yet. Read it to see into the heart of Lazarus. Read it to experience the tenderness of Jesus like never before!”
Dr. Andrew Farley, bestselling author of The Naked Gospel and God Without Religion
“Frank Viola has a rare gift for helping us all to understand the intimate union we share with the Father through Jesus Christ. God’s Favorite Place on Earth will stir your emotions and empower you to open yourself to be a ‘Bethany’where Jesus feels right at home. This is one of those books you’ll read twice and then share with a friend.”
Steve McVey, author of Grace Walk
“History is always informative, but it takes an artist to make it inspirational. By weaving imagination and history together, Frank Viola has crafted a captivating tale of a place where God ‘hung out’ with His friends and touched real human life. You won’t regret the time you invest in exploring this ancient villa through Frank’s creative mind!”
Brandon Cox, pastor and editor of pastors.com
“After reading God’s Favorite Place, I find myself longing to be in each Bethany story with Jesus, tasting the food, smelling the perfume, seeing the man raised, and watching Jesus soar to the heavens. But more so than this desire, I now long to be Bethany to those around me. Thanks Frank, for helping me see.”
Pete Briscoe, pastor at Bent Tree Bible Fellowship, Telling the Truth
“Few authors challenge me in my faith like Frank Viola. This book and the stories it contains will force you to face the myth of religion and instead adopt a life of deeper dedication to God, to find your own Bethany. It sure did for me.”
Jeff Goins, author of Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams into Your Comfortable Life
“Frank Viola’s new book God’s Favorite Place on Earth couldn’t have reached me at a better time. I’ve been grappling with the pain of being rejected, misunderstood, and judged by other Christians for a few years now. I had no idea how dangerously bitter I’d become. Frank’s book spoke directly into my heart, giving me much-needed perspective on the way God reconciles these difficult experiences, both in Jesus’ life in the flesh and in ours. I realized how I had slipped into the modern church’s focus on the self and success, and how that set me up to be bitter instead of forgiving, cynical instead of surrendered. I had forgotten that God’s greatest work comes in and through my weakness and brokenness. This book is a timely and poignant reminder, through the story of Jesus’ life and His one safe place, of the way God can redeem the pain of rejection by fellow believers and do amazing things through our own weakness when we embrace our brokenness and surrender to God.”
Joy Bennett, writer, editor, and blogger at joyinthisjourney.com
“God’s Favorite Place on Earth invites you to discover in a fresh way God’s desire to live in close relationship. Many struggle today from self-doubt and discouragement. They feel stress at home, school and work. This book invites you into the life and experience of Lazarus and his small village of Bethany. In an easy to read and creative way, Viola tells the story of Lazarus and why Jesus, as God with us, found Bethany as His favorite place on earth. This journey ends with a compelling vision for believers to become God’s Bethany to their own communities. This book will inspire all who read it.”
Bruxy Cavey, teaching pastor at The Meeting House and author of The End of Religion
“The best thing I can say about Frank Viola is this: When I read his books—and I read them all—I don’t think much about Frank Viola. I think about Jesus. And I learn to love Him more. This book is no different. Read it, and you’ll find yourself thinking, if you’re like me, ‘I knew Jesus was great, but… Wow!’ And that, at least from me, is as good as it gets.”
Brant Hansen, radio personality and blogger
“Do you know what it feels like to be rejected? Do you long for the chance to start over in life? Do you yearn to find someone worthy of the love you have to give? Then take a walk with Frank Viola to the town of Bethany, to meet a family you’ll feel right at home with. And to meet their friend Jesus for the first time all over again.”
Sean Gladding, author of The Story of God, the Story of Us
“As you read these pages I predict that you, like me, will receive a fresh vision to ‘Follow hard after God’ as David did. I also predict that you’ll receive new prophetic vision as to what Jesus wants for us, His Church.”
Steve Sjogren, author, church planter, pastor
“God’s Favorite Place on Earth illuminates the town of Bethany, welcoming us to visit and, in doing so, gain a powerful and irreplaceable picture of our Lord. Viola effortlessly weaves together a compelling narrative with practical wisdom, offering a fresh, imaginative, and exciting new vision of Jesus Christ, while also challenging our thinking to make room for this new revelation of an incredibly intimate and altogether real Christ.”
Nicole Cottrell, blogger at modernreject.com
“The insights of this book are profound for someone seeking a clear understanding of Jesus’ character. More than that, it’s a compelling display of Christ’s human depth that is uncommon to traditional Christian literature.”
Dale Partridge, CEO at Sevenly.org
“In Frank’s new book, God’s Favorite Place on Earth, through the power of fictional story and eye-opening life applications, we see Bethany, the physical place where Jesus retreated while on earth. But Bethany is more than just a historical city. The parallels and message Viola reveals is powerful. I hope your heart is touched like mine was. May we all strive daily to be a Bethany.”
Melissa K. Norris, novelist, newspaper columnist, speaker, author of Pioneering Today-Faith and Home the Old Fashioned Way, and blogger at melissaknorris.com
“I have often been haunted by Paul’s reflections in 2 Corinthians 11 that we put up with ‘another Jesus’ way too easily as we slide away from the moorings of simple devotion in a cultural milieu that, as Frank says in his Introduction, causes us to battle ‘doubt, discouragement, fear, guilt, division, rejection, and the struggle against consumerism and lukewarmness.’ In our attempts to follow Jesus in such a hostile environment, we often lose sight of who He really is. Frank Viola does a marvelous job of getting our eyes back on Jesus and the gospel narrative through the eyes of one of His dearest friends, Lazarus, and the surprising beauty and safety of the place where He lived, Bethany. A truly unique vision of Jesus unfolds in this well written and beautifully-told story. I believe Frank’s efforts here will go a long way in keeping us from embracing ‘another Jesus,’ ‘another Spirit’ and ‘another gospel.’
David Ruis, pastor and musician, davidruis.com
“In the great age of new media entrepreneurs, Viola has established himself as simultaneously one of the most consistently creative Christian thinkers writing today, and one of the most deeply rooted in classical Christian tradition. It’s the imaginative interweaving of old and new that has always made Viola interesting – and that trait, that special skill, is in full flower in this new work. Entering into the life and story of Jesus of Nazareth through the person of Lazarus, and through the divine ‘home’ of Bethany, is a true stroke of inspiration.”
Timothy Dalrymple, Ph.D., direct of content at patheos.com and managing editor of the patheos evangelical portal
“In God’s Favorite Place on Earth, Frank Viola invites us into the little village of Bethany to experience Jesus anew through the eyes of Lazarus. Together we discover that the world has not really changed that much, and that meeting Jesus has the same transformational impact 2,000 years after His first visit to Lazarus’ home. It’s challenging and encouraging to uncover the power of grace again for the first time.”
Geoff Surratt, speaker, author, consultant, and director of Exponential
“Frank Viola’s creative narrative, engaging discussion and insightful commentary on Jesus’ association with the village of Bethany spoke to my heart, challenged my lifestyle, and fed my soul.”
David Lamb, associate professor of Old Testament, Biblical Seminary, author of God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?
“If Jesus had a BFF, there’s a good chance it was Lazarus. With fresh perspective, unique insight, and a poetic touch, Frank Viola brings us a look at Jesus’ life and ministry through Lazarus’ eyes. What we discover is God’s Favorite Place on Earth and a surprising challenge to us all. It still exists, and it’s closer than you might think.”
Jamie Wright, author and blogger, theveryworstmissionary.com
“When He wasn’t teaching, healing, and sowing the seeds of God’s New Creation ecology, where on earth did Jesus go to just be Himself? He went to Bethany, an unassuming village containing remarkable relationships – a space where Jesus could simply be. With the pen of a seasoned storyteller, Frank Viola brings Lazarus back to life again to tell us the story of God’s Favorite Place on Earth – a ‘Bethany’ that’s not only a historical place in time, but a hospitable haven for the living Christ that can be born in every heart, home, church, and village today. This is a must-read that nourishes heart and mind – you’ll want to get extras to give to friends!”
Mike Morrell, journalist and blogger, mikemorrell.org
“This book fastened my heart and mind on Jesus Christ. I count it as Frank Viola’s best work. His passion for and love of Jesus Christ are on full display. But more importantly, Jesus Christ is on full display. The setting is Bethany, a little village atop the Mount of Olives. The story is told by Lazarus. It is powerful and moving. Be prepared to step into the story, to take a place in Bethany and encounter Jesus like never before.”
Bob Christopher, host of People to People Radio, author of Love Is
“Ministry Leadership is tough, and so is the path of ministry preparation. Frank Viola presents a great narrative on church leadership and how criticism and rejection are many times God’s tools for, as Frank puts it, ‘liberating His servants from human control and the desire to please men.’ This is a great read for any church leader.”
Todd Rhoades, blogger and idea generator at Leadership Network
“In God’s Favorite Place on Earth, Frank Viola creatively brings forth powerful and practical truths through the incarnate life of Christ. Jesus loved all whom He encountered, and yet like us, He had special relationships that brought Him much joy. God’s special place called ‘Bethany’ is a place where real life, real relationships, and transformational experiences happen. As Bethany comes alive in your own heart as you read this book, you will find encouragement, revelatory insight, and strength for your journey.”
Robert Ricciardelli, founder of Converging Zone Network
“The heart of the Christian faith is not simply allegiance to a book or obedience to a set of rules. Instead it is a profound transaction with Jesus Christ. Frank Viola re-tells the tale of two sisters and a brother who encounter Christ within both their ordinary existence in a small village, and their human drama of suffering, life and death. With the skill of a compassionate preacher and skillful teacher, Viola draws from the story of Mary, Martha and Lazarus lessons from life that will lead the reader to his own life-changing encounter with the King of Kings—Christ the Lord.”
Dwight Longenecker, Catholic priest, author of The Quest for the Creed and The Romance of Religion, award winning blogger, speaker, and retreat leader
“If the gospel has become rote for you, if the familiarity of the stories weigh tiredly on your shoulders, if you wish you could read again with the passion and excitement of new eyes – then you need this book. Frank has taken the familiar and made it new, embracing the gospel for what it is – a warm, real narrative – not a cold, culturally inaccessible fable. This book will shed new light on a tale you thought you had mastered.”
Jessica Bowman, blogger at bohemianbowmans.com
“There could not be anything more human than to have a home, a home close to the heart, a favorite place to just be. Viola strikes deep emotional chords in reminding us in a new way that God became flesh in Christ Jesus, that the city of Bethany was God’s Favorite Place on Earth. All I can say as I read this touching story is, ‘Yes, Jesus had a home. Jesus was human.’ Every pastor, Sunday School teacher, and Bible study leader looking for a fresh way to reach people with the story of the incarnation will find here an exciting new approach. It is the story of Jesus through the biographical eyes of Lazarus wrapped in a teaching method. Brilliant!”
Brett Blair, president and founder of sermons.com
Author Interview & Book Review!
Learn more or purchase at Amazon.com
Our lives are woven together in such a way that the choices each one of us makes have an effect on the lives of others, both for good and for bad. Because much of the pain we endure in life is in the context of relationships, this truth often strikes us as unfair. Why should a child suffer because of the poor decisions of his or her parents? And on a grander scale, why do we all suffer the curse of Adam’s disobedience? Why should anyone be judges for someone else’s sin?
In BOUND TOGETHER, Chris Brauns explains the biblical truth that we are bound to one another. He calls this reality the “principle of the rope” and explains why it is both bad news and good news. Grasping this foundational principle will help you better understand your married, your relationship with others, and how one person’s choices can affect many others. Above all, it will help you understand more deeply the truth of the gospel.
Brauns, Chris. Bound Together: How We Are Tied to Others in Good and Bad Choices. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013.
“In BOUND TOGETHER, Chris Brauns cleverly unpacks two key theological concepts — union with Christ, and original sin — and manages to explain them in a way that any reader can understand. Highly recommended.” – Michael Horton, Westminster Seminary.
Chris moves through the concept of the rope with easy to understand dialogue. The text opens with the principle of the rope and his own personal testimony of how one person is tied to another person, whether we realize it in the moment or not. Before he expounds on this concept and how it affects your life and the lives of those around you, Brauns (wisely) goes to Scripture to explain how it all started (original sin) and where it is all going (union with Christ).
Brauns moves from the discussion of the original rope just as the apostle Paul describes original sin and the second Adam (Ro. 5:12-21). To the second Adam, to the new King, we are bound in solidarity. Through the Gospel, we are intricately connected and even united. As Brauns transitions from the biblical exposition of the “rope,” he moves into the application of this concept. Rightly so, as exemplified by Christ and his bride, the Church, Brauns starts with unity in marriages before discussing hurting families (both one’s immediate and the global Christian family).
Then, in an almost abrupt manner, Brauns discusses the impact that the “rope” plays on one’s view of death. Though abrupt, the chapter proves a rewarding read as Brauns proclaims, “We can fall from the highest cliff, yet we need not fear. The rope that binds us to Christ is the unchanging reality of his incarnation and the good news of his atoning death on our behalf.” (p. 159) Furthermore, we share and will share in that final scene which is his resurrection. Brauns concludes the text (prior to some appendices) with what appears to have been hours spent in studies of society. How does the ideology of the “rope” play into our lives in this country and the stirring call to “radical individualism”?
I was hooked from the first page. Well, technically, from page seven where you’ll find the table of contents. This is not a book simply about being nice to your neighbor and, in return, your neighbor will be nice to you. This isn’t a biblical exposition of a worldly karma way of life. Bound Together is a down to earth, theologically packed discussion of the doctrines of original sin, corporate solidarity and union with Christ, and how all of this actually plays out day to day, moment to moment. That’s the global Gospel (not in whole, but in part).
Brauns writes very well. His thoughts are not hard to follow and a reader will take note that this text is written with confident assurance in the promises of the Gospel. In that, I mean that Chris appears to be responding to a generation or a collection of conversations in which faith, both in Christ and in the promises of the LORD, is filled with doubt. It is as though the word and work our our Savior is fleeting and Brauns wants to remind everyone, through his own stories and through Scripture, that you can rest assured in your union with Christ. You can take Christ at His word. “Christ’s rope to save is stronger than Adam’s rope is to condemn.” (p. 182)
A well-written, engaging, and significant conversation to be had this day in age (or any day in age), Brauns does a great job in reminding us how our tie to others, especially Christ, affects others.
Learn more or purchase at Amazon.com
**This book was provided free from Zondervan with my promise to post an unbiased review
INTERVIEW WITH CHRIS BRAUNS
1.Hey Chris, for the reader’s sake, what’s the crux message of your book? If someone was to only give you two sentences to sum up your book – what’s it about? (put simply, what is its thesis & call to action?)
Jason, first, thanks so much for your interaction with Bound Together. As an author, getting to dialogue with people who have read the book is the fun part.
Before I forget, I would invite your readers to stop by my web site (www.chrisbrauns.com). In the month of May I am giving away the last of some books as well as some free Nooks (see the Bound Together Quiz). The goal of my web site is to post material that would be helpful to people in our local church. But it ends up being helpful to a lot of other people as well.
Back to your question, in order to give the crux of my book I need to define a term I invented: “the principle of the rope.” The principle of the rope is a metaphor that references corporate solidarity: the idea that we are not islands unto ourselves but that we are bound together with other people. As I explain in Bound Together:
Our future and place in this world isn’t simply the sum of our own individual choices. On varying levels, we are roped together with others. When someone we are roped to is lifted up, we are lifted up with them. When he or she jumps off a figurative cliff, we are pulled over with them. This is what I refer to as the “principle of the rope”: the simple truth that our lives, choices, and actions are linked to the lives, choices, and actions of other people. To put it simply, as I have in the title of this book, we are “bound together,” tied to others in our good and bad choices.
There are endless illustrations of this principle … We talk a lot about the principle of the rope in our church and at home. Recently, when I was out for a walk with my ten year old son, I asked him, “Benjamin, what do I mean by the principle of the rope.” He responded quickly. “Oh, I think about that a lot. Here’s the best example I can give. Today a couple of kids in my class got in trouble. So, none of us got to go out to recess. That’s the principle of the rope.”
This definition of the principle of rope in mind, the thesis of Bound Together is that the principle of the rope (corporate solidarity) is more powerful in the Gospel than in Adam’s sin.
In order to develop that thesis, I first had to defend that the principle of the rope is real. We are truly are bound together. One person’s action can affect many others. To make this point, I gave a number of examples from both real life and Scripture. For example, everyone died in Sodom and Gomorrah including the children. They were bound together as a culture. I then gave the ultimate negative example of the principle of the rope: the doctrine of original sin. When Adam and Eve rebelled their guilt was imputed not just to themselves but to all their descendants.
Considering how all were bound together with Adam and Eve sets us up to be amazed by the Gospel. The ultimate positive example of the principle of the rope is union with Christ. The wonderful news, per Romans 5 is that union in Christ is greater than sin in Adam.
2.Who has been most influential on this topic (you seem to be leaning on evangelically reformed concepts – am I wrong?) and what’s the most helpful stepping stone from BOUND TOGETHER for people who want to really dig into this idea?
On my site, I gave a list of the books on corporate solidarity or the principle of the rope that most influenced my thinking.
You are right that I lean on evangelically reformed concepts. John Murray’s writings were a signicant influence including The Imputation of Adam’s Sin. However, a wide range of others also helped my thinking. C.S. Lewis was a tremendous influence. In the Problem of Pain, Lewis wrote:
Everyone will have noticed how the Old Testament seems at times to ignore our conception of the individual. When God promises Jacob that ‘He will go down with him into Egypt and will also surely bring him up again’, this is fulfilled either by the burial of Jacob’s body in Palestine or by the exodus of Jacob’s descendants from Egypt. It is quite right to connect this notion with the social structure of early communities in which the individual is constantly overlooked in favour of the tribe or family: but we ought to express this connection by two propositions of equal importance – – firstly that their social experience blinded the ancients to some truths we perceive, and secondly that it made them sensible of some truths to which we are blind. Legal fiction, adoption, and transference or imputation of merit and guilt, could never have played the part they did in theology if they had always be felt to be so artificial as we now feel them to be.
… the separateness – – which we discern between individuals, is balanced, in absolute reality, by some kind of ‘interanimation’ of which we have no conception at all. It may be that the acts and sufferings of great archetypal individuals such as Adam and Christ are ours, not by legal fiction, metaphor, or casuality, but in some much deeper fashion. There is no question, of course, of individuals melting down into a kind of spiritual continuum such as Pantheistic systems believe in; that is excluded by the whole tenor of our faith. But there may be a tension between individuality and some other principle. C.S. Lewis, emphasis added (page 83).
The “other principle” to which Lewis alludes is what my book is about. I call it the “principle of the rope.” I recently pointed out in a post (see C.S. Lewis and his Last Hurdle to Belief) that one of the final hurdles Lewis dealt with before becoming a Christian focused on this subject was the question of how what Christ accomplished could have significance for us today.
John Donne’s poetry inspired me. I remember reading Donne’s poem in the forward of For Whom the Bell Tolls decades ago. It has been in my thoughts ever since.
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”
Alan Jacobs book on original sin as well as Robert Bellah’s, Habits of the Heart were also very influential.
I will stop here, but I really recommend that those interested look at the recommended reading list on my site. There are some wonderful books there.
3. It’s a wonderful concept, recognizing the unity in the body of Christ and how the entire world is intrinsically tied together, but, Chris, how do you live this out? [Maybe summate the second part of your book as if you’re just having a conversation] Life gets busy and, if we’re honest, we get distracted and forget that we’re all in this together. What’s your practice for living out the exhortation of your book?
First, as a family we are committed to our local church as extended family. That may seem obvious for a pastor, but it is possible for a pastor to keep themselves at arms length. In the case of our family, our lives are intertwined with our church and community. Recently, I celebrated a milestone birthday. (As I have now sojourned this earth for 50 years). One of my favorite cards was from a little girl in our church. She wrote, “I love you. You love me. Love Elaine. Meow.” I asked her parents about the significance of “meow.” They explained that she just likes cats and so she put that in at the end. Cats aside, I pray that Elaine’s summary is true of all of our relationships in our church family. If we are “bound together” in Jesus, then we should expect nothing less.
Of course, it is in intertwining our lives with other believers that we can be most joyfully Christ-centered and celebrate about our unity in Him. I am already looking forward to communion this Sunday and the opportunity to remember Christ’s broken body and shed blood.
My family is also very involved in the life of our community. We invite people into our home. We try and express the love of Christ for as many people as possible in as many ways as possible. As I am writing this, I just finished meeting with the president of the senior class in our high school. She wanted to talk to me about speaking at baccalaureate. She does not attend our church. But she and the other class officers know how much we care about them.
One of the central ways that I have sought to show solidarity for young people in our community is through photography. I enjoy sports and special events photography. I take a lot of pictures. I can then share those pictures with young people through social media. It is a small way to repeatedly tell young people that I care bout them.
The picture to the right is of an important touchdown in a high school football game. The young man does not attend our church. But I made sure I got him a copy of the picture. I think it is a small way to tell families that we see ourselves as bound together with our community. Over time those small ways make a difference.
Daniel Darling recently wrote a helpful post, How to Build Community in Your Church. He offers 5 practical suggestions and his post is worth reading.A couple of weeks ago a young man, whose picture I have taken many times, visited our church. He came by himself. He spent time chatting with my wife and me at the back after church. I know that part of the reason he is comfortable visiting our church is because he knows that we care about him.
Thanks so much for your message – for tangible image of the Church. We are all tied together, bound by the life, death and the resurrection of Christ Jesus.
Thank you for keeping the discussion going. Books come and go. But we need to keep talking about the reality that we are not islands unto ourselves. People are bound together.
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