I can still remember my first year as a Christian. Once I determined the gospels were telling me something reliable about Jesus and accepted Him as my Savior, I embarked on a journey to learn all I could about the Church and the Christian life. Several times along the way, an author named Frank Viola changed my course and refined my thinking. Having absolutely no background as a Christian prior to the age of thirty-five, I found myself searching for answers. What does it mean to be the church? What does life as a Christian look like? Frank Viola has been thinking deeply about these issues for years. His latest book is no exception:
Frank, I’ve read many of your books and we’ve talked on occasion in the past, but some of my readers may not be familiar with you. Can you tell them a little about you?
Let’s see. I grew up in New York where I pitched in Little League, leading the league in strikeouts. My boyhood dream was to become a major league pitcher. During my freshman year, I moved to Florida and pitched in high school. Fast forward to my early 20s. One day, I turned on the TV and saw some guy named “Frank Viola” pitching for the Minnesota Twins! I had to pinch myself! That “Frank Viola” became the world renowned MLB baseball player and I became the starving author.
Jesting aside, I’ve written over 30 books, all of which are for Christians who know there’s got to be something more to Jesus, the Scriptures, and the Christian life that they’ve been exposed to. Hence, my ministry is called “The Deeper Journey.”
What motivated you to write your latest book, Insurgence: Reclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom?
About 10 years ago, I had a burden on my heart to see what the Scripture had to say about the kingdom of God. So I began to look at the subject from Genesis to Revelation, not through a systematic theological lens, but through a narrative lens. I especially put a focus on a phrase used throughout the Gospels and Acts. The phrase was “the gospel of the kingdom.” What I discovered astounded me, deeply challenged me, and riveted me. It altered the way I viewed the Lord, His work, and the gospel.
I also compared what I had found to what I was seeing all over social media over the last decade. My observation was: Most Christians merely repeat the talking points of either the Progressive Left or the Conservative Right. And Jesus Christ and His kingdom are left out in the cold.
Out of the social media feed the heart speaks.
When I stepped back from what I discovered, it dawned on me that we had lost the earth-shaking, jarring, titanic gospel of the kingdom that shook the world in the first century. In the Summer of 2017, I spoke in a conference where I unveiled the gospel of the kingdom in eight messages. The weekend was electric. People’s lives were transformed, and we had spontaneous baptisms in response to the messages.
Each person who was baptized made a public profession of their decision to break all ties with the world system and give their full and complete allegiance to Jesus Christ and the alternative civilization that the New Testament calls “the kingdom of God.” I then put it all into a book, seeking to present the gospel of the kingdom from Genesis to Revelation as clear as I could, putting it simple terms and in an easy-to-read format. The Insurgence has begun … don’t miss it.
In your book, you argue that we – as a church – have lost the dynamic, titanic, living gospel that Jesus, Paul, and the other apostles preached. How would you briefly define that ancient gospel message?
We are Westerners, so we are the sons and daughters of Aristotle. As such, we like to compartmentalize truth into neat and tidy definitions. The danger in doing that is two-fold: (1) certain spiritual realities – like the kingdom and the gospel of the kingdom — cannot be defined without losing their power and draining their glory, and (2) for many Westerners, we wrongly equate hearing a definition with having the reality of it.
The New Testament uses the phrase “kingdom of God” over 80 times, and yet it never defines it. Instead, it illustrates it. Jesus would often say, “The kingdom of God is like …” And Paul would reverse that pattern and tell us what the kingdom of God was not. Example, “The kingdom of God is not meat or drink …”
So in like manner, I can tell you what the gospel of the kingdom isn’t. It’s not going to heaven, it’s not signs and wonders, it’s not trying make the world a better place, and it’s not about social justice or getting conservative laws passed. The gospel of the kingdom is the most powerful message in the New Testament, and I do my best to unveil it in the book in a highly readable way.
What has our current Christian culture adopted today that has replaced the ancient gospel you have described?
The alternatives which have replaced the gospel of the kingdom are as follows:
The gospel of legalism on the one hand (God’s holy. You’re not. Try harder) – OR – the gospel of libertinism on the other (You’re under grace. God understands that you’re mere mortal, so it doesn’t really matter what you do in your private life). Worship at the altar of Nationalism on the one hand, – OR – worship at the altar of Globalism on the other. Worship to the god of Capitalism on the one hand – OR – worship to the god of Socialism on the other. Allegiance to the talking points of the Conservative Right – OR – allegiance to the talking points of the Progressive Left.
None of the above have any real points of contact with the gospel of the Kingdom. Jesus stood outside both the Progressive Left of His day (the Sadducees) and the Conservative Right of His day (the Pharisees). His gospel and His message transcended – and collided – with both. And they also subverted allegiance to Rome and its emperor.
Why did you call your book Insurgence? What are you suggesting by this title?
The New Testament calls Jesus an insurgent (I go into this in the book). He was an enemy of the State, accused of treason. The gospel of the kingdom sounds like treason, even though it isn’t. Acts 17 makes this clear. Listen to this description of the apostles and their message:
“They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.”
The Insurgence, then, is the recovery of the titanic, earth-shaking, subversive gospel of the kingdom that got Jesus, John the Baptist, and the apostles in hot water. It’s a spiritual revolution against the world system that Jesus, John, and Paul speak against, and an utter and total allegiance to Jesus Christ and His alternative civilization called “the kingdom of God.”
Finally, what has been the response to your book so far?
The responses have been beyond what I expected. Personal revivals (even from many pastors), changed lives, addictions broken, complete allegiance to Christ, etc. Here is an example testimonial from a Christian leader:
“As a pastor, I read a lot of books. However, occasionally in our Christian life, we come across a book that brings us to our knees. This book has brought about a revival in my own life, though every page has been a spiritual battle. Frank brings his transparent and biblically saturated style once again to the Christian world calling on all Christians to reclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom. As a Christian, I strongly urge you to invest in your spiritual life and follow Frank on a much-needed journey. As a pastor, I strongly warn you that this book will have dire worldview altering consequences to your spiritual walk. “Pagan Christianity” may have disturbed the waters of the evangelical world, but “Insurgence” will capsize the boats of the modern Christian church. If you miss this book, then you will be missing an amazing blessing. I guarantee that you will be challenged in a way that you never have before. If you are content with casual Christianity then this book is not for you. If you, on the other hand, desire a deeper walk with the Lord, then this book will become an Ebenezer in your spiritual journey.”
People can read more testimonials on Amazon and order the book on discount there.
Many years ago, I learned that effective training requires occasional adjustments to your approach. This is true physically, tactically and intellectually. Nothing destroys growth and development quicker that stagnation. If you’re ready to have your thinking adjusted, especially when it comes to the Christian life and the nature of the Church, start reading Frank Viola.
J. Warner Wallace is a Dateline featured Cold-Case Detective, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Adj. Professor of Apologetics at Biola University, author of Cold-Case Christianity, God’s Crime Scene, and Forensic Faith, and creator of the Case Makers Academy for kids.