In 1992, Frank Viola had an epiphany. “All the sermons I heard since I was a child faded dead away. They were profoundly eclipsed by a higher vision. By God’s grace, I caught a wondrous glimpse into what Paul called the eternal purpose (Eph. 3:11).” Discovering God’s purpose freed Viola from a me-centered gospel, but ironically it allowed him to find his own purpose within God’s.
From Eternity to Here outlines three themes or narratives. Put together, Viola says that they embody God’s story. The three narratives are:
- God’s pursuit of a bride for his Son
- God’s search for a dwelling place on earth
- God creation of a new humanity
Viola takes his readers on a tour through Scripture in each of these themes.
There’s lots to like in this book. It’s Christ-centered and takes a high view of the church. It’s also well edited and reads much better than the earlier version of this book. I also appreciate the desire to see the overarching message of the Bible. Too often we atomize the Scripture. It’s great to see someone develop the central themes by focusing on God’s passion.
I do have some reservations. For instance, Viola argues that while God is perfectly adequate within Himself, he chose to, in a sense, set aside that adequacy in his pursuit of us. “Truthfully,” he writes, “God is adequate within Himself. But because God is love, he is not content to be adequate in Himself.” While I do not believe that God is impassable (without emotions), I’m a little uncomfortable with saying that God chose to need us.
He sometimes allegorizes. For instance, he says that we were the girl inside God, just as Eve was the woman inside Adam. “There was a girl inside of God before time. And you and I are part of that girl.” Interesting parallel, and I know what he’s saying – but I think he’s overreaching. The same issue comes up when he uses five Old Testament women (Eve, Sarah, Rachel, Rebekah, Asenath) as types of the church. He raises all kinds of hermeneutical issues. Some of them work; some of them leave me with questions.
Viola also expresses his anti-institutitonal bent throughout the book. This should be no surprise considering some of his other books. I’m on record disagreeing with Viola on this. We agree on many of the problems in the church, but I am not convinced that organic structures are inherently superior to institutional ones. Both have strengths; both have weaknesses. The church’s problems run deeper than its structure.
Is there more to say about the central themes of Scripture? Absolutely! Other themes like the kingdom of God, the mission of God (missio Dei), and the redemption of all creation, and bringing all things to unity in Christ (Ephesians 1:10) also need to be emphasized. It’s challenging to express the central storyline or theme of the Bible. Steve Mathewson writes on this challenge here and here.
Viola has taken on a huge challenge, and he certainly succeeds in highlighting three of the central themes in Scripture. It makes me want to pick up other books, like Christopher Wright’s The Mission of God and G.K. Beale’s The Temple and the Church’s Mission. If it was Viola’s intention to get me thinking, he’s more than succeeded.