Frank Viola and Leonard Sweet believe Jesus has gotten shortchanged and they want to give Christ "His rightful place of centrality, supremacy and sovereignty."
In Jesus Manifesto: Restoring the Supremacy and Sovereignty of Jesus Christ, the authors outline how incredible, vast and incomparable Jesus is and implore Christians to make Him the centerpiece of God's universe and theirs.
The Christian Post spoke with Viola, who also authored the best-selling From Eternity to Here, via e-mail.
CP: How did you and Leonard Sweet come together to write this book?
Viola: In August of 2008, Len and I began talking via email and phone. We both were very burdened and concerned about the place that Jesus Christ was getting in Christianity as a whole. In April of 2009, the idea of writing a joint essay emerged. We wrote the 2,400-word essay in about 18 days, titled it “A Magna Carta” and subtitled it “A Jesus Manifesto.” It was published online on June 22, 2009. It went viral immediately. (I’m told that it was viewed 500,000 times in 8 weeks.) At the end of last year, Thomas Nelson was interested in expanding the essay into a 200-page book. The book, Jesus Manifesto, released June 1st, 2010.
CP: What made you want to write the book now? Did the problem of churches misrepresenting Jesus or making the Gospel about so many things other than Christ become particularly bad in recent years or has it always persisted?
Viola: When Len and I began talking about our shared concern that Jesus Christ was getting short-changed in many quarters, the discussion mainly came in two directions:
On the one hand, there are many who affirm the orthodox teaching of the Person of Jesus, yet in many cases, other “things” are being put on the throne in place of Him. As A.W. Tozer once put it, “you can be straight as a gun barrel theologically and just as empty as one spiritually.” It’s easy to get distracted with “things” . . . even good things that are related to the Lord . . . yet miss the Lord Himself. Again, Tozer said, “the devil is a better theologian than any of us and is a devil still.” It’s not enough to be able to parrot correct doctrine about Jesus. The Holy Spirit wants to reveal Christ to our hearts in a living way and make Him preeminent and supreme in our lives, our ministries, and our churches. This happens when our eyes are opened to see His greatness.
On the other hand, the biblical testimony of who Jesus is … that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (rather than one way, a relative truth, or a nice life) . . . has come under massive assault by postmodern deconstructionists. Len and I hold strongly to the apostolic creeds that present Jesus as the Savior who was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, was crucified for our sins, bodily rose again from the dead as this world’s true Lord, ascended to the Father, and will return to this earth one day as supreme Judge of the living and the dead. (The Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed are solid, yet ancient statements of the above.)
We also feel that many Christians are frozen when they turn to the left or the right (politically speaking). Both the Christian left and the Christian right are seeking to use the power of the Empire to accomplish its goals. Both come to Caesar’s table to negotiate as another political player in the game. We feel that this is not the proper place for the church of the living God, especially in post-Christendom world. Thus we are presenting a “third path” that isn’t left or right, but forward. Forward to the Christ who lives today–who is the same Christ who is presented to us in the inspired Scriptures.
Finally, we see the Christian camp divided between those who see Jesus as mainly the Justifier (advocates emphasize the portrait of Jesus painted in Romans and Galatians) versus those who see Jesus as mainly the Justice-Giver (advocates emphasize the portrait of Jesus painted in Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Our book brings both portraits together and puts them within the larger context of Paul’s revelation of Christ in Colossians, Ephesians, and the Gospel of John. He is Alpha and Omega, and He is far more than the One who justifies the sinner and brings justice for the oppressed.
So many popular books today put you and me at the center of the “Youniverse.” Our book shifts the spotlight onto Christ and Christ alone. As one reviewer recently put it, “Don’t read Jesus Manifesto unless you’re ready to leave the Youniverse.”
Charles Spurgeon rightly said that Christ “is the whole gospel. His person, offices, and work must be our one great, all-comprehending theme.” Our book seeks to unravel that statement to a 21st century audience.
CP: Could you describe how and when you came to know Jesus in all His glory and splendor?
Viola: The Lord Jesus Christ has been a progressive revelation and unfolding in my life. I’ve by no means arrived or seen all of Him – we never will or can this side of the veil. I feel like someone who has gotten a small glimpse of Solomon’s treasures. It began in April of 1992, when someone presented Christ in a way that I had never before seen or heard. It wrecked me and left me hungry and thirsty to know Him. He has been my chief pursuit ever since. What’s so humbling and encouraging is that many people are testifying to this same experience after reading our book.
CP: To most American Christians today, who is Jesus?
Viola: I would expect that if you did a survey, you’d find some of these as answers: Son of God. Savior of the world. The one who died on the cross to forgive us of our sins. The person who gave us an example of how to be good to others. A social activist. A moral philosopher. The Lord. I don’t think you’d have many people say that He is the fullness of the Godhead, the creator and sustainer of the cosmos, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega, a life-giving Spirit, and then explain what all of that means in a way that arrests and rivets the heart. Hopefully that will change.
CP: While churches remain engaged in reaching those who don't know Christ, more (such as Craig Groeschel and Rick Warren) are beginning to also reach out to those already in the pews, who are already saved but not quite living their lives as true disciples. What are your thoughts on that?
Viola: Our book is written primarily to Christians. We’re very interested in people knowing their Lord, falling in love with Him, and learning how to live by His indwelling life. The way to be a true disciple is to know Jesus, to love Jesus, and to learn how to follow Him by the indwelling Spirit in the here-and-now. That’s not WWJD. It’s “not I, but Christ lives in me” (present tense). Yet that doesn’t happen until we are awakened to the stunning greatness of Jesus, and we discover that He is an indwelling Lord. (He indwells those who have repented and believed upon Him.) Jesus seeks to live out His life in and through us. That’s a very different concept for many Christians when they hear about discipleship.
CP: It seems simple and obvious that Christianity is Christ. But why do you think so many believers and church leaders have turned Christianity and the Gospel into something more than or other than Christ?
Viola: It’s easy to say and parrot. But having an earthshaking revelation of Christ is quite a different thing. When someone really sees that Christ is ALL (as J.C. Ryle put it) on a heart level, it changes everything . . . even our vocabulary. We give examples of this in the book.
The answer to your other question is that many believers haven’t received a revelation of Jesus Christ to their hearts that has ruined them for anything else. To put it metaphorically, their Christ is too small. In C.S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian, Aslan tells Lucy, “Every year you grow, you will find Me bigger.”
This was one of our aims in writing this book – to present to us all a greater view of Christ than we have been given. Thus our words: “It is with a burning heart for Jesus Christ and a guarded jealousy for His preeminence that we have written this book. We have written it for Him and to Him. We trust that it has been by Him and through Him.” (page 173)
CP: Jesus is being shortchanged today, you say. So what do you suggest churches do to really grasp who Jesus is, to make it all about Christ, and to re-present him to Christians and non-Christians alike?
Viola: We intentionally didn’t make Jesus Manifesto a recipe book as we want people to follow the Spirit in applying its message into their own lives and churches. I know that a good number of pastors are handing the book out to their congregations, and they are going over it together as church.
When I first came into a greater apprehension of Christ, I moved heaven and earth to find those who could present Him with staggering power and reality. So I invited those folks in to minister to us, and it was life-changing for all of us. One of the things that our book is designed to do is to create hunger and thirst for Jesus – a real longing to know Him that’s not generated from guilt, duty, or obligation, but out of a sighting of His glory. I would hope that those who are moved by our book would begin to follow that hunger and thirst, and by the Holy Spirit of God, see where it leads them.
CP: What are your thoughts on today's conservative Christian leaders who are active in the public policy area and largely known for what they are against, such as abortion and homosexuality? Should they take a step back and focus more on shining the spotlight on Christ?
Viola: Interestingly, a number of Christians on both the left and the right (politically) have written to us saying that the book has caused them to hit pause on what they are presently doing and reexamine it in the light of the centrality, supremacy, absolute headship and indwelling life of the Lord Jesus Christ. I think that’s a wise thing for all of us to do, no matter what sort of ministry we’re engaged in.
CP: We keep hearing about the younger evangelicals who are less interested in opposing issues and more interested in working on what they are for such as mission, helping the poor, justice, and so forth. Is the younger generation taking a step in the right direction or, as you mention in the book, are they making justice the end goal?
Viola: Some have shared with us that the book exposed that they were putting justice on the throne instead of Jesus. Others confessed that the book humbled them after reading it, and they realized that they were making Jesus a “cause,” admitting that they don’t really know HIM very well, but now desire to.
This is also happening among leaders also, who have shared with us that they have put “leadership principles” on the throne and lost Jesus in the process. I think the book finds many of us out in this regard. I know that Len and I wept through parts of it ourselves while writing it. We hope that God will continue to breathe on it in this regard.
CP: Would you say you're more concerned with the secularization of society or Christians losing sight of or misrepresenting Christ?
They go hand in hand. The latter often provokes and foments the former.
CP: Do you currently see any positive signs of people going back to Christ and becoming Jesus Manifestos?
Viola: The book has been out for a little over two weeks. So it’s hard to access that right now. But based on the mail I’m receiving, it’s having a monumental impact. And based on the way it’s been selling, there’s titanic interest in the message of Christ that it presents.