Tuesday, October 07, 2014

On Holding on Viola, Part 1

My attention was recently directed to JP Holding's review of Viola & Barna's Pagan Christianity, a book that I read recently and which edified me significantly.

I'd like to write a full review of it. I don't have time to go through the monstrous article in its entirety at the moment, but I would like to offer the following review of the introduction, leading up to the subtitle Preface in the review article.

He portrays himself as an advocate of "natural and spontaneous expression" that allegedly comes from "the divine life that indwelt the early Christians" [xix]. Really? Mormons call that a "burning in the bosom," and it is epistemically a disaster area.

I honestly do think this statement misunderstands Viola.
Mormons cite "burning in the bosom" for proof that the Book of Mormon is true. I see no comparative claim in the book.

"Natural and spontaneous expression" looks far too much like a rationalization to turn a church meeting into a widespread counseling and storytelling session

I don't think this is fair. Yes, Viola is a bit charismatic for my tastes, maybe a bit goofy, but nothing he says in the book **necessarily** leads to this characterisation.

in which it is only imagined that Jesus is the "functional head"

But why is it "only imagined"? No, the Bible doesn't lay out a specific set of do-this and don't-do-thats... that's how Jesus is indeed the functional head, for everyone plays a part in fulfilling NT commands and love.

because everyone leaves feeling better about themselves and life

I really don't think this is fair either.

Claiming to have "divine life" in you, and to be expressing it when you reel off some poem or testimony, is one thing; actually doing that for real is another.

That is true, but I don't see how it is particularly relevant.

Where Viola goes constantly wrong is in that he unwittingly panders to selfish individualism

I entirely disagree, but let's see why he says that.

It is because he does not understand the collectivist psychology of the ancient world

Seems to me that he takes it into account quite well, because he is the one proposing the church structure that is every-member-functioning, rather than everyone sitting and facing forward while one guy runs the show.

he fails to grasp that "natural and spontaneous expression" in our own social setting will end up doing more harm than good

It *can*, sure, but it doesn't *have to*. Does JP Holding grasp that the institutional church structure with which we are so familiar in our own social setting will ends up doing a lot of harm as well?
Church structure and the behavior of the church members are two separate questions. If people are sinning against each other right and left without repentance and sanctification, no church can survive, however it be structured. The question is: Which structure is better and more biblical?

That insulated little house church

I think this may be some evidence that Holding didn't read too carefully. Viola specifically disclaims that he is advocating house church. Rather, he is affirming *organic* church. There is a significant difference between the two.

The early church was collectivist; expression was NOT "natural" or "spontaneous" but was closely controlled by innate social structures having to do with the prevalent code of honor

Are these innate social structures expressed in the commands in the New Testament? If they are, we have but to follow those commands and we're in good shape, and this objection fails.
If they are not, is Holding foisting extrabiblical traditions on Christians? On what basis and authority does he do so?

Blaming things like an order of service for "not lead[ing] to the spiritual growth God intended" is just a rationalization that abrogates the concept of responsibility.

I don't read him as BLAMING the order of service. I see Viola calling out the counterproductive unhelpfulness of the order of service, and its extrabiblical origin.

If they're properly equipped, then they'll do just fine using an order of worship, too.

1) Not necessarily. Being properly equipped isn't a threshold one reaches, after which one can rest on one's laurels and sit back and relax. We are to continue striving toward holiness and obedience.
2) If Viola's arguments are correct, holding to a false teaching in and of itself diminishes one's proper equipping.

The point is that Viola wants us all to return to house churches

This is flatly false, and Viola explicitly reject this claim in the book. I'm afraid Holding did not read carefully enough.

Painting house churchers as "daring souls" [xviii], and depicting Viola's exposition as a "terrifying journey" filled with "frightening questions" [5-6] is just arrogant, hyperbolic contrivance.

1) Not house churches. Organic churches.
2) Holding has apparently not experienced such a thing, but Viola has, and I myself have seen it. Just b/c Holding has never been confronted with these related difficulties doesn't give him the right or basis to pooh-pooh others' experiences.

Claims like, "The pulpit elevates the clergy to a position of prominence....separating and placing [the preacher] high above God's people," and arguing that a pew is a "symbol of lethargy and passivity" that has "made corporate worship into a spectator sport" [34] is simply rationalization for one's own lack of responsiobility

But why? As far as I can see, Holding doesn't inform us. It's a naked assertion.

Maybe there can be some "face to face interaction" in Sunday School?

1) So, you have to create another event to cover up the weaknesses for the "worship service".
2) A huge percentage of Sunday Schools are also structured in rows with one guy teaching up front.
3) Sunday School is, like the order of service and the other things Viola identifies in the book, an extrabiblical tradition.

It's easier to pin blame on some object or practice than to point the finger at ourselves for not resolving to meet with one another once the service is over.

Why the hostility? Is there a good reason here to whack Viola's position? Holding seems to be making excuses here.

The don't-blame-me rhetoric here is so bad that Viola reads psychological messages into the use of stairs and a narthex

So those architectural features are total coincidences?

claims that chapter and verse divisions make Paul's letters "lose their personal touch" so that "they take on the texture of a manual."

Is that not a danger that one must studiously avoid?

(Strange how it hasn't done that to the works of Josephus or Tacitus, for example.)

1) Relatively few people have read either of those men's works.
2) How does Holding know it hasn't done that?
3) Is Josephus' writing similar in genre to that of the Pauline epistles?

My biggest issue with Viola comes when he dismisses conceptions of professional clergy

I have to say that I saw this coming a mile away.

So what's wrong with a trained clergy?

Nothing is wrong with training. There is something wrong with positing an anti-New-Testament class of people called the "clergy class".

Viola's dismissal of Bible colleges and seminaries as "human innovations," in favor of "hands-on" training and "apprenticeship, rather than of intellectual learning" merely creates an artificial, pedantic dichotomy; his indication that training in the early church was "aimed primarily at the spirit, rather than at the frontal lobe" [200] is merely a contrivance.

So Holding thinks that knowledge and wisdom are the same, and that we can learn how to interact in a godly way with people by only reading books.

If Viola thinks "spiritual revelation" is a path to knowing God, the Mormons have a few words for him.

Holding again overstates his case.
Spiritual revelation IS a path to knowing God (1 Cor 2:10-16).

Actually, this says it all: "The intellect is not the gateway for knowing the Lord deeply."

What's wrong with that, again?

It's that anachronistic idea of "God is my buddy" again

But what is Holding's argument for this assertion? Why the uncharitable interpretation? Is it not true that Viola is expressing the fact that we are spiritually united with Christ?

It should also disturb Viola deeply that his "signs of a healthy organic church" [241] can just as well describe a Mormon stake.

More unfairness. One could easily say the same thing about the institutional church.
One could also easily equate "signs of health" of institutional churches and secular for-profit businesses.
Holding ought to know well that Mormons have conscientiously tried to copy many, many parts of the Christian religion to augment their perceived legitimacy. I'm not interested in what the counterfeits look like; I want the real thing.

The sad fact is that we need a trained clergy these days

Did Holding stop to think that perhaps one of the reasons is that the institutional church structure has prevailed for these many centuries?

"[M]utual subjection to one another under the headship of Christ" won't combat heresy or cultism if no one in the house church knows the difference between the Arian heresy and Sabellianism

Does Holding think that Viola is against book larnin'? Then why does Viola write books?

it is a part of the Body of Christ doing what it does best, and claims of "division" and of clergy making other Christians "second-class" are little more than the put-upon giving expression to an inferiority complex and a cult of the individual.

I'm glad Holding hasn't seen this in his life, but I have seen it plenty to know that Viola is right on here. Holding is merely ignorant of how it does elsewhere. I'm glad for him; ignorance is bliss.

I would be VERY "bored" in one of Viola's "spontaneous" meetings, by the way.

Perhaps Holding ought to attend one before he makes that call?

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