A Body with No Head

Have churches and small groups replaced the incomparable Christ with something safer and smaller?

Frank Viola is a bestselling author and international conference speaker. He has authored numerous books, including From Eternity to Here and Reimagining Church. SmallGroups.com spoke to Frank regarding his newest book, The Jesus Manifesto, co-authored with Leonard Sweet.

SmallGroups.com: In a nutshell, what is the message of The Jesus Manifesto?

Frank Viola: I think the message of the book can be summarized by four key points:

  1. That the Lord Jesus Christ far more incredible, incomparable, and amazing than most of us have ever imagined. He's so much more than Lord and Savior. By contrast, our Christ is just too small. So we're seeking to exalt and unveil him beyond the stratosphere.
  2. That in many respects we have supplanted the primacy of Christ with something else—often good and biblical things. It's possible to become excited, enamored, and enthralled with a thing "about" Jesus and yet lose him in the temple (so to speak). It's possible to put a spiritual/religious "thing" on the throne and dethrone Jesus from his rightful place.
  3. That we are living in a unique time right now where many Christians are frozen when they look to the left and to the right. Both the Christian left and the Christian right make Christianity a matter of ethics. They just cut the ethical line differently (the left cuts it at social justice and the right cuts it at personal holiness). In Jesus Manifesto, we present a third path that combines Person with praxis, act and being, justice and justification, social action, and personal piety. We present a way forward that's not left or right, but one that is beyond space, time, and matter, yet in space, time, and matter. The third way is one of exploration rather than fortification. And that way is Jesus Christ as the Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End, A to Z.
  4. That the Christian life is not WWJD ("What would Jesus do"), but CLM ("Christ lives in me"). A lot of the book goes into the difference between living by the tree of life vs. living by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Jesus Christ embodies the tree of life today. Consequently, Christianity is not trying to mimic Jesus; it's learning to partake of Christ and then manifest him. It's not trying to be a good Christian; it's learning to live by the Christ who indwells every true believer.

You say in your book that Jesus has been replaced as the primary focus in many churches. What has replaced him?

Here's a list of the things that have been identified by some of the readers of the book: Leadership principles, the gifts of the Spirit, mission, evangelism, eschatology, the power of God, healing, miracles, speaking in tongues, a certain theological system, Bible study, church multiplication, and apologetics. There are many more of course. Len and I receive frequent emails from people who tell us that the Spirit of God put his finger on one of these "things," showing them that they were putting "it" on the throne instead of Christ.

It's all-too possible to swim in a tributary (an aspect of Christ) and miss the River (Christ himself).

Do you feel that the recent popularity of community ministries (including small groups and house churches) has helped or harmed the church when it comes to focusing on Jesus?

It depends. Unfortunately, Jesus Christ is not the centrality of some house churches and some small groups. He is, however, the life-blood, center, foundation, and mainstay of the organic expression of the church the way I've defined and described it in my other books.

free newsletter

Sign up for our free Small Groups Newsletter : Regular access to innovative training resources, Bible-based curriculum, and practical articles.


9 Ways to Help Group Members Take Ownership of Problems
9 Ways to Help Group Members Take Ownership of Problems
The struggle is real—and we have to own it if we want to change.
How Is the Bible Changing You?
How Is the Bible Changing You?
Assess how you've grown after completing a Bible study.
New Life
Easter reminds us that God offers us new life.
The Four-Step Discussion Method that Works for Any Study
The Four-Step Discussion Method that Works for Any Study
This simple small-group format teaches disciples to obey God.
Four Keys to Transformational Discussions
Four Keys to Transformational Discussions
Create an environment for life change with these simple tips.
Hungry for Transformation
Hungry for Transformation
Ruth Barton shares what it takes to experience life change in small groups.