Frank Viola’s Early Testimony


      From the ages of sixteen to twenty-three, I traversed the landscape of evangelical Christianity. I became part of the following denominations: Southern Baptist, Independent Baptist (a completely different species from the Southern Baptists), Mennonite, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Church of Christ (non-instrumental), Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Assemblies of God, Church of God, and countless stripes of charismatic Christianity, including Word-Faith, Third-Wave, Open Bible, and Vineyard.

      Granted, it’s a queer mix. But it gave me a broad view of the existing theological terrain. And it furnished me with some rich ground for future spiritual exploration.

      In addition to the litany of denominations I sampled, I was part of five parachurch organizations at the University that I attended. In addition, I (along with some other students) created our own parachurch organization.

      Why had I moved through so many different Christian organizations? The answer is that I was on a journey. I was looking for more of my Lord. And although I didn’t realize it back then, I was on a quest for the church after God’s own heart.

      My journey followed a consistent pattern. I would find Christ in one group, but as time went on, the group couldn’t take me any further into Him. The experience quickly wore out, and I was left hungering for more of the Lord. So I would join another group that held promise of teaching me a new aspect of Christ. But as time went on, that new adventure grew perfunctory. This cycle continued unabated for years.

      I was a desperate young man wanting to learn Christ in all of His depths. It was this desperation that led me across the Protestant landscape. When I was twenty years old, however, something was placed into my hands that gave me hope that my cycle of church hopping would one day come to an end.

      It was June of 1985. A friend of mine handed me a book by a Chinese Christian named Watchman Nee. The title of the book—The Normal Christian Life.

      I devoured it. It was unlike anything I have ever heard or read. I found Nee’s remarkable gift for presenting spiritual truth in a clear and practical way to be extremely refreshing and challenging. But there was something more that I discovered in reading the book. I tasted that for which I had hungered. “Deep was calling unto deep,” and I connected with some intangible element that I was searching for in the deepest parts of my being.

      I didn’t know it then, but Jesus Christ was ministered to me through that book.

      Indeed, The Normal Christian Life proved life changing for me. It introduced me to an uncommon insight into the Lord that I didn’t know existed. (Many years would pass before I read more of Watchman Nee’s books.)

      That book left a deep imprint on me. It brought me face-to-face with a new dimension of spiritual life and understanding. One that would mark the rest of my Christian life.


Mentors and Heroes

      Mentors are like heroes. Young men need them, but they are exotically rare. Since I’ve been a Christian, God has seen fit to put five men in my life who would  become my mentors.

      I’ve had a personal relationship with all of them, except for one. Each of them, in their own way, is responsible for a certain aspect of my ministry today. I will speak about two of them later on. But one of them deserves honorable mention right now. For in a number of ways, he inspired this book.

      He was a talk radio show host. I was in my early 20s when I discovered him. In my own estimation, the man was a pure genius. A genuine “one of a kind.” As far as the gift of communication goes, he was without peer. As far as his gift for story-telling, I’ve never met nor heard anyone who could top him. His ability to mesmerize an audience was unmatched. His skill at debating issues was unbeatable. His knack for creative humor was untouchable. If verbal acumen was measured in square miles, he would be Alaska. He possessed a brutal sincerity that was both refreshing and arresting.

      He was the most gifted communicator I had ever heard, before or since—bar none. He was a legend. A talk radio giant. And he was my hero. My “radio hero,” as I’ve come to affectionately call him.

      I would faithfully listen to his show each day as I drove home from work. It was a constant parade of unpredictable wit, drama, and provocative discussion. His smoldering talk style provided gripping theater of the mind. Many afternoons I would pull up in my drive-way . . . frozen. I simply couldn’t open the door to leave the vehicle. My radio hero held me spellbound for hours on end. If there is such a thing as “radio magic,” he possessed it.

      “Entertained” is too insipid a word to describe my experience as I listened to this man. Mesmerized comes a little closer.

      He was thoughtful, shamelessly provocative, and often confrontational. He refused to fit into anyone’s mold. His opinions were unique and seamlessly thought out. He constantly challenged the status quo and forced his listeners to reexamine their beliefs. He was controversial, but always intriguing. As a result, he was venerated and vilified, loved and loathed, hailed and hammered.

      While some saw him as little more than a raging provocateur, his demand for intellectual honesty made a profound impression on me. He was a master at skewering sacred cows . . . even his own. He provoked laughter, reappraisal, and sometimes fury from his listeners. But he always left them thinking and rethinking.

      I examined how he spoke. I observed his strategy in debate (as I said, he was unbeatable). But most of all, I sat in rapt attention as he delivered his extraordinary monologues. They were his trademark.

      His monologues permeated with gritty intellectual honesty and bristled with extraordinary insight. They were clever, poignant, and peppered with lashing wit. Sometimes edgy, sometimes enraging, periodically sentimental, but always fascinating.

      I studied them. Not the content, but the technique. (I often disagreed with his suppositions. So it wasn’t his beliefs that inspired me. It was how he communicated them.) Later, I discovered how he crafted his monologues and gut-wrenching stories.

      Sometimes his monologues would run one hour straight. Sometimes two. On occasion he would give a three hour monologue. Yet time stood still for me as I sat captivated in my car listening to this incredibly gifted man speak passionately about an issue that he felt important. It’s no wonder his ratings were off the charts. In those days, he was “king of the hill” of talk radio, by far and away—the unparralled ruler of the airwaves. (He retired years ago.)

      He was a man of immense and extraordinary talent. To put it in a word, he was brilliant. There has never been another like him. And I suspect there never will be.

      One of the many lessons my radio hero taught me during his meteoric career was this: That if you want people to listen to your message, then you have to cut your stomach open, heave your guts on the table and let people pick through them.

      Though I’ve always found that metaphor a tad too graphic, it makes the point. People are more apt to listen to those who are willing to reveal something of their personal lives. 

A Tale of Two Mentors

Early on in my Christian walk, I sought out those who were ahead of me in the Lord and made myself an apprentice, learning all I could from them.

In total, I’ve had about five spiritual mentors in my life.

In this post, I want to talk about two of them.

To keep their identities anonymous, we’ll call the first one David and the second one John.

The Story of David

David was one of the most gifted people I’ve ever met. He was a talented writer, speaker, and he had a keen mind littered with uncommon spiritual insight.

At one time, David was utterly sold out to his Lord and God used him mightily.

His ministry was powerful and those who received from him grew close to Jesus.

However, he had an inflated ego that never went to the cross, but only increased with his age. So much so, that he was threatened by anyone who was more or equally gifted as he was.

This created jealousy on his part toward others.

His insecurity and enormous ego prevented him from having peers who could speak into his life. Every attempted co-worker he had eventually broke ranks with him after they got a good look at his character. (All of them tried to talk to him about his character patterns, but their words weren’t heeded.)

To protect his self-image, David was deceptive and dishonest. And he would quickly trash anyone of whom he was jealous.

Sometimes he’d cloak the trashing under the guise of humor. Other times he was outright mean-spirited, yet he’d justify himself as being concerned for the person.

For this reason, David was never interested in my life. I couldn’t talk to him about my struggles and when I would ask him questions, he resented it.

Especially questions that challenged his presuppositions.

He was often short with me and others on the phone, having better things to do.

David was only interested in one thing: David and David’s ministry.

That said, he would use whomever was in his life — including their gifts and talents — to further his own ministry and bolster his legacy (something with which he was obsessed.)

At one time, David’s ministry was well known and looked upon favorably by the general body of Christ. Today, however — many years after I first met him — his ministry has dwindled to the point where few people even know who he is.

In addition, virtually everyone who followed his ministry at one time has removed themselves from it.

Worse still, the anointing of God that was once upon David’s life left. I remember the year that “the glory departed” from him, after he was urged by the Lord in various ways to repent.

Regrettably, he refused to change.

Not long after, I ended my relationship with him.

When the anointing left him, he could repeat the same words, but the unction behind them was gone.

I wrote about the dilemma of mentors turning on their mentees here. What I wrote there can be applied to this situation as well as many others, I’m sure.

Enter now my other mentor . . . John.

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