My Review of Viral Jesus by Ross Rohde

When I got the email inviting bloggers to review Viral Jesus: Rediscovering the Contagious Power of the Gospel by Ross Rohde, I thought a few things. Looks like they misspelled his last name and it’s endorsed by Neil Cole, the author of Organic Church. Sign me up.

Here’s the description from the Publisher:
“By returning to what we once had… We can recover what we once enjoyed. In the early centuries Christianity was an explosive, viral movement that spread by word of mouth. Persecution could not stop it. In fact, it often helped to spread it.
But today, the gospel is no longer spreading like wildfire throughout the Western world. Slowly, Christianity has morphed into something much different…a stable institutionalized religion that no longer grips us with the excitement and spirituality of the early years.  Ross Rohde believes that this excitement and passion can be recaptured. In Viral Jesus he uses examples from the Bible and today to explore how we can return to our roots and once again enjoy the excitement, simple spirituality, and explosive growth of early Christianity.”

If this is your first entry point into the organic/missional church, this may be a helpful read for you. Especially if you have charismatic leanings as Ross does. There’s quite a bit that I appreciated about Ross’ big picture thoughts and he seems like a type of guy that you’d love to have coffee with or enjoy a conversation at an event/conference. He is passionate, experienced, loves Jesus and has a heart for those who have not embraced Him yet. Those are definite strengths of the book.

I appreciated his heart for the persecuted church in China and what he describes as a true viral gospel movement. However I do get frustrated with the comparisons between the Chinese Church and the American Church. Although I am critical of the American Church, these are apples and oranges to me. Further some of the missionaries that we’ve supported over the years have me thinking a bit differently of the Chinese Church than what Ross describes (he maybe guilty of over-romanticizing it). I can simply reconcile this by saying, it’s a big church and there are many ways to perceive it.

As I got into Viral Jesus, I felt its shortcomings as well. I found myself in that feeling of not liking something that I wanted to like. I’m afraid Ross’ passion gets the best of him at times and he could come across as condescending. I found myself saying, “Yes, I’m with you” then shortly after thinking, “Ouch, that was unnecessary.” or “I’m not sure one can be dogmatic on that.” Second, he reduces too much history, methodologies and stereotypes all denominations as not really following Jesus. I was never able to resolve how he determined he was the judge of that.

Like others, I too am critical of the church institution but here is where specifics help. For instance, when denominations routinely seek their own survival over that of the local congregation, I am critical. But I have observed that there is a great deal of goodness that has come through certain denominations and traditions. I do not want all denominations to die, only ones that have are missionally inept. Further, Ross could have simply stated that all churches, whether they belong to a denomination or completely independent need to prayerfully guard themselves from being led by their own wisdom, ministry principles, and resources over the Holy Spirit. But it seemed that he had an axe to grind with the whole and I found this odd and unnecessary.

As a fan of books like Organic Community by Joseph Myers, Alan Hirsch and Doug Pagitt’s work, I found Ross to be too anti-organizational regardless of denominational affiliation. I feel that Myers, Hirsch and Pagitt  are more pluralistic in their approach and their wisdom, experiences and advice insists on you taking your context into account. I felt that Ross was too dismissive of all denominations and traditions of the Church.

Ross was also too hard on some of the early church fathers (like Clement of Rome which was so odd since Clement was such a crucial figure in the period that Ross celebrates) in Chapter 5’s “The Crumbling of a Viral Jesus Movement.” I found him to be unnecessarily critical of other figures as well. I did however, appreciate his sensitivity towards the Roman Catholic Church and their strong mission work in Eastern contexts. I find that Ross is among many Protestants who have witnessed the RC’s virtue after also serving in that part of the world.

I love seeing house churches, pub churches and numerous other Christian expressions but I still think there’s a place for the many different traditional types. Again for me, the problem is when denominations are more loyal to their “institution” than anything else. There are polities that when followed are filled and direct their congregants to Jesus. My concern with any church regardless of affiliation, size or culturally context is when their own success/surivial becomes more important than the work of the Kingdom.

I never got to the point where I found the book to be unreadable but again, I appreciated the big picture of it. In fact, I recently used the viral message metaphor in a sermon too (“What Happens After the Message Goes Viral?”). I do think the Church has lost a bit of its strength and vision and I do think we need to be bold in becoming the people God has envisioned us to be. Included in that is for the message of the hope and salvation of Jesus needs to go viral and take root in individuals, churches and communities.

You can order Viral Jesus through Amazon or through his site, The Jesus Virus. which has his blog and other resources.

And here’s a video of Ross promoting Viral Jesus.

I was sent this book by SpeakEasy as always I am not required to give a positive review but an honest one. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

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