It’s hard to say anything negative about the new book, Jesus Manifesto by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola. It’s like saying something bad about your Aunt or Kindergarten Teacher. Review-wise you pretty much guarantee you’re a Grinch if you say anything less than praise for a book that sets out to restore the supremacy of Christ to the Church.
I think that’s unfortunate because there’s a lot to talk about in this little book but I wonder if dialogue is possible. It sort of sets up a – “you are either for me or you’re against me…” – kind of scenario.
I’m saying all this at the top because I’m about to praise Jesus Manifesto but it’s not without some problems with the text. (that double negative is on purpose if you were wondering…)
First, I absolutely believe that Jesus Manifesto is spot on when it comes to its big idea, namely, the Church suffers from a Jesus Deficit Disorder. We’ve become distracted, bored, disinterested and generally unimpressed with Jesus. In his place we’ve become imitators of our culture and turned Christianity into the latest self-help, “have your best life now” industry.
“You are not the point. And we are not the point. Jesus Christ has always been and always will be the point. All the arrows point to him and not to us.” – Sweet & Viola
Second, I like a book that footnotes. Most of the notes correspond to the references for Scriptures being quoted but it also includes other references. A lot of books about Jesus and the Church or the Bible tend to have no or only a few footnotes assuming we’ll just go along with the claims they make or statements like, “most scholars agree…” without listing a single scholar who does.
Thirds, some brilliant passages in the book that uncover or recover the incredible reality of who Jesus is, what Jesus has done, what he’s still doing today and what all this is leading up to.
There’s a passage in the book that uses the tree of knowledge and the tree of life to illustrate the choice we are faced with over and over and over again. It’s a section of the book I thought was so good I’d wished I’d written it myself.
Ultimately, this line from the introduction sums up what I think is both true and important about this book, “The body of Christ is at a crossroads right now.” I can’t tell you how true I believe that really is.
Some bad thoughts.
Any book that supposes to be a call to reformation as this one does is going to overstate some things.
Chapter 8 starts with this: “Virtually every sermon preached today is built on the assumption that you can eventually be a successful Christian if you just try hard enough.” That’s the kind of statement you need to prove or footnote. It’s also silly. It assumes that Leonard and Frank know what’s being preached everywhere – they don’t. In reality, Leonard is a regular contributor to an online source for sermon outlines & manuscripts so one must wonder what he’s been contributing if he thinks that’s true. But really it’s exaggeration and their editor should have had them change it to “We’ve heard a lot of sermons today…”
In Chapter 4 the writers take exception with translators dropping “follow” (of the KJV) in 1 Co. 11:1 in favour of “imitate” (modern translations). While I agree with the general point of what comes next in the passage I just can’t get my head around why any editor would let them leave a statement like this. A quick and simple language check makes it clear that “imitate” is exactly the right translation for the Greek word used in the text. It would have been better and more honest to just make the point about Jesus without trying to tackle translation issues.
These are just examples of some of the sloppy things in Jesus Manifesto.
Overall, this is a book that draws a dividing line, like Elijah’s, that will require us once again to make a choice – and no choice IS a choice.
Last word to Sweet & Viola: “May God have a people on this earth who are of Christ, through Christ, and for Christ…A people who are searching His immeasurable depths, exploring His unfathomable heights, discovering His unsearchable riches, encountering His abundant life, receiving for His infinite love, and making Him know to others.”
If that doesn’t grip you, check your pulse!