Book Review: Jesus Manifesto by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola

This book took me a long time to read. That’s partly because I was busy, and mostly because I didn’t like it. But, I felt duty-bound to finish it and post a review, although way too late for the book’s launch.

I got an email from somebody inside Thomas Nelson. This person got my name from somewhere else, and asked if I’d like an advanced copy of the book. I emailed back to say that I would, and I’d be glad to read the book and post a review. This book didn’t come from Thomas Nelson’s BookSneeze program. I thought I was finally becoming important enough to have books come to me. Some bloggers get books unsolicited. I was hoping that some day, that would be me.

The authors of the book are Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola. I don’t think I’ve read anything from either author before. I’m not familiar with them, but I think I’ve heard good things about them.


The subtitle of the book is “Restoring the Supremacy and Sovereignty of Jesus Christ”.

I’m not sure who the audience for this book is. Obviously, there is one. Thomas Nelson wouldn’t publish and distribute and promote a book that isn’t going to sell. So obviously, they expect it to sell.

The premise of the book seems to be “The church almost as a whole has drifted away from the simplicity of the Gospel, and we need to restore everything the church does to just that: just Jesus.” If you’ve read many of my blog posts, you know what I think about that line of reasoning. If we’re going to say “the church has drifted”, that means there was a point in time when the church hadn’t drifted. Read the Book of Acts! The church struggled with these same issues right out of the gate! It’s always battled with this kind of thing. I’m not sure why so many authors think “I’m just the man God needs to right this ship! I can write a book that’ll fix everything”. Sure, Paul and Peter and James and John couldn’t do it. But a 21st century author can do it.

Lest you think I’m putting words in the author’s mouths, let’s look at a few things. On page xx of the introduction is the following:

The Lord Jesus Christ is far beyond what most of us could ever dream or imagine. His greatness, His beauty, and His splendor are unknown to many Christians today (My note: does this imply they were known to Christians at some point in the past, since we’re “getting worse all the time”?)This is why a fresh look at him –a fresh Christology- is so vital. To put it in a sentence: To faithfully represent Jesus in our time requires re-presenting Him. And that’s why we are attempting to write this book.

In the margin, I wrote “But is this new?” I think Solomon would disagree with the authors:

[Ec 1:1] The words of *the Preacher,* the son of David, *king in Jerusalem.

[2] *Vanity* of vanities, says *the Preacher,
*vanity of vanities! *All is vanity.

[3] *What *does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?

[4] A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but *the earth remains forever.

[5] *The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens* to the place where it rises.

[6] *The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.

[7] All *streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.

[8] All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
*the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.

[9] *What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun
. (ESV)

On page xxii, the authors write: “we believe that the major disease of today’s church is JDD: Jesus Deficit Disorder.” And “But increasingly, the church likes the church, yet they don’t like Jesus.”

On page 14 in chapter 1 is the following:

Both of us have developed the habit of counting the number of times the preachers we hear mention the Lord Jesus. Sadly, in many cases, contemporary preachers and teachers who spend an hour speaking on a subject, mention the Lord just once or twice. Sometimes the number of mentions is zero. Compare that with how many times Paul referred to Christ in the opening chapters of some of his letters:

My wife and another woman were joking about a habit the children have picked up. Ask any child in Sunday school at our church what they learned about, and they’ll reply “Jesus”. It doesn’t matter what the lesson is. In any case, I wrote in the margin around this paragraph that I’d like to know what churches and preachers the authors listen to. I’d like to invite them to listen to a few of Pastor Bill’s sermons and tell me he doesn’t preach the name of Jesus regularly.

I could keep going. Once the introduction is out of the way, the authors spend 8 more chapters breast feeding their audience what the writer of Hebrews called “milk”.

I’m sure both writers are great people. But this book made me angry. The only reason I bothered to finish it is because I told Thomas Nelson’s representative I’d post a review of the book. Books like this seem to have an “Elijah Complex”.

1 KI 19:[14] He said, *“I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, *thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” [15] And the LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. [16] *And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and *Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. [17] And the one who escapes from *the sword of Hazael *shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu *shall Elisha put to death. [18] *Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not *kissed him.”

In other words, “Oh, woe is me! The entire church has strayed away into Purpose Driven and Best Life stuff. We’re the only two left! How can we hope to restore the church?

Almost 2 years ago, I wrote a post called “Christian Heuristics”. In it, I asked why we comment that Jesus Christ is written on every page of the Bible, yet we restrict ourselves to so few pages of the Bible, especially when visitors are present. I wrote the post about the time we started taking the kids to AWANA at the church we’re now with. I sat through the adult class. The elder teaching, who is a good friend of mine now, seemed to make the assumption that as a visitor, I wasn’t saved and spent the entire class reviewing some very basic material.

How can anybody expect to learn and grow (i.e.. discipleship) when our books and sermons are little more than an exposition of “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so”?

My verdict: read Jesus Manifesto if you have no idea who Jesus Christ is. Or read it if you’re one of those people who is well studied, but still gets off reading about how stupid and far behind everybody else is. Some people really enjoy that for some reason.

Otherwise, get out there and meet a few people. Stop assuming that the entire church is apostate. Find a place to serve. Find needs to meet. Find a class to teach, or another way to use your God-given gifts. I’m tired of books that do little more than assume everybody but the authors and their little circle has drifted away from the truth of Jesus, and is either stupid or apostate.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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