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.”

Quick Review of What Is The Gospel by Greg Gilbert

Please forgive any formatting errors. I am trying out WordPress for iPhone. I’ll fix formatting problems later.

I like to read. Occasionally, I’ll go on Amazon to see what Kindle books are available for free. Then I download far more than I could hope to read in one lifetime.

Recently, I discovered a book for free in Kindle format for a limited time called “What Is the Gospel” by Greg Gilbert. I downloaded it, and got around to reading it. It’s part of a 9 Marks series.

First, the positives. The book was well written. It was written very lovingly and should be of use to it’s target market. I hope it is. I have no qualms about the book in that regard.

Now for my thoughts. Take a drive around your neighborhood. Notice all of the churches? There are a lot of churches around. Considering all of the churches around, isn’t it a little embarrassing how many “What Is the Gospel” books have to be written? What is really embarrassing is the number of self-proclaimed Christians who apparently need these books.

At this point, I’m thinking of Paul’s words in Philippians:
Philippians 2:12 (ESV)
[12] Therefore, my beloved, *as you have always *obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,

What I’m thinking of is that we need to take some responsibility for our own growth. We’re not supposed to wait to e spoon fed, or for God to miraculously change us. Yes, I believe that He can, but I’m not so sure that in most cases, He will.

I know many churches are full of well meaning people who simply don’t grow. It can be very frustrating, especially in a smaller church, when a few people are burning out doing all the serving while many just show up to get their tickets punched. At one point in our last church, Christina taught the 2-3 year old class for four consecutive quarters because nobody else would step up to teach. She had more than 10 children in that class, so there were many other parents, but nobody was interested in teaching that class. She got a one quarter break after a solid year, then was right back to it. The church we’re at now had to shut down some children’s activities because of a lack of volunteers.

I must admit, it scares me how many people identify as Christians, compared to the need for books explaining to them the very basic points of what they claim to believe. This is what the writer of Hebrews called milk. Baby food.

A couple of years ago, I worked out a scale for Christian books. I rate them as beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Maybe I should change that to breast milk, mush, and hearty steak. I would rate “What Is the Gospel” as beginner/breast milk. I don’t mean that as a slam against the author. The author is a pastor, and I’m glad he has a heart for God’s flock. I am very thankful for good pastors. I wouldn’t be whatever I am today without a few.

Verdict: read it if you have no idea what the Christian Gospel is, or have no idea how to explain it. Alternately, read it if you want to. Don’t let my cynical opinions talk you out of buying a book. But really, if you’re a Christian you should know this already. You should be looking to grow and get off the milk.

Book Review: Mystically Wired by Ken Wilson

I haven’t read many books on Prayer. It’s one of the spiritual disciplines that I believe I’m weakest in. Most of the books on Prayer I’ve read are expositions of the “Lord’s Prayer”.

I remember a comment Bob Bly made on the difference between a “what to do” book and a “how to do” book.  For instance, a book that tells you that you should pray, and lists the benefits of prayer, and maybe even tells you stories about other people’s prayers, would fall under a “what to do book”.

I think Mystically Wired is a “how to do” book. It’s different from other books I’ve read on the subject of prayer.

The point to the book is our brains are wired for prayer. Even if we don’t think we’re good at it, we can learn the discipline of prayer by forming new habits. We can rewire the synapses in our brains by forming new habits around the discipline of prayer.

I’ll admit, I was very skeptical in the first chapter. Looking at my notes in the early chapters of the book, you can tell that I was gearing up for a disagreement with the author. He convinced me of his point of view though by the 3rd chapter.

The author discusses current studies about the brain to make his case that we’re Mystically Wired to pray. Much of the information he cites agrees with what I read in This Is Your Brain on Joy by Dr. Earl Henslin. The author shares his own experiences in prayer over the course of his life, as well as several methods he’s used in his prayers. He then includes many practical tips for forming new habits in your prayer life. I will probably incorporate most into mine.

If you’re looking for a practical book on prayer, get this one.

The Ugly Side of Acts 6

It’s been a while since I’ve written a Bible or church related post. I don’t count my spiritual work post because it was about general spirituality.

The church we’d been going to the last 8 years appointed deacons two or three times in that period. As the church identified the need for new deacons and ramped up into eventual nomination, topical sermons were preached. Acts 6 always came up in those sermon series. I imagine it’s the same in most churches that have to appoint new servants.

The sermons usually centered around the need to appoint deacons so that the apostles can attend to higher priorities. It’s kind of like how Moses let himself get bogged down in judging every Israelite case of “He stole my chicken!” rather than leading them through the desert like he was supposed to.

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Buying One Song…

Sometimes I wish I had musical talents. Or I wish I had a Mac and Garage Band. Or I wish somebody would come out with a Garage Band like product for the PC. Don’t tell me Audacity. It’s not the same.

I found out about this $3 of free music promotion by Amazon today. When I got home, I decided to get some songs. I had a song that I’d been wanting for a while, so I bought it. It was $1.29. Fine, it was free. Then I went looking for another song. For some reason, lately I’ve been wanting “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” I don’t know why. My church never sings it. I’m curious if any of our song leaders have heard of it. In any case, a podcast I listen to occasionally leads in with it. I figured “how hard could it be to find a version of ‘A Mighty Fortress” that I’d like?”

A lot harder than I thought. Amazon returned hundreds of songs under my search. I started sampling them. I quickly realized that I didn’t want a version of the song with pipe organs or a congregation singing in a very-bad-for-sound auditorium/sanctuary/whatever they call it. I also quickly decided that I don’t want an instrumental version. I just want one good singer with a good instrumental mix, that doesn’t include pipe organs or a single guitar. Turns out, my want was impossible. I did find a couple of versions of the song that made me wish Trans Siberian Orchestra would tackle it.

I hate some Christian paradigms. “A Mighty Fortress” is a great song. It’s a powerful anthem. Why can’t anybody put together a good version of it? Just  because it’s 500 years old doesn’t mean it has to be sung with pipe organs and sound like a death march. I’m sure Luther never intended it that way.

Albert Mohler: Seperation of Church and Sport?

Contemporary theologian and seminary president Albert Mohler is a man I enjoy reading. I follow his blog and listen to his podcast regularly. I like him because he is a thinker. Rather than regurgitate a “party line”, Dr. Mohler thinks through issues. His work has been a real benefit (blessing?) to me in my own intellectual journey.

Dr. Mohler posted an entry on his blog recently about a sports journalist’s call for “separation of church and sport”. The column deals with complaints about athletes who are Christian and the exclusivity of the Gospel.

I’m not opposed to my own version of separation of church and sports: specifically, let’s reduce the number of sports-themed sermons. Nothing makes me want to leave the church, sit in my car, and watch somebody else’s sermon on YouTube on my iPhone like a sermon that starts out with a baseball illustration.

But then again, I also realize that it’s not about me. I’m not sure what to tell the sports journalists. I sit through the sports-sermons. They may have to live with the Christian players.

Patience: Can You Pray For It, Or Just Do It?

I was having a talk with some friends from church recently, and the subject of patience came up. The subject came up along with the old line “I’ve been praying for patience.” I’ve done that plenty of times myself.

I started to change my perspective on patience recently though. I was studying the Proverbs. I started reading one chapter each day, the chapter that corresponds to the calendar date (for instance, today would be Proverbs 20 because it’s September 20th). I stopped recently though, and have to get back to it.

I’m sure anybody who has studied Proverbs has also heard some of the Proverbs taught legalistically. For instance, Proverbs 22:6 says “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” I have heard of people being counseled by pastors or other church members that when one of their children runs astray, it’s their fault for not training up the child.

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Tim Challies- Don’t Take Your iPod to Church

Last Friday, Tim Challies posted "Don't Take Your iPod to Church" to his blog. (UPDATE: Today he posted a 1.5 update as he continues to develop his argument.) I normally enjoy Tim's posts, and I read through this one. I didn't agree with it, and since nobody else had commented, I left the first comment. I did my best to be reasonable, and I hope my comment came off that way. I then spent the weekend far too busy to get back to read other comments. I also spend some time thinking about the issue. The last thing I would want is for my own pride to get in the way. I've been reading the Bible on electronic devices for years. I find it much easier to carry and study the Scriptures from a handheld and from a laptop. When I teach classes in church, I've taken to bringing my laptop to church and teaching from my notes.

As I processed my thoughts on Tim's post over the weekend, I came to a realization that his arguments against reading the Bible on a mobile device, especially in church, seem to come from the same reasoning that old people might use in their "any hymn written after 1850 is from the Devil!" arguments. Simply because something is new does not make it bad, and simply because something is old does not make it good or right. Speaking of hymns, I'm about burned out on the 19th century hymns my church sings.

Sometimes, in an effort to be pious or to urge other believers to holiness, Christians make some really weird arguments. Two weeks ago, a lot of Christian blogs were repeating a post about why you shouldn't Twitter in church. I couldn't resist: I sat down in church that Sunday and Twittered that I was Twittering in church in response to a blog post I read. OK, the service hadn't started yet, but I felt like I had to. (My wife was furious with me when she saw that tweet on Facebook later). 

To this point, I'm not convinced that the possibility of misuing technology or being sidetracked by technology equals an admonition to not use technology in Bible study or corporate worship. I'm also not convinced that just because Twitter can be distracting means I shouldn't use it in church either. I know at least one person who attends our church's second service reads my first service Tweets.

Will Evangelicalism Collapse? If So, Should We Care?

A lot of the Christian and theological blogs I read have been talking lately about some kind of coming collapse of evangelicalism. Stand To Reason’s blog is the latest I’ve read, but also the most reasonable assessment.

I figure that there are two kinds of people in this world:

1)Those who are easily lumped into convenient, pre-defined categories


2) Those who aren’t.

I guess among all the convenient, pre-defined labels within Christianity, I would probably be lumped in among the evangelicals. That really doesn’t matter to me. At the end of the age, the only identification that matters is me that of Christian, follower of Christ, or follower of The Way, which is what we were originally called all those years ago. I really don’t care what other labels I fall under, but for convenience I probably fall under that of evangelical.

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Nehemiah As an Example of Male Leadership

My church is going to start a new men’s group. It’s proven to be a real challenge as we are a “freeway church”, that is, our membership is pretty well spread out. We’re not a community church where our membership generally lives nearby. My house is currently about 10 miles from the church, and if we sell and move into my in-laws’, I’ll be 20 miles out. Some people come from even farther. We’re also incredibly busy. Trying to find a date and time for a men’s group to meet has been difficult. I can’t do breakfast meetings because I get to work at 6:30 AM. We finally settled on Thursday afternoon, with our first meeting being today. We’ll see how it goes.

In preparation for our first meeting, I read the book of Nehemiah from the perspective of male leadership. For the past several weeks our pastors have been preaching from Nehemiah. Several things stood out to me during this read. For one thing, Nehemiah considered Jerusalem as a reproach with the walls down. Putting the walls back up would make the city no longer a reproach. I have to wonder if there is anything I can draw from that. Is a person, a family, a church, a group, a society, etc. a reproach with a broken wall, a lack of boundaries, or no form of defensive security and self-containment? Is there a broader application? I don’t like to over-spiritualize or allegorize parts of the Bible for which neither was intended, but in many cases there is a deeper message. I don’t have the answer now, but I do plan to study this.

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