“We Need a Whole Lot More of Jesus (and a Lot Less Rock ‘n’ Roll)”
I don’t normally review books here at Cerulean Sanctum, but when offered the opportunity by Thomas Nelson to read an advance copy of Jesus Manifesto by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola, two of the most prominent critics of traditional American Churchianity, I couldn’t pass.
What drew me more than anything to this book, which released June 1, is summed up in the quote that leads off this post. Sweet and Viola mirror Raney’s song title in their insistence that the Church in America has descended into spiritual noise, much to the detriment of our grasp of the person of Jesus Christ. We seem to be about everything BUT Jesus. We act as if we barely know Him at all; if we did, everything about the Church would be different. Sweet and Viola diagnose this disaease as Jesus Deficit Disorder. Jesus Manifesto attempts to rectify that disorder.
Sweet’s and Viola’s manifesto starts with a purge. The authors go right to the heart of the matter of the supremacy of Jesus Christ by calling us to re-examine what is meant by Acts 2:42’s mention of “the apostles’ doctrine,” noting all the debris that modern churches tend to teach has nothing to do with that doctrine, which is Christ Himself. We get sidetracked into eschatology, how to live by faith, spiritual warfare, evangelism, holiness, Bible memorization, and on and on. That list of diversions features a large number of sacred cows the authors eventually gore and then ask readers to purge. No Christian is left unchallenged.
The authors write that the ineffective Church is the one that focuses on things rather than the person of Jesus. Instead, the occupation of each Christian must always be Christ and Him alone. Getting a revelation of Jesus and seeing that revelation take root and grow in our lives is all that matters. Anything of value in the Church begins in the Alpha and ends in the Omega. The authors quote Watchman Nee (in one of the many sidebars filled with wisdom from Christians throughout the ages):
“The characteristic of Christianity lies in the fact that its source, depth, and riches are involved with knowledge of God’s Son. It matters not how much we know of methods or doctrines or power. What really matters is the knowledge of the Son of God.”
Much of the Jesus Manifesto centers on the Book of Colossians. Sweet and Viola mine an excellent Christology from the book, not only elevating Christ to the position He deserves, but also noting how Christ’s elevation is our own by virtue of us being in Christ and Him being in us. The contemporary Church’s failure to tell Christians who they are in Christ has done massive harm, and it’s a blessing to read works by modern authors that address this lack.
Indeed, Sweet and Viola have given us in Jesus Manifesto a timely book filled with spiritual food a starving American Church needs to digest. If you have read Cerulean Sanctum for any length of time, you know my concern that we have lost our connection to the Head and have forgotten who we are and what we are to be about. Jesus Manifesto hits most of those points.
But the book is not without flaws, despite the fact that it focuses intently on our flawless Lord. As much as I found the book compelling in spots, it lacks the cohesiveness and majesty found in a similar book, A.W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy. Tozer’s book, which examines the character of God, is always riveting and powerful. Sweet’s and Viola’s book, in contrast, soars but equally drifts. One paragraph may be life-changing, while the next adds nothing—or worse, diminishes the profundity of the preceding words.
The book struggles with flow, too. This may be due to attempting to cram the ideas of two fascinating thinkers into a sub-200-page book on the Lord of the Universe. While the authors have much to say, their framing methods for doing so lack a coherent base. Jesus Manifesto reads as if it were written by a committee.
Together, these issues render Jesus Manifesto a huge paradox: a book that is too short and yet too long, profound yet prone to reader skimming, exciting and yet dull. In short, it needed an attentive editor to manage and direct these two intriguing authors.
I would encourage others to read Jesus Manifesto, for it contains a valuable reminder of the real point of the Christian faith we believe and practice. Too much “rock ‘n’ roll” exists in the American Church. Less of that and more of Jesus Himself is most definitely the cure for what ails us.