Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola have teamed up to write “Jesus Manifesto”. I am reviewing it for the www.BookSneeze.com program. The book sets out to call the church to recommit to the supremacy and centrality of Christ. Beginning reading the book, I had to keep setting aside my preconceived ideas about Viola, since I have strong disagreements with a lot of the work that has brought him into prominence as a writer and speaker.
Of course, a work that seeks to uphold the centrality and preeminence of Christ is one of value. The text focusses a lot on the epistle to the Colossians and calls that text “the high-water mark of divine revelation in all the New Testament” (p.24) which is a great example of one of my main hesitations in recommending “Jesus Manifesto”: Sweet & Viola are guilty of stating their strong convictions as inescapable, all-encompassing fact. It is not their desire of the church to return to Jesus alone that troubles me, but these little asides, along with the sweeping condemnation of the church in America/the West that causes me to balk somewhat. I agree with the authors’ passion, but I don’t agree with their evaluation of the church at large. No doubt, there are many who are focussed on anything but the glorious Son of God, but the tone they take seems more elitist than engaging – I fear that the very people they need to encourage and correct will reject the book for that reason.
One other point of contention I have is the ongoing attitude towards the Law. “The One who nailed to His bloody cross every law, every rule, and every regulation that would condemn the beloved people of God” (p.33) is good sounding, but seems to imply that God is sad about the Law. But God is not sad about the Law, He’s sad about sin. There’s an antagonistic attitude towards the Law, without a recognition that, as it was given by God, it was good. It’s sin, and man sinning, that is bad! God didn’t send Jesus to save us from the Law, but to save us from our sinfulness.
The current trend seems to be one of distrust of the Old Testament, as though it was God’s mistake, but that certainly does not seem to be Jesus’ attitude, nor the early church’s, and so we have to be careful with our theology of the Cross that we focus on being redeemed from the bonds of sin, not the bonds of the Law. The Law cannot save us, I agree. But it does serve a purpose – through the law comes knowledge of sin (Rom. 3:20).
To the more general aspects, the writing is fast and conversational, not overly technical but not dumbed down. Sweet & Viola are certainly gifted authors, and their hearts scream off the page. I disagree with some of their theology, and I probably won’t be recommending this text to anyone I know, but in their conviction about the centrality of Christ they have served to help me look and evaluate all that I do to be sure that the Lord of All is indeed in the Lord in all I do!