Religion - Christian Life - Spiritual Growth
“Real Church in a Social-Network World” by Leonard Sweet
What is the greatest longing of the human heart? What are the fundamental elements of humanity that transcend time and culture? Leonard Sweet seeks to answer these difficult questions in his book “Real Church in a Social-Network World.” Sweet goes into great detail of how the longings of the human heart are communicated by what we pursue as a culture. He uses the rise of social-networking as a silent cry for relationship. Sweet also tries to distance the life of Jesus from the non-relational elements of the church that tend to love philosophical concepts rather than people.
Sweet does a tremendous job in emphasizing his points about the need for Christians to pursue deep and meaningful relationships both with God and with each other. Sweet is obviously well read and attempts to pull several different perspectives to prove his point. Sweet makes the transcendence of relationships across moral and cultural lines foundational to his argument by pulling from Jewish rabbis and mystics as well as quoting theologians, scholars, and philosophers.
Sweet’s writing style is smooth and engaging if you don’t mind a few big words here and there. And he expounds on his points without seeming repetitive or dry in his delivery. It is clear that Sweet’s desire is to encourage believers to live lives worthy of the gospel as Sweet sees it.
There is, however, a huge problem with Sweet’s conclusions about the nature of the Gospel, Christ, God’s relationship to mankind, the Bible, and ultimately the definition of “Christian.” Sweet tries very hard to convince the reader that there should be a definite and absolute divorce between what we will call “doctrine” and the follower of Christ. Sweet even goes so far as to say that truth is not singular and cannot be essentially known; it is, rather, misty and multiple (Chapter 1: Orthodoxy and Paradoxy; para. 2). If we are to say what Sweet will not, essentially, Jesus did not come to fulfill the law but to abolish it. Jesus is very clear that there is truth and He is it. This is not a copout that suggests we should deny doctrine for the sake of relationships. Paul, a devout follower of Christ, was one of the foremost teachers of doctrine. The book of Romans is essentially the first book of systematic theology.
Sweet tries to encourage believers to neglect the divisive “doctrine” for the sake of establishing relationships and an “experience” that will make outsiders feel judged or shunned. It would appear that Sweet wants to push the church away from graceless, judgmental, better-than-thou Pharisaism, and I am in full agreement. But when Sweet starts uprooting this life of grace from the soil of truth, he is misrepresenting the kingdom Christ came to instill in the hearts of His people. Christ absolutely lived a life of grace sharply rebuking the Pharisees who trusted their own righteousness to save them, but that does not mean that He stood for relationship over truth. Christ message to the prostitutes and tax collectors was not simply an invitation to relationship but an invitation to holiness. Not a holiness imputed by men after years of hypocritical self-righteousness, but a holiness imputed by the only One who perfectly met all the requirements of the Law.
Leonard Sweet’s book ultimately calls Christians to live lives of full, deep relationships, and I am in full agreement. At the same time, we must weigh his words carefully. Anyone who tries to divide the truth from the relationship Christ exemplified for us must have his words tested by the fullness of the Word. May it be that the Holy Spirit awakens our hearts to the truth of who He is and may that awakening drive us to love and serve those around us. Grace and peace,
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