Sweet Jesus, the Ill-mannered Messiah : a book review

There are some great recent books on habit formation, both in the secular market (i.e. Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, David Brooks’s The Road to Character) and in the Christian market (see James K.A. Smith’s You Are What You Love and other books of his). Leonard Sweet’s approach to habits is another thing entirely. The Bad Habits of Jesus is an examination of how Jesus own habits defied cultural expectations. Ms. Manners would take the rebellious rabbi to task; However Sweet sees Jesus as a revolutionary willing to buck convention to reveal the truth about God, ourselves and the world.

978-1-4964-1751-0Sweet is a prolific author, professor, and preacher, and podcaster. Since the 90s  he has written relevant-y type books about soical media, technology, culture, postmodernity, and spirituality. The habits he explores here reveals a Jesus who:

  • spits
  • procrastinates
  • appears wasteful
  • is constantly disappearing from both crowds and his group of friends
  • offends people in high places
  • loves to party
  • is dangerous
  • spends too much time with bad people
  • talks too much and is silent when he shouldn’t be
  • broke the (cultural and religious) rules
  • enjoyed the company of women (not just men)
  • focused on the little stuff
  • thought he was God

Sweet’s exploration of these habits show how rude Jesus defied convention and suggests ways can learn from Him. The overall effect is kinda fun, but not too deep. As I read through the chapters I imagined ways this book could form the basis of a mega-church sermon series (similar to Craig Groschel’s Weird: Because Normal isn’t Working). The bad-habits motif is a tongue-in-cheek look at the picture the gospels paint of Jesus.  Sweet’s hopes are that we will see something worth imitating in Jesus’ habits, even, or especially, his bad ones (xvi). Of course some of the habits Sweet looks at aren’t all that bad at all, just unexpected.

Sweet wants us to see Jesus’ revolutionary edge instead of our soft, tame Jesus, whitewashed, flattened out and trapped by stained glass. Jesus didn’t live and die to make us good American citizens but to reflect His coming Kingdom. Sweet does succeed somewhat in showing us ways in which Jesus defies systems, culture and our expectations. However, the political aspect of Jesus (i.e. his challenge to Empire, how his claim of Lordship mutes Caesar) is fairly muted in Sweet’s prose. Sweet discusses how Jesus offends people in high places, (i.e. critique of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, calling Herod a fox), but he frames this for us as an example of how we ought to buck political correctness and likewise be willing to offend people instead of placating interest groups (63).  True as far as it goes, but Jesus’ critique of political systems was more profound than combating political correctness. Revolutionary Jesus has much more to teach us about what it means to be faithful in the midst of Empire.

I give this book three stars. The book doesn’t quite deliver on showing us the revolution implicit in Jesus’ habits and actions. But I still enjoyed it.  Sweet’s Jesus has some bad habits worth copying and that may be the gateway drug to the revolution.

Note: I received this book from the Tyndale Blog Network in exchange for my honest review.


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