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.


What Matters Most is Not the Title (but I like the title): a book review

What Matters Most: How We Got the Point but Missed the Person by Leonard Sweet

This is not a new book. It is a new title for a book that is eight years old. Waterbrook Multnomah has latched onto a marketing strategy for giving older books a new lease on life by re-releasing them with a brand new title. Titles are often the privilege of the publisher anyway, so certainly re-titling is their prerogative. Of the five re-titled books I have read from Waterbrook Press  I have read, at least three of them benefited from the re-christening. So does this one. Previously released as Out of the Question. . .Into the Mystery in 2004, the old title doesn’t seem to get at the heart of all this book is about (though does allude to an important aspect); What Matters Most” How We Got the Point but Missed the Person does a good job of summing up the major message of this book.

In What Matter Most, Len Sweet makes the claim that the truth of the gospel is not primarily propositional. Nor is Christian truth fundamentally addressed at moral behavior. What stands at the center of the gospel is the relationship we have with God through Jesus Christ. Certainly this is a claim common to evangelicals (with our ‘personal relationship’ language) but we have been prone to mess it up. Sweet puts our relationship with God, one another, people outside the faith, and creation in perspective as he challenges our tendency to run from relationships and want ‘faith’ on our own overly intellectualized and individualized terms.

Sweet organizes the book into eight parts. In part one, he talks about how our faith is relationship (versus intellectual assent). In part 2 he addresses our relationship with God by exploring the story of Abraham’s near sacrifice of Issac and what ‘God’s test’ in that context meant. He argues that when Abraham lays Isaac on the altar he passed the obedience test, but he failed the relational test (failing to ‘wrestle with God’ as Jacob later would). For this section, Sweet leans on Jewish Midrash for his exegesis and gives a fresh and interesting read to this troublesome passage. In part 3 he looks closer at God’s story recorded in scripture and how we ought to read scripture relationally. In parts 4-6, Sweet talks about our relationship with one another, those outside the faith and creation and he addresses how human sinfulness has caused us to mess up our relationship with each. In part 7 he discusses art and symbols in our relationship with God (and the church). And in his last section Sweet discusses our relationship with the ‘spiritual world’ entails our willingness to be open to mystery (remember the original title?).

This is my favorite Sweet book I’ve read. There is so much here that provokes a whole life response. I am certainly on board with the centrality o Jesus and found that this book made me hunger for a deeper relationship with Him. As always Sweet has questions for ‘further contemplation’ and discussion (as well as ‘bonus online content’ which I have not looked at).  In other books, I feel like Sweet tries too hard to be culturally relevant, but I didn’t feel that with this book. This is Sweet at this best: engaging, historically astute, challenging and winsome in his presentation of Christian truth and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Thank you to Waterbrook Multnomah for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this review.