Jesus Manifesto [Book Review]

Back in the middle of 2009, Frank Viola and Leonard Sweet published a brief essay onlinethat packed a big punch. The essay was titled “A Jesus Manifesto,” and it made some waves among Evangelicals. The waves were significant enough that Sweet and Viola expanded the essay into a book titled Jesus Manifesto, released the next year.

The essay was a breath of fresh air. Concise, piercing, and overflowing with passion for Jesus the Lord. There was an edge to it, as each paragraph slashed through distraction after distraction that we have hoisted in Western Evangelicalism, revealing the simple yet crushing reality that Jesus is alive and he wants to be the head of his church, not just a mascot. Also helpful: the essay was full of tweetable sentences and phrases, making it easy to share and link.

Sweet and Viola expounded on these advances in the book version, adding anecdote, allegory, and even lyric to the position statement posted online the previous year. I recognized in the book many of the key phrases and images that were so impacting in the online essay. American Christians suffer from “Jesus Deficit Disorder”, and the cure is not more teaching, conferencing, or leadership development. In fact, Sweet and Viola suggest that these and other staples of Churchianity have actually supplanted Jesus as the focus of our faith and obedience. A ravishing vision of Jesus Christ is the antidote to what ails us, and Sweet and Viola spill a fair amount of ink casting such a vision.
If you follow Sweet and Viola in their online postings and productions, many of the points will be familiar. The drum beat in the book follows the same rhythm that the two authors beat out daily in their blog posts and tweets. Often, the book feels like a culled and curated collection of their best postings and podcasts. This isn’t a bad thing; within Jesus Manifestois a vital message packaged for a specific audience. There are some that will not recognize Viola’s “Epic Jesus” talk when they read the book. I recognized it, and it made me want to listen again, as Viola’s spoken delivery is far more passionate than the written form.
One point of editorial criticism: the book borrows a little too much from the world of social networking at a couple of points: when the authors stop to rebut comments posted online by unnamed Facebook friends or bloggers. These responses are meant to be illlustrative, but in practice, the inclusion of these comments seems a little nit-picky. It’s the ultimate one-up in an online disagreement, but it doesn’t make for especially engaging reading.
The overall result of Sweet’s and Viola’s hard copy endeavor is a book that is perfect for sharing the ideas of the orignial “A Jesus Manifesto” with the less digitally-inclined among us.