As evidenced by his voluminous writings, having published over 50 books, Leonard Sweet has absolutely no difficulty in expressing his opinions.
His latest book, Real Church in a Social Network World: From Facebook to Face-to-Face Faith is the first in hopefully a long line of books that I will review here. Published by Waterbrook Press and weighing in at a measly 101 pages, too many, in my opinion, of which are used to advertise his next book, entitled, Viral. The Kindle Version of Real Church, can be purchased through Amazon for $6.89, delivered wirelessly. (Note: This includes the obligatory 23% VAT for Portugal, so in the US, the book can be found cheaper at Amazon).
While reading through the book, I found that it successfully provoked me to consistently do one thing – pray for a kinder and less critical spirit. I went into this endeavor with great anticipation. I had hopes that the book would deal with how to overcome some of the isolationist tendencies that have crept into the western culture. I honestly and incorrectly assumed by the title that the book might touch on such subjects of either using social networks in a practical way to help us minister to others face to face rather than through the Facebook or Twitter lenses through which we often tend to minister.
Sadly, the closest that Sweet comes to this recounting a clever story about Pastor John Ambrose Wood, Catherine Marshall’s father. Sweet writes:
“Deepening relationships go downward, and when you go deeper you get dirty. Pastor John Ambrose Wood was the father of author Catherine Marshall. He spent his entire ministry serving rural congregations. One day he called on a new member in Keyser, West Virginia. When the pastor extended his hand in greeting, the man, a worker on the B&O Railroad, apologized: ‘Can’t shake hands with you, Reverend. They’re too grimy.’ With that the pastor bent to rub his hands in the coal dust and then offered his blackened hand to the worker. ‘How about it now.'”
Instead of coupling this with other insights into how to combat the increasing loneliness of people within the church, Sweet resorts to championing a post-modern approach, exalting relationships above and beyond any and all doctrine.
The truth is that I found the book extremely difficult to read with its awkward style. He chose a series of extremely loosely connected ideas that seemed to me more like random paragraphs only slightly longer and slightly more connected than the average person’s timeline on Facebook. Nonetheless, I could easily have overlooked the style debacle had it not been for the gross theological sins.
For example, on page 19, Sweet waxes philosophical, “Where did we ever get this notion that truth is clear and singular? Truth is better described as misty and multiple…” I can clearly answer that statement with Jesus own words when he said, “I am the way, the truth and the life…” in John 14:6. Grammatically and theologically, Jesus’ statement is perfect. There is just one truth! It is both clear and singular and neither misty nor multiple, with all apologies to the esteemed professor Sweet.
However, if that wasn’t enough, I gave the book multiple chances until the fifth chapter, entitled, “The Right Relationship”. It is there that I got off the train. I could not believe my own eyes when in a section about the parable of the prodigal son, Sweet ponders the following thought:
“Who is the real prodigal in the story? Is it the prodigal elder brother? Is it the prodigal father? Is it the prodigal younger son, who is the probably the most preached about character in the Bible?”
Quick sidebar. I have a hard time coming to grips with the fact that the author really thinks that the prodigal son is the most preached about character in the Bible. David? Noah? Moses? Paul? Jesus? I’m not sure the prodigal is even in the top 10, but it gets worse. End sidebar. Sweet continues with absolute blasphemy:
“Or maybe it’s the prodigal God.”
I’m not making this up. Prodigal, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary of English means, “spending money or using resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant.”
My God is not a prodigal. For that, and that alone, I can not recommend this book or any other that Sweet has ever written or will write.
It hurt my heart to write that because I don’t wish to be judgmental or overly critical, but to even entertain the idea that God is some way prodigal is completely out of bounds for me.
Finally, I would like to say thank you to WaterBrook Nultonomah Publishing Group for providing me a copy of this book for this review.