Thursday, April 2, 2009

Review (and free Audiobook) - So Beautiful by Len Sweet

Just released is a new book by Leonard Sweet called "So Beautiful: Divine Design for Life and the Church", which looks at the DNA of the church as three essential complementary strands of Christian life - missional, relational, and incarnational. I was delighted to see that Christian Audio is making this available as their free download of the month, an audiobook in MP3 format. Here's my review of this book/audiobook...

Len Sweet, author of The Gospel According to Starbucks, paints a vivid picture of the essence of God's church and our role and lifeblood therein. He weaves together views from the bible, the life of John Newton, the biological wonder of life, along with an engaging writing style that helps us better understand the nature of the church and how we may live more like Christ. The key contrast in the book is between a modern style of church that is becoming an increasingly poor fit with culture, and one he believes is closer to the intent of God. The style he cautions against is APC - Attractional, Propositional, and Colonial, while the one he proposes is MRI - Missional, Relational, and Incarnational, which better reflects God's interaction with the world and His hope to reconcile man back to Himself. He addresses in a considerate way some significant challenges facing the local church today but without calling us to abandon it - he pulls together the needs to serve both within and beyond the church. (An approach I appreciate very much, there's no shortage of books focused on bashing down the church itself.) For example, Sweet notes that in the Gutenberg era the watch phrase was: everyone is called to be a minister, your baptism is your ordination into ministry. In today's Google world, "everyone is dispatched to be a missionary. Your baptism is your commissioning as a missionary. We are both ministers and missionaries. Every disciple has a ministry to the body and a mission in the world. Your baptism is both an ordination certificate and a passport to a missional life, spent in being sent to live and dwell in diaspora, in Babylon not Zion."

The five chapters unpack the missional life (God's going, and calling us to go, or be present as we go), the relational life (and goes beyond typical discussions of the need for community), the incarnational life, and an epilogue that calls us, and calls our church to be MRI - and gives us some ways to know if we are. Another way he pulls these together: "Missional is the mind of God. Mission is where God’s head’s at. Relational is the heart of God. Relationship is where God’s heart is. Incarnational is the hands of God. Incarnation is what God’s hands are up to."

The writing style is unique, quite deep and not avoiding large words, and yet remarkably clear and witty. To say it's thought-provoking is an understatement. Yet this is no dry academic treatise... at the risk of offending, Sweet asserts that "The church needs to rediscover the missionary position, a posture that forces us to look at the world eye to eye and face to face without turning our backs. The missionary position tries to get together with the world in a healing and so beautiful way. It doesn't view the world as a market but a mission." If that makes you upset or angry, this book probably isn't for you. But if you like reading about a fresh perspective on missiology for today's culture (as with books by Reggie McNeal), this is one not to miss. Check out an excerpt by the publisher David Cook, the audiobook (free through April 2009), or buy the book. Or check out the Vimeo preview video below:

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