Real Church in a Social Network World = Relationships (A Book Review)

I’ve wanted to read a book by Leonard Sweet for years. A good friend of mine studied under Sweet for his Doctor of Ministry degree and has always spoken very highly of him. Along with that, I’ve noticed Sweet’s work throughout the years, often making a mental note to pick up this or that book one day. But I never got around to it until now.

I am glad I did.

Real Church in a Social Network World is a small book that says a lot and serves as a good introduction to Sweet’s work. The big theme throughout is that Christianity is not about adhering to a belief system, instead it is about living in relationship with Jesus Christ.

Sweet’s argument is that a church based on things like belief and propositions is a stagnant church. Contrast this with a focus on faith, which requires the whole person (as opposed to belief which just requires your head) and mission which is movement, action and discovery.

It is easy to get tired of the game that much of American Christianity appears to be. Sometimes being a Christian gets tiring. Am I doing enough? Is my theology right? Am I sharing my faith enough? This is the sort of book that makes me want to be a Christian. It moves me from the inside out, pressing me to want to follow Jesus, recognizing that I am unconditionally loved, and to do something in the world.

It is quotes like this that invigorate me:

“Your heart is a pretty small package to stuff Jesus into. We are being called to become part of the body of Christ and to join in Jesus’ ongoing ministry in the world.”

“Jesus did not come to earth so that later generations of his followers could prove a point. He is the point.”

“Christianity has much less to do with being ‘right’ than it has to do with building right relationships – the strong protecting the weak, the rich serving the poor, the insiders making room for the outsiders.”

If you have grown weary of a Christian life that seems to only be about getting the right doctrine and theology, then this book may be for you. This book will help awaken you to the vibrancy of a life lived in relationship with Jesus Christ. It is not that theology and belief do not matter at all, and perhaps Sweet could be accused of devaluing them too much. After all, when talking about things like “Jesus” and “mission” you are making theological statements. What you believe about these things flows into how you live. But in a Christian culture that seems to over-emphasize belief as the most important thing (believe the right thing so you can be among the good people going to heaven…), this book serves as a helpful corrective.

The only negative I would give here is that this book does not flow like a tightly-written book could be expected to. This is no doubt due to the fact that this book is a collection, with sections drawn from three of Sweet’s other books. The last 1/3 of the book is from his forthcoming book, Viral. It is almost like a cliff-notes version of Sweet’s work, put together by Sweet himself. The good: it makes me want to read his next book. The bad: it makes me want to read his previous books even less, after all, I’ve gotten the gist of at least three of them.

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