This blog post will feature two responses. The first is a response to a critique that Jon Cardwell wrote on my new book Jesus Manifesto before it released. I was monumentally impressed with Jon when he personally reached out to me and invited me to respond to his critique. He was both gracious and up-standing to do so.
I accepted his invitation and responded. Jon kept his word and posted my response on his blog as a “guest blog post” the second he said he would. Jon and I have had very friendly interchanges since then. He told me that he was very happy with my response, which I found encouraging.
Back to that in a minute.
The second response is to Mark Driscoll. I don’t know Mark, and I don’t follow his ministry. I’ve never heard a talk by him nor have I ever read any of his books. I’ve never felt compelled to. While we don’t know each other, we have a number of mutual friends. I have heard that he’s brought many young people in the Northwest USA to Jesus (a very difficult place to have a Christian witness). And I rejoice wherever the gospel is preached and people are brought to the Lord, regardless (see Philippians 1). So I am thankful for this.
Apparently Mark published a critique of Pagan Christianity some months back. I had no idea it existed except for the fact that people began telling me about it and asking if Mark had contacted me.
For his own sake, I wish Mark had come to me and George to openly dialogue about our book before he had some organization review it. One of the reasons is that every argument in his critique had already been answered and refuted by Jon Zens in his response to Ben Witherington. Click here to read it.
Mark’s review is simply a rehash of Witherington’s critique. There was nothing new in it. (You can also view my response to Witherington’s critique of Reimagining Church by clicking here.)
If you know people who have read the critique that Mark published on Pagan Christianity, and they are wondering if there’s a response to it (or are open to read one), feel free to send them to this blog post. Unfortunately, it’s impossible for our response to be placed on the actual critique because no comments are allowed on it. So no one can expose the errors in it.
Now on that pleasant note, here is my response to Jon’s critique.
June 1, 2010
Thank you for your graciousness in inviting me to respond to your critique as a guest blogger. You’re only the second blogger who has been so gracious since I’ve been writing books. May your tribe increase!
Let me say at the outside that despite our flaws, shortcomings, blindspots, and imperfections in writing, our burden, desire, aim, goal, and motivation in writing Jesus Manifesto is as single as it is simple: To extol the beauty, greatness, majesty, and glories of the Lord Jesus Christ before the eyes of God’s people, so that by the help of the Holy Spirit, our hearts would be captured and arrested in the presence of so great a Lord.
I wrote this on my blog recently about the process of writing the book. It reveals my heart:
To speak of the greatness of Christ is indeed humbling. One quickly senses their own inadequacy in the presence of His incomparable glory. To capture and communicate His unsearchable riches is like trying to empty the Atlantic ocean with a tea cup.
We can only write what we see, then fail and fall to the ground. As T. Austin-Sparks so wonderfully wrote, Christ is so “other” than we are. In Prince Caspian, Aslan tells Lucy, “Every year you grow, you will find Me bigger.” That was one of our aims in writing this book – to present to us all a greater Christ than we have been given. Thus our words . . .
“It is with a burning heart for Jesus Christ and a guarded jealousy for His preeminence that we have written this book. We have written it for Him and to Him. We trust that it has been by Him and through Him.” (p. 173)
I do appreciate that despite where you feel we may disagree, you have happily recommended our book to your readers.
Throughout the years I’ve learned that sometimes a disagreement is rooted in a substantive difference. Other times, however, it’s rooted in a misunderstanding, an incorrect assumption, or semantics (the way one uses words) instead of a concrete difference.
I’m sure that you and I don’t agree on everything as it relates to the Bible and the Christian faith (gosh, I didn’t agree with myself on everything 10 years ago!). Len Sweet and I don’t agree on everything either – although I’m very patient with him being wrong [big grin]. Yet our shared passion for the preeminence of Jesus is what brought us together to co-write Jesus Manifesto.
I could be entirely wrong, but as I read your two critiques, I couldn’t help but think, “I don’t see where we really disagree.” Maybe we do disagree, but honestly, I couldn’t find it in your critique. So either there’s misunderstanding present, or the specific point wherein we disagree isn’t being brought out fully.
Allow me to unravel that a bit.
1st. Our book doesn’t separate the work of Jesus from His glorious Person. We make a big deal out of exposing the error of separating the teachings of Jesus from the Person of Christ – something that has taken root today in certain circles. We decry this unbiblical cleavage, and we feel the same way about separating Christ’s work from His Person. There is nothing in the book that would indicate that we feel any different.
2nd. I applaud your exaltation of the work of Jesus on the cross. I resonate with and appreciate your emphasis. The cross of Jesus Christ is the lynchpin of history; it’s where the forces of God and His arch-enemy collided and where God triumphed. The cross is something we hold up very highly, though it is utter foolishness to the mindy and a scandal to the religious (I’m paraphrasing 1 Corinthians chapter 1 regarding the Greek mind and the Hebrew mind).
In fact, the book mentions the precious blood of Christ 9x, the cross 25x, and grace 20x. We exalt the tremendous power of what Jesus did at Calvary, and we believe (unlike some today) that the universe changed as a result of Christ’s death and resurrection. It seems that you have zeroed in on our discussion of the cross on pages 30 and 31 of our book. And as a result of our discussion on those pages, you feel that there are important elements of the cross that we left out.
What we are doing in that section of the book is expounding on one small passage of Scripture – Colossians 1:12-22. We aren’t attempting to unfold the vastness of what Calvary signified. Nor are we writing a theological treatise on the New Testament teaching of the atonement. Instead, we are simply exegeting Paul’s discussion of the cross in verses 12 to 22 of Colossians 1.
Now if you look at that text (Colossians 1:12-22), you will discover that all the things you point out that are “missing” from our discussion of the cross are also missing from Paul’s discussion of the cross in that passage.
His emphasis there is the reconciliation of a fallen world by Christ’s physical death and the forgiveness of sins by His blood. So that’s the emphasis we give to the cross in Chapter 2.
Not too long ago, I blogged about the tremendous richness of what Jesus did for us at Calvary. An entire book can be written on the subject and still not exhaust its infinite scope. In fact, the atonement is so titanic that no single image can communicate its depths.
In a similar way, when Paul talks about the church as the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12, he’s not “negating” or “missing” the fact that the church is also the bride and the temple. The same is true for when he talks about the church as a temple in Ephesians 2. In that text, he’s not negating or missing the fact that the church is also a body and a bride. Paul believes the church to be all of those things. But he doesn’t mention them in each of his writings. He emphasizes certain things to certain groups at certain times given what he feels they need to hear. I trust you get my point.
Here is what I wrote about the atonement in that blog post:
Whenever the NT talks about a spiritual reality that is enormous in its significance and implications, it doesn’t define it. Instead, it uses a wide variety of images to capture and communicate its richness.
Example: Jesus Christ. Consider the many images of Christ presented in the NT. Savior, Shepherd, Lord, Master, Teacher, Bridegroom, Foundation, Cornerstone, Lion, Lamb, King, Priest, Prince of Peace, the last Adam, and on and on.
Another example: the church. The Body, the Bride, the Building, the Family, the Vineyard, the Temple, and on and on.
It’s the same way with the atonement. The NT gives various images to communicate its infinite richness. Why? Because the work of Jesus Christ at Calvary is too enormous in its scope and too rich in its meaning to be captured by a single image or definition.
Hence, the atonement was the ultimate sacrifice. It was the ultimate ransom. It was the ultimate satisfaction. It was the ultimate deliverance from the ultimate curse. It was the ultimate defeat of satan and dethronement of the god of this world. It was the ultimate payment for the ultimate penalty. It was the ultimate victory over the forces of darkness. It was the ultimate mystery, and on and on and on.
In sum, just because we don’t mention the different dimensions of the cross in that section doesn’t mean that we deny them. In other parts of the book we discuss that when Jesus died for sinners at Calvary, He also became sin itself and He crucified us – our flesh – on His cross (2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 6:6).
We also affirm that the work of the cross only becomes effective in our lives when we repent and believe. The message of the book is primarily to Christians who have already repented and believed, but who may not fully recognize the greatness of their Lord and/or who may be distracted by other things.
At the same time, we believe that someone can study, memorize, and recite all the theological nuances of the cross accurately, and yet in reality, not know the Lord who died upon that cross very well. This indeed is a possibility. So knowing the work of Christ doesn’t necessarily equate to knowing Jesus Himself. The two must always be kept together.
3rd. On the above point, I highly esteem John MacArthur’s main argument in his book The Gospel According to Jesus. I don’t believe in the “easy believism” that was spawned in the mid-19th century. And I don’t understand how anyone reading our book could come away with the idea that we embrace this error.
All throughout the book we are pleading with the reader (our audience is mainly Christian) to submit to the absolute Lordship of Jesus in every area of life. And we are doing it, not by trying to make them feel guilty, but instead, by trying to show them the stunning greatness of the Lord. “We love Him because He first loved us.”
We even quote the famous Jesus prayer which admits our sinful state before a holy God (p. 115). We discuss how Christians are called to live above the defilements of the world by the power of the Spirit (p. 135). And we go on saying that loving God prevents us from being hedonistic:
“If you love God, or love another, the one thing you cannot do is what you will, for love bends the will. To live in God’s love is not license for hedonism, but liberty for sacrificial living where we’re all working off the same brief, which reads, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another” and “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (p. 66)
Speaking of the village of Bethany as spiritual metaphor (Bethany was Jesus’ favorite place on earth), we write:
“Bethany is the place where God’s people are set free from all bondages: bondage to religion, to legalism, to sin, to the world, to serving God in the flesh, and every other kind of bondage.” (p. 152)
So again: I don’t understand how anyone can read our book and come out with the idea that we hold to “easy believism.” The gospel is about the Lordship of Jesus.
4th. I believe there is some misunderstanding on our use of the word “church” in certain parts of the book. I’m sure we could have clarified that more. In some parts, we are using it to refer to the church as “institution” which contains both professing Christians and genuine believers. So we’re being very general when we say, “The world likes Jesus; they just don’t like the church. But increasingly, the church likes the church, yet it doesn’t like Jesus.”
In other parts of the book, we speak of the spotless bride of Christ. In the chapter entitled “A House of Figs,” you will see our high esteem for the bride come through quite clearly. We have a very high view of the ekklesia that Christ spilled His blood for. In fact, in my book From Eternity to Here, which has been appreciated by not a few Reformed people, I wax on about the absolute beauty of the bride of Christ in the eyes of our Lord, and how passionately He loves her. The words of a song I wrote years ago convey how I see the bride: “And for her hand He was crucified, and in His bosom she’ll reside.”
Also, when we say, “the world likes Jesus,” we are speaking of an observation we have made in talking to many non Christians. They often tell us how they respect Jesus and find His Person intriguing and attractive.
On one level, those who refuse to repent and turn to the Lord Jesus, hate the Light. Jesus Himself said this in John 3, I believe. They don’t come to the light because their deeds are evil (my paraphrase). However, many people who aren’t Christians right now “like” and “respect” Jesus – what they know of Him. But they don’t like the way that Christians in their experience behave (I’m using “Christians” generically as we do “the church” in that sentence).
I hope that clarifies what we mean. Perhaps we should have footnoted it to prevent misunderstanding. Unfortunately, I don’t have the wisdom to foresee how every person will take our words. And that’s one of the scourges of writing a book that will be read by many different people. People take what you say in many different ways. This breeds humility, so it’s a good thing 😉
5th. Our book explicitly condemns the “me-centered,” “you-centered,” “deification of humans” narrative that is so prevalent today. I suspect we agree on this point. Here’s just one excerpt:
“We live in a day when what sells best in the Christian world are books, sermons, and television programs that are aimed directly at you—This Is Your Day, You Are the Reason for the Season, Become a Better You, It’s Your Time, The Me I Want to Be, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, and similar titles orbiting around the Youniverse. We would now like to take all the arrows that point to you and bend them back to our Lord.” (p. 166)
On this same line, my book From Eternity to Here hammers the point that God has an Eternal Purpose that is by Him, through Him, and to Him. Yet we hardly ever hear people preach on the Eternal Purpose of God today (Paul uses this phrase in Ephesians 3, and it’s the grand narrative of Scripture, I believe). As I put it in Jesus Manifesto, “Today, many Christians are inviting God into their stories. But God is inviting us into His.” (p. 44)
6th. When we quote someone in our book, that doesn’t mean that we agree with everything that the quoted person says, has written, or believes.
I have some of the John Calvin’s writings on my bookshelf (I regard him as one of the giants of the faith). Strikingly, Calvin quoted Augustine profusely (reportedly over 400 times in his Institutes). I don’t think it would be fair or accurate to argue that because Calvin quoted Augustine (who was a Catholic bishop) that this means that Calvin’s work should be dismissed or that his gospel was diluted.
Just because Calvin quoted Augustine to make certain points doesn’t mean that he agreed with Augustine on everything. In like manner, Paul of Tarsus didn’t hesitate to quote unregenerate Greek philosophers to make some of his points (you can find him do this in Acts and in some of his epistles). That didn’t mean that Paul agreed with those philosophers on everything they said or believed.
Quoting others simply helps an author make a specific point, since the way that other people can turn a phrase is sometimes better than we can.
Finally: the Bible is our guidepost. Thus every word of our book should be judged by the whole teaching of inspired Scripture. And we believe, as we point out in the book, that if we rightly understand Scripture, we cannot help but discover more of our wonderful Christ – for all Scripture points to Him.
I may be wrong, Jon, but I believe you to be a gracious man who loves Jesus. Hence why I took the time to reply. I’m by no means a perfect Christian or a perfect writer (far from it). I don’t have it all figured out, I’m still in school, and if God is merciful to me, I always will be. But Jesus Christ has won my heart, there’s no one like Him in the universe, and I seek to exalt Him beyond the stratosphere.
As J.C. Ryle once wrote, “If we love Jesus, we like His friends. We are favorably inclined to them, even before we know them. We are drawn to them by the common tie of common love to the one and the same person . . . They love the person that we love, and that alone is an introduction.”
I think the following words sum up our book. It comes from one of my favorite songs, which we quote in Chapter 2:
What has stript the seeming beauty
From the idols of the earth?
Not a sense of right or duty,
But the sight of peerless worth.
Not the crushing of those idols,
With its bitter void and smart;
But the beaming of His beauty,
The unveiling of His heart.
’Tis the look that melted Peter,
’Tis the face that Stephen saw,
’Tis the heart that wept with Mary,
Can alone from idols draw.
I do hope that the above helps, even if a little.
Thank you again for this opportunity.
Many blessings to you and your labor in the Lord.
Yours in His unfailing grace,
Further Reactions to Jesus Manifesto:
There cannot be enough books written about the majesties and excellencies of Christ. To see Jesus as He is will transform us from one degree or glory to the next. Everything is about Him, for Him and to Him. I am grateful that Frank and Leonard did the work and are putting this in the lap of so many.
Matt Chandler, Lead Pastor, The Village Church
I look for books that call us to love Jesus and make His name more widely known. In Jesus Manifesto, Sweet and Viola ask us to step away out of the “Youniverse” (their word) of narcissistic religion and away from the pop-culture Jesus who is just a nice man. Throughout the book, they exalt Jesus as the divine Savior and ask the church to do the same. I believe this book will spark a renewed love for Christ by pointing us to the deep mystery of His person. You will be motivated to love and serve more deeply as your life is focused on Jesus the Messiah.
Ed Stetzer, President of LifeWay Research, www.edstetzer.com
Jesus Manifesto is the most powerful work on Christ I have read in recent years. The Christ of the Empty Tomb is back among us. Sweet and Viola have beckoned us to return back to Olivet and renew our souls. I was hushed by its welcome authority. I found a lump in my throat as I read through page after page of Biblical witness to the one and only, incomparable Christ in whom alone is our Salvation. You must read this book. All of us must, and then we must believe in this book, rise and advance on our culture with the truth we have lately backed away from in our faulty attempt to play fair at the cost of our God-given mission.
Calvin Miller, professor of preaching and pastoral ministry at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama; Author, Preaching: The Art of Narrative Exposition and The Singer
Do you ever feel that “Jesus has left the building”? The Christian religion promises so much in terms of power, forgiveness, joy and intimacy but sometimes it feels that those promises are just words. Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola have a radical and Biblical solution, to wit, Jesus. Read this book and you’ll find your heart “strangely warmed.” That warmth is Him … Jesus. This book could change your life and the lives of everyone who cares about the church. I rise up and call the authors blessed!
Steve Brown, Seminary professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Author and the host of the syndicated talk show, Steve Brown, Etc
A new classic. The single greatest lesson I’ve learned among the hundreds of lessons I’ve learned from J.I.Packer is that “theology must always lead to doxology”. In other words, if what you learn about God doesn’t cause you to praise God then your learning was mostly in vain. The focus of our faith is a Person, not a doctrine or any combination of doctrines. Jesus Christ is that divine Person and He is all in all. That’s is the simple message of the Jesus Manifesto and in my opinion it is the finest volume ever penned about that one pure focus. Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola never swerve from that focus for the entirety of the volume and every page is an examination of the Savior and His glory and perfection.
This is a singularly important book for that reason…it is the only volume in my library that is about nothing but Christ and that reminds me on every page that I am to be about nothing else as well.
Today the Body of Christ is being continually torn by disagreements over doctrine and practice and diverted by the good from the Best. We are drowning in a sea of riches… constantly offered excellent volumes on doctrine and theology, incredible software to parse it all and the greatest teachings of the church available with the click of a mouse. We have been at sea so long we’ve lost sight of the Lighthouse. Sweet and Viola have done the church the service of pointing us radically back to Jesus and they have done so with great clarity, grace and style. The theology is sound and the effect is what Packer would approve…doxology on every page.
From now on every new believer in my path will receive three books. The Bible, “Knowing God”, and “Jesus Manifesto”. I re read “Knowing God” every year, this will now be read alongside it on the same schedule.
Michael Newnham, pastor and blogger, phoenixpreacher.net