Prolific author, speaker and professor of evangelism at Drew University, Leonard Sweet just keeps getting better. Widely lauded as one of the "50 Most Influential Christians in America," Sweet's disarming style and candid approach on matters of life and the church are both contagious and welcoming. His newest offering to fans and newcomers alike will delight, captivate and challenge formerly held assumptions about what it means to "do church" American-style.
Sweet opens his text with an introduction to acronyms...and very cunningly leads into his own, which describes the So Beautiful, or MRI, church on which this text is focused: "M" = Missional, "R" = Relational and "I" = Incarnational. Formerly (currently?), many churches operate under the APC Christianity style, or the ABC Church: Attendance, Buildings and Cash. As Sweet notes, "[S]ome things can be good for you for a short time but bad for you over the long haul." He spends the next couple hundred pages helping fellow Christ followers understand, define and take a much closer look at their faith lives and how it works itself both within and without the confines of a church setting.
The author quite engagingly admits that, through his travels he is finding, "God is 'up to something,' stirring part of the body very slowly to rouse the rest." Exciting. Daunting. Challenging. Eye-opening. Yes, to all of these adjectives.
Beginning with a description and overview of the Missional Life: God's "GO," Sweet tells believers that as soon as they become Christians and tell Jesus they're "in," he turns right around and tells them you're "out." This means to go OUT into the world, don't stay clustered inside a stuffy church building where members only congregate and bewail the woes of the larger world. Go, and be part of that world because we all belong together in it.
Sweet then shares the nuts and bolts of what a Relational Life: God's "YES" looks like...and yes, it's all about getting close to people and making life connections that count. He interestingly notes that to predict those with economic success, look for people who have strong social connections. To predict sound mental and physical well-being, look for close family ties and high-quality relationships. Similarly, those individuals who enjoy spiritual well-being also have tight-knit relationships. As Sweet notes, all of life is about relationships, one to another, and everyone to God.
Closing up this work, Sweet details the Incarnational Life: God's "NO," in which he discusses how "Incarnants" are "those who are in touch with the culture but in tune with the Spirit, embracing and estranging the culture simultaneously." Yet, this is a good thing as believers need to "disturb the world" but do so in love and with a commitment to serve, stand alongside, and bring redemptive repair.
Readers will find great value and a highly practical resource in SO BEAUTIFUL. Be prepared to be challenged, encouraged and motivated to start living an MRI lifestyle.
Reviewed by Michele Howe on April 1, 2009
So Beautiful: Divine Design for Life and the Church