Both Leonard Sweet, professor of evangelism at Drew University, and Frank Viola, perhaps best known for his commitment to church restoration, believe the church has lost its way, and the answer to one simple question may convince you that their premise is valid: How often has your pastor made Jesus Christ the focus of a sermon? If your experience aligns with theirs, your answer will likely be on the order of "Not very often at all." And that, the authors contend, is exactly why the wheels have come off the church.
The only hope for restoring the lives of Christians and the life of the church is awakening to the "supremacy and sovereignty of Jesus Christ" --- a truth that has been lost as followers of Christ have turned their attention to social, moral, political and psychological issues, to trite, misguided and inaccurate images of who Jesus is, to their own comfort, blessings and "goodness," and to so much more that distracted them from that truth.
In 10 chapters and 200 pages, Sweet and Viola brilliantly and clearly reveal a truth that has been forgotten by --- or never fully understood by --- several generations of Christians: that their life is Christ, that in Him they "live and move and have their being," that He is "central and supreme." To lose sight of the glorious Christ who indwells them is to miss the point of the gospel. To truly see Christ, to be fully occupied with Him, they write, is to be able to say, "Christ is all I need. You can strip everything else away from me…Take away my gifts and my ministry, take away signs and wonders, take away the sense of His presence, take away my ability to read, and take away every spiritual pursuit I have, and I will still have Christ. And in having Him, I have everything."
In keeping with their premise, the authors reveal who Christ is on every page, either through their own writing or through a magnificent selection of quotations about Christ from authors, theologians, philosophers, preachers, hymn writers, church leaders, poets, and of course, the Bible. Their own writing is so filled with apt metaphors, striking imagery, and such a rare measure of eloquence that to read the book and not see Christ with greater clarity seems utterly impossible.
There's little question that JESUS MANIFESTO is on its way to becoming a classic work on Jesus Christ --- and on the sheer foolishness of trying to live as a Christian rather than allowing Him to live through you. By restoring the headship of Christ as a living experience in the life of those who claim to follow Christ, the authors write, Christians can become the "living epistles" (or "Jesus Manifestos") through which the grace, truth and love of Christ will be manifested to the world. For those who have trouble with that concept --- those who cannot imagine that they could ever reflect even the slightest glimmer of who Jesus is --- Sweet and Viola offer an elegant and powerful argument to the contrary in a chapter titled "If God Wrote Your Biography." Read it and savor the reality of Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Breathtaking, awe-inspiring, worshipful, life-changing, delightful --- all are characteristics of the book itself and of the love for Jesus that the authors have and want their readers to have. If you suffer from what Sweet and Viola call JDD (Jesus Deficit Disorder), if you long for that "first love" for Jesus that you've lost over the years, if you realize it's time to shove everything else aside --- even those virtuous "churchy" things --- for the sake of knowing Christ, then JESUS MANIFESTO is the book for you. And very likely, the book for a good many people you know.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on November 13, 2011