Jesus Manifesto – a book review 2[i]
“What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.” —Philippians 1:8
I’ve read the Advance Copy of Jesus Manifesto: Restoring the Supremacy and Sovereignty of Jesus Christ four times since Thomas Nelson Publishers sent it to me. I had written my initial review on April 28th. One of the things I neglected to offer at the end of that review was whether I would recommend the book or not. “Would you, Jon Cardwell, recommend the reading of Jesus Manifesto?” Well, I’m not going to let you off that easy. You need to read this article first.
The first part of my first review noted some very praiseworthy things that Messrs. Sweet and Viola have written in their book. They promote the supremacy of the Person of Christ. So do I. They proclaim the sovereignty of Christ’s deity and the excellence of His humanity. I do as well. In the pages of their book they present that single most important truth for the Christian is submission to the Truth, Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life. I say, yea, and amen. There is enough in this book that sounds too much like Paul Washer, John MacArthur or R.C. Sproul to be ignored. And for the good that is in it, many of my Reformed brethren would do well to be provoked by this book to have a passion for Christ above all else, regardless of their opinion of the writers or the book’s content.
One of the objections I expect to hear is that at least one of these men is Emergent and actually promotes New Age mysticism (Leonard Sweet). That may be so, but much of what they said in their book is something that every one of us should agree with: the sovereignty and supremacy of Jesus Christ! “Whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice” (Philippians 1:8). Remember that God also spoke through Balaam’s donkey; and what’s more, God spoke through Balaam as well, a false prophet (2 Peter 2:15-16). We should all be humbled that the almighty, all-wise Lord of glory would use pathetic earthen vessels such as you and I to utter His eternal truth.
Consider this: Richard Baxter wrote a book titled, The Reformed Pastor. I’ve read it four times. It has great practical insights into the heart and duties of the pastoral ministry. Pastors should take the practical wisdom to heart, and I believe, should be doing many, if not all, of those things written in its pages. It has been read, lauded and recommended by such notable men as George Whitefield and Charles Spurgeon. Yet, Richard Baxter’s view of the subsititutionary atonement of Christ was so unorthodox that the foremost theologian of Baxter’s day, John Owen, considered Baxter a heretic and refused to have even casual fellowship with him.
I have only one goal in this review: to exalt Christ in His person and work that He may increase and I may decrease. That goal is singular in my life, for my family, for the congregation that I minister among, and for anything I say or write. It’s not an “us against them issue.” Whether the reader’s theology is Reformed, Emergent, Purpose-Driven® or if he or she is altogether lost, one thing matters to me, proclaiming Christ crucified. Whether it is my friends or critics, they will hear the same message. I’m not looking to say who is right or who is wrong. In this review, and in all I do, I want to seize every opportunity I can to preach Christ, and Him crucified.
…which brings us to the atoning death of Jesus Christ through His crucifixion…
Some may believe that I have been too critical of Jesus Manifesto because I believed that Messrs. Sweet and Viola did not sufficiently emphasize the work of Christ in their presentation of the person of Christ. I’ve been told that their initial draft (I think it was made available online) contained a far more connected depiction of the cross of Christ. To that, I say, what does that matter? (and I don’t mean for that to sound harsh, just honest). My review is of what is in my hands and what will be on the bookstore shelves. I still believe it was deficient because I truly believe that we cannot divorce the person of Christ (who He is) from the work of Christ (what He has done, and specifically what He has done on Calvary’s tree)….
Yet, having said that, who among us can sufficiently express the majesty, the supremacy, the holiness, and the superlative excellence of the atoning death of Jesus Christ upon the cross? Though I continue to grow in grace, by God’s grace, in my understanding of justification through faith in who Christ is and what He has done to justify, reconcile, sanctify, glorify, &etc. those called by His name, my frail lips and finite mind could never begin to scratch the surface of its depth, scale its heights, span its width, or cover its length. So should I expect these men to be capable of accomplishing that which no mere man can sufficiently capture? Ludicrous. The atoning death of Christ is as infinitely vast as who He is.
What has been called by at least two people a rant in my first review, both publicly and privately, was only my expression of how captivated I am by the cross of Jesus Christ. And anyone offended by the preaching of the cross, which is what that was, should examine themselves according to 2 Corinthians 13:5 because the preaching of the cross is offensive, according to 1 Corinthians 1:23,
But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
Finally, I commented in my first review concerning this statement made in the introduction of Jesus Manifesto:
“The world likes Jesus; they just don’t like the church. But increasingly, the church likes the church, yet they don’t like Jesus.” (p.xxii)
Messrs. Sweet and Viola rather echo the sentiment of Dan Kimball’s 2008 book, They Like Jesus But Not the Church. Their statement is what led me to write what I wrote in my first review; and I stand by it even now. Hate me if you will. Shun me if you must. Yet, this statement in Jesus Manifesto and the title of Mr. Kimball’s book indicate that Messrs. Sweet, Viola and Kimball may possibly have a different view of the cross of Christ than I do; that is, a different view than what I believe the Bible presents.
First, with regard to the quote above: “The world likes Jesus; they just don’t like the church.” The world doesn’t like Jesus. The world hates Jesus (John 15:18-19).[ii] Likewise, the world hates the church (John 15:18-19).
Now, the second sentence in the quote above: “But increasingly, the church likes the church, yet they don’t like Jesus.” If the church doesn’t like Jesus, then they are NOT the church. I’m not merely speaking of the Emergent Church or Emergence Christianity; I’m speaking of any gathering that call themselves evangelical Christians. I repeat: if they don’t love Jesus, they are not the church of Jesus Christ! In Matthew 10:37-38 Jesus said,
He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
This is the major reason I wrote what I had with regard to Leonard Sweet’s and Frank Viola’s apparent minimizing or marginalizing of the atoning death of Jesus Christ.[iii] If their view of the “church” is such that they believe those considered to be genuine Biblical Christians are those that do not like Jesus, then perhaps they have a misunderstanding of the importance of the atoning death of Christ. Granted, there are tares that grow up among the wheat. Certainly, the totally depraved condition of fallen men is such that many of us who are indeed saved do not esteem Christ as we should. Yet, the scriptures proclaim, “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). How do we know that God loved us? We know it by the atoning death of Jesus Christ: the greatest manifestation of God’s love, just as the words of the Lord Jesus express, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
If we are not reconciled to God by the atoning death of Christ upon the cross, then we have no foundation to base anything spiritually. Charles Spurgeon opened a sermon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle with this statement in 1886,
“The heart of the Gospel is redemption and the essence of redemption is the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ. They who preach this truth of God preach the gospel in whatever else they may be mistaken— but they who preach not the Atonement, whatever else they declare— have missed the soul and substance of the Divine message.”
I agree. My only boast, and my only reason to glory and rejoice, is because of the atoning death of Jesus Christ, as it is written,
But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. —Galatians 6:14
Okay, having said all that, here’s my recommendation:
Read the book. Eat the meat. Stay away from the Introduction. Push the bones aside. Discern all that is said, and absolutely everything for that matter, by the light of scripture, including my blog and sermons.
[i] This review was written May 10, 2010 to post automatically on May 28, 2010.
[ii] I believe I know what Dan Kimball was trying to convey; that the world is not attracted by the evangelistic witness that comes from the church. Yet, that is only a guess because I haven’t read Dan Kimball’s book; nor do I care too because the title is just that bothersome to me. If I am correct in my presumption (and granted I may not be), then his premise for evangelism is pragmatism rather than the power of the preached Word of God through the efficacious work of the Holy Spirit.
[iii] I say “apparent” because that’s how it came across to me having read the statement, “The world likes Jesus; they just don’t like the church. But increasingly, the church likes the church, yet they don’t like Jesus.” on page xxii of the Introduction. Someone may object and say, “That’s not what they meant.” Well, all I can say is, that’s what they wrote.