As readers have come to expect from Dr. Sweet, an upending of long-held paradigms is to be found in the pages of I Am a Follower. Less about mimicking the the ego eimi statements of the Savior and more about challenging modern perceptions of the Mission, Sweet’s book orients around the idea that leadership was not in Jesus’ mind when He set about discipling His followers and the generations that follow through the Bible. Sweet may be right, but a mature and finely-honed sense of discernment are needed to apply this notion, something that those new to the author’s works may not be prepared for.
Many Evangelical’s are immediately critical of Leonard Sweet and his body of work labeling it emergent and him as being on the fringes of orthodoxy. This misses his role as a provocateur working to prod the Christian masses to a deeper meditation of what Christ and His Church are to be about. In Follower, Sweet challenges the infatuation we have leadership in all of its permutations. He critiques the corpus of leadership material, training and practice, saying that it has led Christians away from the true command of Jesus to “follow me.” Creating an environment in which leaders are celebrated threatens to diminish Jesus when those leaders are not intentional about pointing others back to Him. The cure, he says, is for leaders to return to the original position as disciples at the feet of the Rabbi. As their wonder and humility are restored, a new attitude will be reflected in their discipleship of others.
I agree with Dr. Sweet in his premise that good leaders must be first and foremost good followers of Christ. I don’t believe that he intends to say that there should be no focus on leadership in the Church though it is difficult to see in his blanket indictment. Clearly, the Spirit calls some to be leaders. The illustrations that Sweet elects to provide of leaders who ‘get it’ show his bias. Standing up Shane Clairborne as a model of humility is difficult to accept as everything about the carefully cultivated image of Clairborne screams ‘look at me.’ Effective leaders such as John Piper, Bill Hybels and Jim Shaddix can both impress us with the leadership gifts and the calloused knees of true disciples.
Reading Sweet is never easy and Follower is no different. He will cause you to stop and think, considering his use of scripture and illustration. Dr. Sweet’s work is not for the casual Christian who lacks the ability to process the often challenging ideas that he types. The reader must be able to not only say that he or she doesn’t believe what is written, they must also be able to state why.
I am grateful to Thomas Nelson who provided this book for review.
Read Anthony Lombardo’s comments on the emergent church.
Tolerance has become the most important measure of one’s character in our modern era. Modern tolerance is not simple endurance; it is the required subversion of your beliefs and moral standards whenever they appear to impinge upon the beliefs and morals of another. In the era of the “Me” god there is no greater offense than to stand firm on a position, especially one rooted in traditional Christian belief, and deign to judge the beliefs and practices of another person and the truthfulness of their claims.
In The Disappearance of God, Dr. Al Mohler laments the way in which a culture that is enamored of this new tolerance has made inroads into the Church. As the Church has capitulated to the demands for her doctrine and moral requirements to be softened, Mohler effectively makes the case that cancer has begun to eat away at the very things that were meant to set Christians apart in the world. Worse yet, he says, the loss of muscle threatens the gospel as a viable message in the culture, rendering it as nothing more than a truth among other truths.
Dr. Mohler does not simply issue a roll-call of various ills that have visited the Church and leave it at that. He calls for an immediate triage to stop the further decay within the body and to sort out the issues that must be addressed in order to restore the power of the gospel claims and the power of the Body of Christ to once again affect the surrounding culture rather than continued to be diminished by it. In order of priority, the church must first regain a sense of which doctrinal issues are of primary importance to the restoration of authenticity within the Church and second, the members of the body must regain the intellectual strength necessary to engage in this discussion and fight to restore the authentic doctrine.
The book addresses a variety of gospel-weakening issues that have infiltrated the Church and which have varying abilities to permanently disfigure the face that She presents to the world. Mohler points to the loss of the notion of sin and the softening of the modern Church’s doctrine of Hell and eternal perdition as two of the fundamental positions on which leaders and their congregations must regain their footing. Certainly, both of these doctrines are contrary to the prevailing culture and a strong affirmation makes the Church less palatable in a tolerance-driven society. He challenges our desire to be loved by the world which leads us to put these difficult challenges aside and to restore our understanding of who we belong to and His demands of us.
The Emerging Church and their doctrinal slide towards extreme liberalism are also subjected to Mohler’s critique. While the Emergent movement was ignited by a desire to better conform the Church to modern cultural expectations, that formation allowed postmodern notions of truth to color their doctrinal positions as well. Mohler critiques the doctrinal development of Emergent thinker and leader Brian McLaren as representative of much of the whole. McLaren’s definition of generous orthodoxy as wide ranging and allowing for an unlimited spectrum of philosophies fails to address the opposite side of his arguments in that this spectrum essentially denies the existence of absolute truths.
Dr. Mohler has produced another outstanding polemic against the further decay within Christ’s Church. He encourages the reader on page after page to recognize the doctrinal malleability that we have allowed to creep into the Body and affect our witness to the world. Aligned with his early call to develop our own theological muscles, Dr. Mohler doesn’t provide the answers to challenges he issues. He provides a succinct classification of the problems, now it’s up to you and I to follow through and get the Church back on track. The first step is a thorough read of this book.
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